A few months ago I shared a post about the top 7 things you should consider when looking to buy a horse. I touched upon leasing a horse in that article, but the topic deserves a post of its own. After all, if you’ve had your heart set on owning a horse of your very own leasing can seem like a let down. But after owning a horse, selling a horse, looking for horses, and eventually deciding to lease our current horse, I believe there is a lot to recommend the leasing situation.
What Does it Mean to Lease a Horse?
When I first got involved in the horse world as an adult I was surprised to learn that you could lease a horse the same way you would a car. Instead of purchasing the horse outright, you pay the horse’s owner an agreed upon fee per month or per year for access to the horse. Every lease agreement will be different – and make sure you get yours in detail and in writing – but usually there are three types of horse leases: a full lease, half lease and free lease.
Full Leasing a Horse
When you full lease a horse you pay an agreed upon fee for exclusive access to the horse. This means you are the only one riding the horse. It won’t be used for lessons, the owner will not ride it, and you’ll be responsible for making sure the horse gets the attention & exercise it deserves. Oftentimes a full-lease also comes with the additional costs of board, veterinary expenses and shoeing expenses. It is pretty much exactly like owning the horse yourself.
Half Leasing a Horse
When you half lease a horse you still pay an agreed upon fee for access to the horse, but you are not the only one riding him/her. The horse can still be used in a lesson program if that’s the situation they’re in, and the owner can still ride the horse themselves. With a half lease either the owner is responsible for board/vet/farrier bills or you pay a certain percentage of those expenses.
Free Lease a Horse
When you free lease a horse – either at the stable or “off farm” – you don’t have to pay for access to the horse. You will usually be responsible for the board and certain expenses, however. Free leases are often an option offered by horse owners who can’t afford to maintain the horse but don’t want to lose control over its future. It’s a great way for them to make sure their horse is taken care of while also lessening the financial burden of horse ownership.
Get it in Writing
Whichever lease option you go for, make sure that you have a copy of your agreement with the owner in writing. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone knows who is responsible for what. The agreement should be signed by both the horse’s owner and the lessee (you). There is a great article on HorseAuthority.co about some of the things you should look for in a lease agreement, and of course it’s always a good idea to consult an equine attorney if you have questions about your agreement.
Word of Caution as of Dec 2019: Even if you get it in writing, keep your eyes open. As we sadly discovered at the horse barn in Milton, Vermont where we were leasing Mo, just because you have a contract doesn’t mean the trainer/owner will honor it.
So What’s So Great About Leasing a Horse?
Now that we’ve covered what it means to lease a horse, let’s talk about why it might be a better option than buying. We decided to go the lease route after deciding to sell our own horse in August and have been very happy with the decision!
1. Leasing Allows You to Get the Horse You Need in the Present
Depending on where you are as a rider, the horse you need for your current skill level will be different than the horse you need 2-3 years down the line. This is especially true if your child is riding. Not only will their skills grow but so will their bodies! The 13hh pony that’s perfect for them now won’t be a good match when your child is taller and heavier. Leasing a horse lets you find a mount that’s a good match for you now and alleviates the burden of needing to sell a horse once you’ve outgrown it and need something bigger or more advanced.
2. Leasing a Horse Gives You More Flexibility in Terms of PPEs (Pre Purchase Exams) – In Fact, You May Not Even Need One
In my article about buying a horse I mentioned how important it is to have a list of “non-negotiables” from the outset. This still holds true when leasing a horse, but in my opinion you don’t have to have as long of a list – and you may not even need to spend the $$$$ to do a full PPE. It all comes down to what your goals are.
For example, I would not buy or lease a horse with Lyme disease just because of our experiences with Teddy. I feel strongly about this and for that reason will always do blood work on a horse before considering it to lease or buy. But beyond this and a basic vet check, I don’t know that I would do a PPE. Maybe I would feel differently if I were leasing a show horse, but we just want a nice horse we can walk/trot/canter on. So as long as our leasing agreement has a clause that allows us to end the lease if the horse becomes unsound, that’s good enough for me.
Why am I less strict with a leased horse? Because it would be difficult to sell a horse that is not sound. But if I’m leasing the horse, I don’t have to worry about selling him/her at a future date. I just need to know that with proper maintenance they will be a good mount during the term of my lease.
