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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022
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SPECIAL REPORT: Horse Trade Still Prospers in Suburban Valleys

They’re big, expensive, unpredictable and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Horses are oftentimes considered assets, but unlike land or investments, a horse can run rampant, destroying everything in its wake. Two local lawyers are here to help in all horse-related legal matters. From breeding contracts to six-figure sales transactions, Michelle MacDonald of Gray Duffy and Randolph Catanese of Catanese & Wells specialize in the high-end livestock. “Equine law is essentially general law except it involves horses,” MacDonald said. “There is custom and practice, but really what I face in equine law is what a general practitioner would face in other areas of law.” She has handled horse cases involving employment contracts for ranchers, horse purchases and damaged fencing from a runaway steed. MacDonald came to the Encino firm of Gray Duffy in 1999 and had her first horse case in the mid-2000s, in which she defended a woman whose horse got loose on the 134 freeway. The woman was riding in Griffith Park while walking another horse, a practice known as “ponying,” when the second horse got free and ran onto the Ventura Freeway. A car struck the horse, killing it, and the driver sued the woman for damages. “In the San Fernando Valley, you’re essentially talking about city people keeping horses,” she said. “If you go to Glendale, Burbank and Chatsworth, you will find people with horses in their backyards, but the bulk of people board their horses at a facility.” Primarily, MacDonald litigates employment, personal injury and insurance cases at Gray Duffy but still handles a handful of horse matters each year. Her equine practice stems from her involvement in the horse world as she owns seven horses of her own and is licensed to race horses in California. At Catanese & Wells in Westlake Village, the bulk of business derives from equine law, as approximately 60 percent of the firm’s cases involve horse matters. “We probably have the highest percentage of horse-related work when compared to most lawyers in the country who do equine work,” said Catanese, who founded the firm in 1989. The remainder of his practice focuses on estate and civil litigation as well as business law. On the horse end, he helps clients with boarding, training and purchase contracts; real estate and ranch matters; equine insurance claims; and one of his largest practice areas – fraud. In a typical fraud case, the horse’s health or competition history is misrepresented to fetch a higher sales price. Catanese said he had one case where his client purchased a horse from Europe for $700,000, and when the horse arrived in the United States, it was a completely different horse. Luckily, the animal was microchipped for identification, and they were able to prove it was not the horse originally purchased. The boutique firm, which currently has Catanese, two associates and a paralegal, represents clients from all over the world and works with many celebrities who purchase horses for both sport and pleasure. Catanese said most of his referrals come from other lawyers representing wealthy clients who need equine legal services. “Recently we’ve been getting a lot of business in Kentucky and Florida and other big horse states,” Catanese said. “I think we are going to be growing significantly.” – Stephanie Henkel

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