On the assumption that you have several grounds for legal "standing", you have a variety of options in how to proceed with this matter. To answer your question, yes, most verbal contracts are enforceable...it is a matter of Proof. With that being said, you will want to decide whether small claims court will meet the jurisdictional requirements...and then you will want to objectively determine the value of the horse in order to obtain monetary damages. Again, this is only one of several options on how to "get paid" for your services rendered. I would suggest that you utilize the usual "free 30 minutes" and call an attorney of your choice.
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I agree with my colleague here that a small claims court action is the most appropirate way to handle this . There is a legal concept called "quantum merit" which basically stands for the premise that you have a right to be paid for your labor.
So long as you can prove that the work was done and the other side cannot prove that they paid you, you should prevail. The court will likely not grant you the horse but the monetary value of services rendered.
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You might be able to enforce the agreement and get the horse, assuming you can establish a contract through your witnesses. If not, you can probably successfully receive compensation under unjust enrichment or quantum meruit as my colleague has mentioned. Contact an attorney.
With some exceptions (e.g., agreements subject to the statute of frauds) verbal contracts are generally just as enforceable as written contracts. The problem lies in proving the contract's existence, and what the parties actually agreed to.
With a written contract, proof is much easier: just point to the terms of the contract itself. By contrast, when it comes to enforcing an oral agreement, you'll have to find other (oftentimes more expensive) ways to garner evidence of the contract. Witness testimony is one way to do so.
So yes, if you and the horse's owner verbally agreed that you would receive custody of the horse in exchange for your labor, and you fully performed your end of the bargain, then you would have a claim for breach of oral contract. Even if this claim fails, you may, as my colleagues have noted, have a claim for quantum meruit.
Best of luck to you.
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If you want to get custody of Pirate, small claims will not get you there. You have to invoke the equitable powers of the Superior Court to have him turned over to you through an injunction or specific performance. Horses, like land, are unique, so an award that simply gives you the value of Pirate, or that gets you a horse like Pirate, does not put you in the position you would been in had the owner kept her end of the bargain. It will be a credibility match. One cannot evaluate that by email, so you should consult with a legal professional in person for such an assessment.
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