3. You Don’t Have to Hassle With Selling the Horse if You’re Leasing
Which brings me to my next point: Selling a horse is a lot of work. A lot of work!! Having done it once and I would never want to do it again. Between dealing with tire kickers and no-show appointments, to making sure the people who want to buy the horse are actually going to give him a good home, it’s just too much work. No. thank. you.
4. Leasing May Be the Best Way to Get a Unicorn
If there’s one thing I learned while looking for a horse it’s this: people generally don’t sell their good horses. I can’t tell you how many times I called a stable and told the owner exactly what I was looking for, only to have them say: “Oh my horse is exactly like that! He’s not for sale though. I would never sell him.”
A great horse is hard to find, so when people find them they understandably want to keep them and make sure that the horse is always taken care of. This is where the lease comes in. While an owner or trainer may not want to sell their unicorn of a horse, they are often open to leasing them to the right person. (Usually it is an on farm lease.) This way they retain control of the valued animal and can ensure they’re in the hands of a caring & suitable person.
Why would someone be open to leasing their gem of a horse? There are many reasons. Perhaps they have too many horses (as often happens to horse people) and leasing a few out is a good way to help reduce expenses. Or perhaps it’s an older horse that has done his/her time in a lesson program and is ready for a family of their own. Or maybe the horse belonged to their child who outgrew the horse, but the family doesn’t want to sell their beloved mount. Definitely ask questions when considering a horse for lease and find out why they are being offered for lease in the first place.
What Are the Drawbacks of Leasing a Horse?
Some folks will say that a drawback to leasing a horse is that you’re pouring money into an animal you don’t own. To me, that is not a drawback. As long as the horse has a solid mind and is sound for riding, I’m happy to pamper that horse so that my son (and I) have a safe mount to enjoy.
But there is one drawback: if at some point the owner decides she does not want to lease her horse or decides to sell him, we could potentially lose him. Sometimes I worry about this, but then I remind myself that even if we had purchased our current horse it’s possible we may still have needed a different mount in a few years as my son gets older/bigger and more skilled in the saddle. So ultimately, this drawback to leasing our horse is no different than if we had purchased him outright.
Note added Dec 2019: After leasing Mo for a year, renewing the lease, then discovering that the barn owner had not been honoring the lease, I would now add dishonest trainers/owners as another drawback of leasing a horse. Some might say that by owning your own horse you can avoid this, however, I personally know of two situations at different barns where a trainer used someone’s private horse for lessons without permission.
A dishonest horse trainer will pay attention to your schedule and it is an easy matter for them to schedule lessons with your horse – leased or privately owned – for when they know you won’t be around. We only discovered that our former trainer had been doing this when she decided to post a photo to Facebook without Mo’s face, thinking that we would not recognize the rest of his body.
Meet Our New Horse!
Would you like to meet our new horse? His name is Mo and that’s him pictured at the top of this post and also to the right. He’s a 16 year old 16.2hh Quarter Horse gelding who is everything that we were looking for in a horse. In his youth he was an eventing horse and has a brave, steady mind as a result. Then during his teens he was a lesson horse before being leased by a young girl. She moved up to a more advanced horse and now he’s being full leased by our family.
I was a little hesitant about Mo’s at first – he’s so much bigger than our 14.2hh Haflinger was – but he changed my mind with his gentle demeanor and solid brain. During one of my son’s first rides on him a boarder’s dog bolted into the arena and headed straight for Mo’s feet. Teddy would have lost his mind and bolted around the arena at this, as many horses would have. But Mo just focused on his job and continued trotting around the arena with my son. Right then and there I knew he was a good match for us. (Plus, it helped that his trainer came highly recommended and passed all my checks for how to know whether your trainer is the real deal. Am I paranoid? Maybe a little. But caution never hurts in the horse world.)
Note Added Dec 2019: I should have been even more cautious! Upon further digging all those “high recommendations” were from her personal friends, which I didn’t know when we were originally looking at her barn. When I asked around in a wider circle following the end of our lease, I discovered that this horse trainer actually has a reputation for being dishonest.