The cost of keeping a horse is plenty high enough; livery fees, feed, tack, vet's bills, transport, etc. So is insurance just an unnecessary expense that you can afford to do without? After all, you'll probably never need to make a claim anyway.
What's it for?
The purpose of any form of insurance is to protect the insured against unexpected loss.
For horse owners this loss may manifest itself in a number of different forms; injury, death, veterinary fees, injury to self or to third parties. Most policies also offer various 'bolt-on' options including theft of or damage to tack, your horse trailer, permanent loss of use of the horse, theft of the horse and recovery costs should the horse 'stray' to name a few.
In general, you get what you pay for. The more expensive the policy; the more comprehensive the cover and the more reputable the company. It is very important to ensure that you select a level of cover that is adequate for your needs. It is worth noting that most insurance companies require at least a two stage vetting to have been carried out before they will accept the risk of insuring a horse.
Most insurers require you to state what the horse is going to be used for and the cost reflects this. The insurer is clearly at greater risk of a claim if the horse is to be used for eventing or team chasing than if it is to be a happy hacker.
Premiums do vary tremendously and it is worth comparing companies. Before signing on the dotted line, always check out reviews via Google. From personal experience I would always recommend paying a little more for a specialist equine insurer. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable in the event that you have to make a claim.
Public Liability Insurance
This type of insurance is designed to protect you against claims resulting from injury to third parties or damage to property caused by your horse. Many livery yards insist that you have this form of insurance as the bare minimum and personally I would recommend it to all horse owners. Imagine if your horse took fright whilst tied up on the yard, broke loose and collided with a visitor's car, writing it off, or if a small child startled the horse and was trampled on as a result. The owner of the car and the parents of the child may sue you for damages. Public liability insurance is there for such eventualities.
It is also worth checking your household insurance policy as you may find that you are covered under this. If you are in any doubt, a telephone call to your insurance provider will clarify the position.
Death or mortality cover insures the horse for its market value in the event of its death either as the result of an accident or by humane destruction due to severe disease. This is generally pretty straightforward but do check the small print to make sure that the horse is still covered if it has to be destroyed on humane grounds following a long term illness, such as navicular disease or arthritis.
Veterinary Fee Cover
It is highly advisable to take out cover for vet's fees. Non-routine treatment following accident or illness is covered although the amount provided varies between policies as does the excess applied per incident.
When deciding how much veterinary fee cover you want, always consider the worst case scenario. My last horse developed colic; was referred to the veterinary hospital for emergency surgery and subsequently had to be put to sleep as his condition turned out to be non-treatable. The total vet's bills came to over £6,500! My insurance company were brilliant. I just handed everything over to them and they dealt with it all. Every bill was settled within a week. At such a distressing time, they were invaluable and so supportive too.
Hopefully your horse will make a full recovery but you should bear in mind that your insurer may exclude the condition for which you have claimed when the policy comes up for renewal.
Many policies also offer options which provide cover for courses of treatment like physiotherapy, remedial shoeing and the like.
Permanent Loss of Use
The purpose of this form of insurance is to provide you with reimbursement should your horse no longer be able to perform the job of work it is insured to do as a result of accident, illness or disease. These policies usually have a sort of sliding scale of pay-out of the horse's insured value. For example, if your show jumper can no longer perform that role as the result of an injury but can still happily hack out, the amount you receive will be adjusted down proportionately. Insurers now insist that any horse which has been the subject of a successful loss of use claim is freeze branded with a white 'L' in a circle.
So, do you really need to insure? Unless you are in the fortunate position of having unlimited funds at your disposal should disaster strike, I would strongly advise that you do. In addition to everything mentioned above, your insurance premiums also cover your peace of mind!