There are times when free leasing a horse is an excellent way to share expenses or make sure your horse gets enough work. The key is finding someone you can trust and setting up an arrangement that keeps you and your lessee happy and which keeps your horse safe and sound.
I’ve been on both sides of a lease agreement. From my perspective there are a few things that can help make the arrangement a success:
- Specify the start and end date of the lease. Open ended agreements can be open to interpretation! Include a clause that describes under what conditions the lease can be broken, both by the lessor and the lessee.
- Clearly state the ownership of the horse. It sounds like a “no brainer” but there are plenty of stories of people who’ve “leased” their horse to individuals only to find that those people sold the horse!
- Discuss who will pay for what. In a free lease situation often an owner asks for the lessee to pay a percentage of the general costs (routine vet, farrier, supplements) based on the number of rides per week. Often, the owner will write into the lease provision for the lessee to pay any vet bills for injuries that occur do to direct action on their part or through their negligence. You should also agree on what the lessee is authorized (or expected) to do in terms of securing medical treatment for your horse if you are not available to consult.
- Be very specific about what you expect from the person leasing your horse. There are many ways to handle and ride horses, so don’t expect that the person leasing your horse was trained with the methods you espouse. If you feel strongly about how you’d like your horse handled or ridden, spell it out in detail before you enter into a lease. For example, I want anyone leading my horses to do so with a lead rope and halter. I had someone who leased a horse from me who continually would lead my horse by its halter. I did not want to be responsible if/when the mare dislocated her shoulder or find out that the horse had pulled away and gotten loose. Ultimately, this (and some other issues) caused me to end the lease because I wasn’t comfortable with the potential risk or by how the lessee had chosen to disregard a specific request.
- Create a schedule of use so that each party knows when he/she can ride. I once drove to the barn (at the time a 30-minute trip) to find my horse being ridden. My lessee was suppose to ride only in the mornings, but had decided it was “too cold” that morning and had taken the horse out in the afternoon when it was more convenient for him without asking me.
- If your lease is off-site, define the standard of care you expect. This might include what your horse will be fed (and how much), how much turnout he will get, whether turnout is in groups or alone, etc. You should aways inspect the facility where your horse is to be boarded and, if possible, check on your horse periodically during the lease. Put a clause into your lease that allows you to reclaim your horse if you find that it’s lost too much weight or you find it in poor health.
- Discuss before hand what the lessee will do with your horse and whether there are any limitations on how your horse can be used. For example, here’s where you could specify how high you want your horse jumped or whether the lessee can ride the horse in competitions. Many leases also specify who can — and cannot — ride the horse. For example, the owner may state that only the lessee and his/her trainer can ride it; not the lessee’s friends. You might also require that a lessee take a certain number of lessons per month, or ride with a particular trainer.
- Consider liability. Riding horses is inherently dangerous. To protect yourself in case your lessee is hurt riding or handling your horse, it’s a good idea to have them sign a release of liability and/or a statement of Assumption of Risk. An indemnification clause is also a good idea.
- Include the cost of insuring the horse in the price of the lease. Many owners require the lessee to insure the horse at a minimum for mortality. If not, it should be written into the lease the financial consequences should the horse be killed or severely injured while in the possession or care of the lessee. Another type of insurance to consider is liability insurance, which protects you should your horse injure another person or their property.
- Put everything in writing. This will help prevent misunderstandings later. Even though it seems like the kind of deal that you can close on a hand shake, the more you document up front, the fewer problems you will have down the road.
This list might make it sound as if leasing your horse is a pain. Really, once you’ve agreed on the specifics, these guidelines make it easier on both sides. Personally, I’ve had several great lease arrangements. I leased one horse for three years and had a great relationship with the owner. I’ve also leased my own horses quite successfully. The few times where I have had issues with the lessees, though, it was very helpful to have the arrangements already agreed to and in writing.