I have a horse with big shoulders who has always under-performed because his saddle rams into his shoulder, displacing his scapula and forcing him to tense through his back and neck. Until recently I was unaware of the reasons for his pain response but aware that I needed to rehabilitate him without a saddle for a period, I embarked on 4- 6 months of work in hand under the supervision of a fitter who sells a particular brand of saddle. After working him long and low on the lunge for about 2 months I agreed to let her fit a saddle to him, which cost me £2,300. I was also charged numerous visit charges and extra parts. About 3 rides in on my new saddle I became aware that the horse was having identical problems; hollow and behind the leg, headshaking and grabbing the rein in an attempt to stretch. I let the fitter know about these problems but started to lose confidence and become wary of the unlimited extra fitting visits and grabbed the opportunity to go to a trainer who had a good reputation for re-habilitating horses. At this point I realised that my brand new saddle was causing if anything more problems than previous ones because it used extra deep air bags fitted in the areas of wasted trapezius muscles behind his shoulder. These air bags were colliding with his shoulder during movement and causing considerable discomfort to a horse that was already especially sensitive to this effect. I have managed finally to get him comfortable with yet another saddle which clears his shoulder and uses shims and padding to raise the front high enough to give his wither sufficient clearance. Do I have any chance of pursuing the company or fitter for a full refund, based on the fact that it does not ‘fit’ the horse? I get the sense that she is unwilling to accept the situation as I describe it. I also suspect that the company will insist that the saddle is correct. I am confident that if I arranged an opportunity for the fitter to ride my horse in his current saddle and then the one she sold me, he would be happy to explain the situation to her!
Answer from Alison Goodwin:
Thank you for your question.
When you purchased the saddle you had a contract with the saddle fitter regarding the fitting and the purchase of the saddle. The contract was for (i) the saddlers professional services of fitting the saddle correctly for you and your particular horse; and (ii) selling you the actual saddle (the goods).
The contract is governed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (the Act). The Act implies into the contract for the supply of services various terms including a term that the saddle fitter should exercise reasonable skill and care in the provision of the service (i.e. the fitting of the saddle). In this case your claim would be based upon the breach of an implied term in the contract by the saddle fitter in that they failed to carry out the fitting of the saddle to you and your horse with reasonable skill and care. Should you be successful in establishing that the saddle fitter was negligent then you would be able to seek to recover losses and damages from the saddle fitter as a result of her breach of contract and/or negligence. The damages that you could expect to recover would be those that you have incurred as a direct result of the saddle fitters breach of contract. As a general rule damages should try to place you in the position you would have been in had the contract been properly performed so in this case you should recover damages that would put you in the position you would have been in had she properly fitted the saddle for you and your horse. In addition to this aspect of the claim there is a further potential breach of contract claim according to the same Act. The saddle fitter has supplied a saddle to you that is not fit for purpose. Goods (in this case the saddle) are required by the Act to be fit for purpose – in this case to fit your particular horse. If the goods sold are found to not be fit for purpose then there could be a breach of an implied term in the contract entitling you to damages (you cannot recover losses twice so although you could bring a claim in respect of both breaches of the implied terms you can only recover losses once).
In order to proceed I would advise that you obtain a report from a qualified master saddler on the saddle and its fit and impact upon your horse and its way of going. The report should detail the date of their visit, the details of their examination and what they found as well as what they advise needs to be done to remedy the saddle fit or whether a replacement was required. I would also gather together the evidence from any physio or veterinary surgeon who investigated any issues with the horses to evidence the issues the saddle caused in the horses detailing the examination they undertook (if any), and what they found, and the most likely causes (in their opinion) of the issues – basically a report confirming that the saddle caused the horse a physical issue. You will also need to put together a schedule of all your losses and attach copies of all receipts and invoices which substantiate your losses.
I would raise the issue with the saddle fitter and seek a refund for the saddle explaining your rights under the Act as outlined above and confirm if she does not assist then you will proceed to report her to the Society of Master Saddlers and pursue a civil claim against her for breach of contract pursuant to the Consumer Rights Act 2015. I hope that this is helpful. If you would like some help with preparing a letter to the saddle fitter then I would happily assist. Our charges are based upon the time that we spend in dealing with your matter at an hourly rate of £225 plus VAT.
Senior Associate Solicitor
For and on behalf of Harrison Clark Rickerbys Limited
Tel: 01432 349 675 | Mob: 07966 613 829
Fax: 01432 349 660 | firstname.lastname@example.org