It’s incredibly rewarding being a horse owner, and looking after a horse is as much fun as riding. Keeping a horse sound and healthy is a full-time job and inevitably there will be times when it becomes physically and emotionally hard work, as well as expensive. It’s often when finances become tight that the question of horse health insurance is raised — specifically, vet fees cover.
If you’ve had horse health insurance in the past but never made a claim for vet fees, you may be thinking it’s not worth it and all will be fine if you don’t renew. It isn’t compulsory of course; it’s down to the horse’s owner to decide whether to take it out or not. The obvious risk if you choose to forgo horse health insurance is not being able to pay for any veterinary treatment or diagnostics your horse may need.
“I know some owners set aside money to pay for veterinary bills — often the same amount each month that an insurance premium would cost,” says equine solicitor Rebecca Stock, senior associate at law firm Geldards. “This may seem a safe option, but it might only take one claim to wipe out your savings. Then, if your horse needs more treatment a short time later, you risk not having enough to fund their care. You should only forgo insurance if you can be sure that you can afford anything that comes your way.”
Horse health insurance: top conditions claims are made for
Veterinary fees cover is the number one reason why owners take out horse insurance. Not everyone is in a position to be able to fund unexpected vet costs, which is why they trust their insurance provider to do it for them. In 2018, the most claimed-for condition by Petplan Equine policyholders was gastric ulcers — the total amount of claims it paid out for veterinary fees in that year came to over £1 million. At KBIS, 53% of veterinary fees claims between 2016 and 2018 were related to lameness, and one in four holders of its leisure and competition policies made a claim.
In 2022, colic and gastric ulcers were the number one cause for claims being made by SEIB Insurance Brokers’ customers. External injuries were the second highest cause of claims, followed by degenerative disease including skin disease. SEIB shares more details about claim types and the value of these claims here.
Agria’s equine lifetime insurance policy was the first of its kind when it was launched in the UK in September 2022, providing cover for vet fees up to £10,000 every year. Only issues/injuries that occur before the insurance policy is taken out are excluded and no exclusions are added after a claim is made, providing the policy is not cancelled or cover does not lapse. Find out more about the cover here.
Where to buy horse health insurance
Here is a handy list of horse insurance companies that are well known in the industry:
- Petplan Equine — Get a Quote
- Agria — Get a Quote
- SEIB Insurance Brokers — Horse Insurance Options
- KBIS — Get a Quote
- Shearwater Insurance — Equestrian Insurance Options
- NFU Mutal — Equine Insurance Options
- The Insurance Emporium — Build Your Own Horse or Pony Insurance Policy
- Horse Insurance — Get a Quote
Other providers of horse health insurance include the Harry Hall One Club, whose members can opt in for Horse Vet Fees Insurance, while the charity World Horse Welfare offers its members’ horses Accidental External Injury Insurance.
What is covered?
Most horse health insurance policies will cover non-routine veterinary fees to a set amount. This amount will differ from provider to provider so check. You can’t claim for routine treatments such as vaccinations, annual boosters or worming, but treatments that complement veterinary intervention, such as physiotherapy, remedial shoeing and acupuncture (provided they’re recommended by your vet as part of the claim), may be covered. Check the policy as this can depend on what level of cover you have.
Alternative therapies, such as herbal treatments, are unlikely to be claimable. Some polices include hospitalisation fees and transport to and from the vets too. Check the small print. Any pre-existing conditions your horse may have will not be covered and it’s vital to inform your provider about these when taking out insurance. Don’t delay this.
With most policies, you have 12 months from the incident happening to the claim ending, or up to the list of the vet fee cover — whichever comes first. KBIS offers 15 months from the incident happening to the claim ending.
“Horse owners often see vet fees as the most important part of insurance, as cover for the cost of diagnosis and treatment is a priority,” says a spokesperson for Petplan Equine. “It’s worth checking the exact cover you get under your policy. Some policies with other insurers will have additional limits with the veterinary fees benefits for things such as diagnostic investigation, and may even exclude cover for some conditions.”
What are the limits of veterinary fees cover?
There are two options here, so ask which your horse health insurance provider offers.
The first option provides cover for treatment up to the full veterinary fee limit you choose, with no additional hidden limits for each condition, so you can claim for as many different incidents as you need to. This is the ideal situation for most horse owners.
The second option, which is generally less popular with horse owners, is when the fee limit is per 12 months, not per incident. With this cover, if the limit for vet fees is £5,000, that’s the maximum that can be paid out over the whole year, so if your horse’s vet bills exceed this amount, you may find that you have to fund some of the vet fees yourself.
What is catastrophe cover?
Some insurance companies offer catastrophe-only cover, but not all. It is a budget policy, which is an alternative to traditional horse insurance and is limited to claims for certain types of vets’ fees only.
“Our catastrophe cover covers your horse for accidental external injury (a cut on their leg, for instance), plus three life-saving procedures,” explains KBIS. “These are joint of tendon sheath flushing as a result of sepsis, colic surgery and surgery for pastern and pedal bone fractures.” Usually only the surgery costs will be covered, and not hospitalisation or diagnostic fees.
Horse health insurance for veterans
Some insurance companies stop providing full vet fees cover to horses when they reach a certain age, often 16 or 17, when veteran cover starts and the horse is only covered for external injuries. Some providers, including Petplan Equine and KBIS, insure horses for illness and injury up to the age of 25. With Agria’s lifetime cover, it is possible to insure a horse with full vets’ fees cover from the age of 30 days old until the day it days, no matter its age.
Some horse owners take a risk by insuring their horse for a lower value that they are worth in order to keep insurance premiums lower, but still have vets’ fee covered. By very careful with this, though, as setting a horse’s value too low could mean you have restrictions imposed and, if the worst happens, you won’t receive their full worth.
Main image credit: Shutterstock