Woman injured in fox hunt loses action for damages

File photo.

A horse rider who sued a hunt club after she suffered a back injury when she jumped an obstacle while on a fox hunt and her horse rolled on top of her has lost her High Court action.

Hairdresser Aisling Begadon, an experienced horse rider, Ms Justice Brongah O'Hanlon ruled ought not to have jumped unnecessarily the dangerous jump, a felled tree in relation to which a warning had been given.

Ms Begadon, the judge said, did not have due regard for her own safety and she had also voluntarily assumed the risk of a mare that had only hunted once before.

"Even though she was an accomplished horse person, she was an inexperienced hunter on an inexperienced horse taking part in an entirely unpredictable sport with the fox at its centre," Ms Justie O'Hanlon said.

Aisling Begadon (aged 36) Aughmacart, Rathdowney, Portlaoise, Co Laois, had sued Laois Hunt Club Ltd with offices at Beechfield, Abbeyleix, Co Laois, who organised the hunt and James Ferney of Ballgeehan, Ballacolla, Co Laois, who owned the lands where the accident occurred on March 8, 2014.

Ms Justice O'Hanlon said Ms Begadon had successfully crossed a river and this led into a field with a whitethorn tree obstacle on the other side of which were brambles and a fallaway portion.

The judge said Ms Begadon made the decision to jump the obstacle and the horse's feet got caught in the brambles causing the horse to roll on top of her and she suffered a severe back injury.

Ms Begadon claimed the obstacle was a hazard and was foreseeable and her main contention was she ought to have been advised not to take the particular jump and that insufficient effort was made in terms of passing back the information that the Field Master had indicated members of the hunt not take the jump.

The Field master, the judge said, was an experienced Master and it appeared to the court that warning was properly communicated to a reasonable standard and only three of the group of 40 to 50 riders, including Ms Begadon, attempted to jump the obstacle. Two of the riders turned away without taking the jump.

"It seems to this court there was an obligation on all members of the hunt to follow the Field Master, to keep reasonably close to him and not to lag behind at the back of the hunt and to ensure they were appraised of any directions he gave," Ms Justice O'Hanlon said.

She found as a fact the Field Master gave the warning to those behind him in the field and to whom he advised to pass the word on and that in so doing he was following the established practice of fox hunting and that he did so in a manner that was entirely reasonable.

Ms Justice O'Hanlon said Ms Begadon did not have due regard for her own safety and was obliged to keep up with the hunt and with the Field Master and not lag behind.

"She ought not to have jumped unnecessarily the dangerous jump in relation to which a warning had been given. The expanse of acreage involved and the nature of fox hunting means that the type of precaution which might be used in other forms of horse riding could not reasonably be expected as the standard of fox hunting, given the nature of this sport," the judge said.

The judge also ruled that in this case, given the nature of the hunt, in that it follows a fox's scent and the fox could go anywhere on the land it is not therefore foreseeable that a safe route or safety audit could take place in advance of a person taking the route.

On the balance of probabilities Mr James Ferney could not be deemed not to have taken reasonable care regarding his property, the judge ruled.

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