Vet Services Wairarapa Ltd, 24 Lincoln Rd, Masterton

Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 8am - 5.30pm, Sat 9am - 1pm

Equine Insurance - Should I Bother?

It’s a question that’s come up time and time again for me over the last year or two. Often, clients will explain that their horses or ponies are not worth very much money, and so they don’t think it’s worthwhile. I thought I’d put together some of the aspects to consider, and some of the questions to ask about your potential cover. I’ll also summarise some of the costs you might expect for treatment for various conditions – you might be surprised!

We always recommend you read the fine print in your policy, as this is just a guide.

Types of Insurance cover:

Mortality Insurance 
This is a reasonably straightforward cover – if your horses dies by illness or accident, you are usually covered. They may put restrictions on what you are covered for, depending on the policy. Eg you might not have cover if the horse dies from colic if he / she has a history of colic prior to the year’s policy starting. There may also be some exclusions for very young or old horses, plus pregnancy or immediately post foaling. These type of cases can usually find cover but it’s more specialised.

One thing that may not immediately be apparent is that mortality insurance may not pay out for things you don’t want to treat and hence want to euthanase your horse. The cover usually requires a vert certificate saying that euthanasia is to relieve inhumane suffering. So - your horse puts it’s leg through a fence and has a large wound that is going to be time consuming and expensive to fix – you might not get your payout, as the insurance company can argue that you should fix it. The same can go for laminitis, tendon injuries, or colic that could response to medical or surgical treatment.

Mortality insurance usually requires a definitive cause of death, or definitive diagnosis as to why the euthanasia must happen. Ideally, you contact your insurance company before euthanasia and they will often request a post mortem to be carried out if there’s not that diagnosis. This may sound grisly but it is something that vets see all the time and can be handled with as much compassion as possible. Otherwise, you insurance may refuse the payout – up to you to decide.

This leads us nicely onto...

Vet Fees Cover
Depending on your policy, this may be a set amount for your horse, or a proportion of it’s market value. From our perspective as vets, this is the cover that provide you with most help and peace of mind. You can go ahead and get that surgery, or get the IRAP treatment for your horse’s joint problem, or the expensive diagnostics straight away if indicated. Obviously, you can also decide to put away cash for just this purpose, and your vet should always explain these gold standard options from the get go, whether you’re insured or not. It’s not our job to make judgements on your financial decisions. Equally, you might decide you don’t want to proceed with some of the options because you feel it’s unfair to your horse to do colic surgery at 19 years, or you don’t want to do 6 months of box rest with a lunatic! It’s nice to be able to make these decisions irrespective of cost though and hopefully you have a relationship with your vet based on mutual trust for the best outcome of your horse.

How much do things cost? Newer technology and advances in knowledge mean that we can successfully treat many more things than we used to be able to. These advances often have equipment that is not cheap, and so the costs have often also increased... Here are some ballparks:

  • Colic: Medical management (on a drip, in hospital) $1000 - $4000. Surgery $4000 - $10000 not including complications. Keep in mind that speedy referral and fast start to surgery are the biggest factors in a successful surgical outcome so you’ll want to make that decision quickly, possibly unexpectedly at 2am.

  • Wounds – it’s often the bandaging that can go on for months, rather than the stitch up at the time, that can run up a big bill. $500 - $7000 wouldn’t be unexpected. Wounds involving joints - as soon as you need an anaesthetic and some joint flushing, the cost can skyrocket. $2500 - $12000

  • Joint / arthritis / tendon / foot therapies – rest, farrier and appropriate management are the cornerstone therapy for these but we now have Arthropen, IRAP, PRP, OsPhos, Tildren, shockwave and so much more, on top of the lameness workups including nerve blocks, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT and scintigraphy ($2000 – 3000 alone). Your vet fee cover will often cover remedial farriery also. It can feel like the sky’s the limit with complicated lameness cases – you can easily spend $1000 - $3000 on just diagnosing the problem, let alone treating it.

Most policies will have an excess; it’s up to you to think whether you’d prefer a higher excess but also higher vet cover, depending on the premiums involved. Your teenager’s bombproof pony may not be worth a huge amount on paper, but perhaps you wouldn’t hesitate to go for surgery if the outcome looked good, as long as you could afford it? Good things to think about while there’s no crisis happening!

Loss of Use Cover
In my experience, this often adds up to a significant amount but is often not paid out. Depending on your policy, you may need a vert certificate to find any pre existing conditions, then it’s often quite specific as to what your use is. For example, if you just had ‘eventing’ as a use, then your horse that has tweaked a sesamoidean ligament might be fine at a lower level, but may struggle to work at 3* again. If you haven’t specified your level, you might not then get paid out. 

Some loss of use policies have a different payout if the horse is euthanased, compared to just retired. Historically, loss of use horses had an ‘L’ branded on them, but that is rarely done these days. Watch out if you are looking at buying one though!!

The most important thing about loss of use is that you need to have both proven what the problem is and also treated it to see if it is likely to recover to get the payout. This will be at your expense if you don’t have the vet fees cover. So, let’s say you have a bilaterally lame dressage horse. Your vet suspects navicular but the x-rays are clean – you need CT to assess all the structures involved. You’ll need to fork out the $2500 + bill for this to get a diagnosis that the flexor tendon next to the navicular has a big tear and so your dressage horse will likely not go back to the level you’re insured for. You might have spent all your loss of use payout on diagnosing the problem.. so my advice is, always get appropriate vet fee cover if you’re getting loss of use!

Hopefully this has been of some help. It’s not our place to recommend an insurance company – we’ll always tell you to ring around to find the policy that suits you best. Here’s a few contacts to get you started, feel free to get in touch if you used another and found them good:

Published Friday 19th of July 2019

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