Four Counties has handled horsebox insurance since 1969 and, thanks in part to a savvy acquisition in 2005 and joining CCV two years ago, it is riding high

Originally formed in 1969, Four Counties Insurance Brokers has always offered insurance for horseboxes, among other products. In 2005,past it bought another company, The Insurance Shop, which also ran schemes for equine transport, in particular one that covered horse trailers.

Managing director Mark George, whose family founded Four Counties, says: “Horsebox insurance has been around as long as there have been horseboxes. Horse trailers are a relatively new market, as people have started to spend more money on equine-related pastimes.

“Now you have bespoke manufacturers like Equi-Trek and Ifor Williams, trailers are no longer £500; they can be around £5,000-£10,000, or considerably more. The Insurance Shop originally launched the scheme 10 years ago to meet market demand. We now have something in the region of 3,000-4,000 trailers insured, and the number is growing rapidly every week.”

Trailer mix

The acquisition of the horse trailer scheme gave Four Counties the opportunity to develop its more traditional horsebox product. George explains: “Acquiring The Insurance Shop brought a useful addition to our bank of business: it enabled us to combine the two operations and build a reasonable-sized account, which helps to negotiate discounts with insurers.”

Despite the fact that the horsebox market is older than that of horse trailers, it too has changed, opening up new opportunities from an insurance point of view. George says: “Originally horseboxes were converted lorries, but now it’s become more specialised and you have coach builders making quite valuable vehicles. Rather than having a 30-year-old Bedford TL lorry worth around £1,000, you now have vehicles that can cost around £100,000.

“The majority are probably between £5,000 and £10,000 though, and most people will not find it hard to get those insured – but we can do it cheaper than most of our competitors. What’s unique about us is that we cater to both the very high and very low ends of the market.”

Horsebox insurance also represents a different set of challenges to those of trailers. Customers tend to run them on a commercial or semi-commercial basis, whereas trailers tend to be owned by people involved with horses as a hobby.

George says: “The customer will probably have made a significant capital investment and they expect us to go the extra mile. For most, the policy value is under £25,000 and they can get a quote automatically from our website. If it’s over £25,000, we ask them to get in touch and then we have to do more of a broking job.”

Whereas trailers will contain between one and three horses, horseboxes will usually hold three to six, or more in some cases. This lends an extra difficulty to road accidents or breakdowns, as the horses have to be contained safely. Both trailer and horsebox schemes offer a recovery service, taking care of the vehicle, with up to six horses in the case of horseboxes and three horses for trailers, and up to five passengers.

Four Counties has established connections with a network of suitably qualified specialists across the country to help facilitate the horse handling aspect of the recovery service. George explains: “You need someone who can look at the individual circumstances of the situation. Sometimes the horses remain inside and the whole vehicle is recovered, because it’s often better, if they’re not injured, to keep them in.

“But last year we had one case where the horses had to be removed from a trailer that was on its side, and clearly there was a great deal of distress. That’s quite a specialised function: making sure that, once the doors are opened, the horses don’t bolt and that there’s no further damage.”

Other policy points include cover for accidental and malicious damage, fire, flood, theft and attempted theft. The trailer scheme is currently underwritten by Equity Red Star, and was previously underwritten by Link and Zenith. The horsebox scheme is underwritten by a small group of different insurers, reflecting the price range of the various vehicles.

George says: “Some [insurers] are happy to cover the £200,000 horseboxes and others only want to do the standard cover of up to £25,000. And, as with all broker jobs, you’re always trying to find the most competitive premium.”

Expansion plans

Four Counties is also trying to make itself a one-stop shop for horse owners by offering insurance on towing vehicles and the horses themselves, although George admits that the latter is a relatively small part of the business.

He said: “We’re not a livestock insurer. It’s a good market, but that’s not our area. Horse insurance is a bit of a slow burner anyway, because you need a vet’s certificate if you want to change insurer and it tends to take time.”

A more significant development in Four Counties’ equine-related schemes is that, as of this month, it has expanded its agent facilities in order to offer them to brokers across the country. George says this has only been possible due to the added resources that became available when the firm joined Cullum Capital Ventures (CCV) in 2008. “Undoubtedly it has opened doors that might otherwise have stayed closed,” he says. “Some of the insurance companies that we now use might not have been so interested prior to us becoming part of CCV Group.

“Another limitation was that we needed to make sure the back-office support was there to be able to deal with the increased number of enquiries. We’d rather have step-by-step progressive growth than dump a load of business on the books and then struggle to service it. But now that the infrastructure is there to support it, we are open to business for other agents and intermediaries.”

Overall, George believes that it is the comprehensive nature of the coverage and Four Counties’ emphasis on customer service that have made the schemes popular with customers. He says: “We have a phenomenal retention rate on these products. I would say people lapse on a policy because they either die, the horse dies or they have given up horses altogether. There are no other reasons than that.” IT

Pony tales

Four Counties’ Mark George recalls some bizarre incidents that have happened to scheme customers over the years.

These include a horse kicking the trailer door off its hinges and onto the front of an Aston Martin behind; a trailer coming loose on a busy roundabout and (miraculously) avoiding hitting anything; and an episode where the driver arrived at their destination before realising they had earlier passed under a low structure that had torn the roof from their horse trailer. Thankfully, neither horses nor owners were hurt in any of these situations.

The vast majority of claims are less dramatic, however. Most (60%) come under accidental damage, followed by theft claims (30%), with the remaining 10% falling under the rest of the cover offered.