Arnold Gold — New Haven Register
Shannon Pleines is photographed with a fourteen-year-old miniature pony, Sparkles (left), and Cash (right), a six-year-old paint horse at Shannon Equine in Woodbridge on 11/14/2013. (Arnold Gold — New Haven Register)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed a bill designed to shield horse owners from the potential consequences of a state Supreme Court case weighing whether horses are inherently “vicious” animals.

The bill would clarify that domesticated horses in general are not “inherently dangerous” and do not “possess a vicious propensity.” Under the legislation, individual horses may be found to be vicious on a case-by-case basis. The bill also applies to domesticated ponies, donkeys, and mules.

Malloy’s legislation comes as the state’s highest court is considering a lower court decision pertaining to a lawsuit stemming from a 2006 incident when a horse bit a young child at a farm in Milford. In 2012, a state Appellate Court concluded that horses were both viscous and inclined to mischief. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case in September, but has not yet issued a decision.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said the governor has spent a lot of time with the state’s agriculture industry and saw an opportunity to protect Connecticut horse owners and businesses.

“He thought it was a good idea to take action and not devastate this industry in our state,” Doba said.

Should the court decide that horses are vicious, it would have a big impact on horse owners and businesses related to horses.

“If that is so, then the whole world just changed for everybody with a horse,” George Krivda, public information officer at the Department of Agriculture, said.

Horses would become more difficult and expensive to insure. Krivda said that would put every equine business in the state in big trouble.

State Rep. Diana Urban, a North Stonington Democrat and horse owner, said Connecticut tends to rank highly in terms of horse ownership compared to other states. She said that the boarding and training of horses, in addition to riding lessons for equestrians, are a lucrative business in the state.

According to an amicus brief in the case filed by the Connecticut Horse Council, horse-related businesses generate almost $39 million in annual income and employ more than 1,100 full-time equivalent employees.

Urban said the court decision could be disastrous.

“If something like this came to fruition, liability insurance would basically decimate the horse industry in Connecticut. It would be insurmountable for most barns,” she said. “I think it would filter down to the back yard horse owners too. It would create an opportunity for litigation.”

Urban said she was surprised when she heard Malloy would be proposing the bill, but thought it was a good idea.

“I don’t think he’s going to lose any votes doing this,” she said.