Surprisingly, my 2008 post entitled How to Deal With Trespassers on Your Property has returned more hits than virtually any other single post on the Equine Law Blog. The search terms that usually land people on that post are some variation of “when is it legal for me to shoot a trespasser?” or “shoot + trespasser
A gentleman recently told me that his stallion had gotten loose, gone onto his neighbor’s unfenced property, and "worried" the neighbor’s mares. The neighbor shot at the stallion with a shotgun, and stated that the police told him he was justified in doing so because the stallion was "trespassing on his property."
Is the stallion owner liable for property damage or injury to persons caused by his stallion? Generally speaking, not unless the stallion owner knowingly let the stallion roam free.
Important to this analysis is that Texas is, generally speaking, still an open range state. That is–livestock may still roam at large in Texas with two exceptions:
- Public highways. The Texas Agriculture Code states "[a] person who owns or has responsibility for the control of a horse, mule, donkey, cow, bull, steer, hog, sheep, or goat may not knowingly permit the animal to traverse or roam at large, unattended, on the right-of-way of a highway." Tex. Agric. Code § 143.102 (Vernon 2004)(emphasis added). The statute defines a "highway" as "a U.S. highway or a state highway in this state, but does not include a numbered farm-to-market road." Id. at § 143.101. Therefore, U.S. and state highways in Texas are effectively considered closed ranged. Conversely, the 40,000-plus miles of farm-to-market roads in Texas are unaffected by this statute.
- Stock Law Counties or Areas. Chapter 143 of the Agriculture Code permits local elections to adopt a law (a.k.a. "stock law"), where a person may not permit any animal of the class mentioned in the proclamation to run at large in the county or area in which the election was held. A typical stock law will prohibit horses, mules, donkeys, sheep, goats, and cattle from running at large.
As expressly provided by the Code, some counties in Texas have enacted county wide stock laws, yet others have chosen to elect stock laws only in certain precincts or areas within said county. Unfortunately, there is no statewide index that traces the counties or areas where stock laws have been passed.
Landowners who run horse businesses on their land often run into situations in which an unwelcome person attempts to come onto their property. Sometimes the unwelcome party is someone who once boarded their horse with the property owner, but no longer has a business relationship with the property owner. In other instances, the trespasser may include…