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Axens North America

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Title of Article: "The "Agent" Trainer as Fiduciary"
Author: Lisa M. Spano, Esq.

The Agent Trainer As Fiduciary
If not careful, the web an agent weaves as a fiduciary for his or her client can be a tangled mess for the un-expecting client.

In my years of equine law practice, the majority of phone calls I receive are related primarily to agents who violated their fiduciary duties to their clients. The equine industry is self governed and with that, you do not have the safe guards of codified rules and regulations within our governing body to protect you (as owner/client) from the sticky fingers of greed.

The majority of phone calls I receive deal with undisclosed commissions (or in my opinion, gross windfalls to agents) on sales of horses. Recently, at the December 2007 meeting, the USEF tried to pass a rule for full disclosure of commissions in horse sales.

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly.
(A quote by British writer Mary Howitt)

The result...The rule change failed. If we could only poll the "voters" on that issue, I think we would have a good idea as to why it failed. My hat is off to those who pioneered the cause and worked so hard to ensure some safe guards.

As an owner/client, do not be naïve. You have the right to know all financial transactions dealing with the sale, or purchase of your horse.

The phone calls I receive are from those who, for example, believe they sold their horse for $25,000.00 and find out the "new" owner bought the horse for $50,000.00 and the added 100% commission was never disclosed. That is where I come in. Both the seller and purchaser now feel betrayed by their "agent" in the sale. Everyone is unhappy, except the attorney, who makes his or her living via litigation. Here we go! I love the smell of a courtroom!

The other problem with agents violating their fiduciary responsibilities to clients is when the trainer binds their clients to contracts by signing as their agent.

Here are two very simple rules to live by, to protect you as trainer or owner:

1. A trainer should NEVER sign a contract on behalf of a client.
2. A trainer should NEVER prepare a legal contract for a client.

If you are in the middle of a legal transaction such as leasing or selling a horse, then you, as owner, should sign the lease agreement or bill of sale/purchase and sale agreement. It amazes me how many trainers sign documents for their clients. This should never be an option. Trainers, "do not bind yourselves to potential litigation by signing on behalf of your client" and client, "do not permit a trainer to bind you to contract that you have not read".

Further, the client should secure legal counsel to prepare legal binding documents, or prepare the document themselves. Trainer, "NEVER prepare a legal binding document for your client. That is disaster waiting to rear its ugly head".

The bottom line is that indeed the trainer acts as agent in some circumstances and with that brings fiduciary responsibilities owed their clients. As the trainer/agent, maintain the trust of the client. Be the spider, but spare your client as the fly.

Ms. Lisa M. Spano, Esq. practices general law and handles equine cases.
She may be reached at: 440-255-9100.
Mailing address, 8440 Station Street, Mentor, OH 44060-4925.
She also maintains an office at 9591 Sulphur Road, Sulphur, KY 40070

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