Free lease – what should you expect?

A “free lease” describes an arrangement where a horse owner “leases” all (or part) of their horse to someone who helps cover their expenses. For example, if you do a half lease, the person leasing the horse pays half the board, farrier and other expenses in exchange for riding three days per week; a full lease would require the lessor to cover all the expenses.

Free leases are becoming more prevalent as the economy continues to stink. In theory, they are great — horse owner gets to share the costs of having a horse with another rider and that rider gets to ride a horse for expenses only.

But while they can be great, if you’re considering something like this, then you need to go into it with a solid understanding of what’s expected on both sides. I’ve written about the specifics of this in an early post — Sharing your horse: the Ps and Qs of free leases. This post is more about some of the more intangibles . . .

Free lease
I had a woman who free leased my mare, Dezzi. This was a mixed success. The mare was injured while jumping — something that the lessor was not supposed to do on her own, and she got a bit possessive of the horse.

I’ve seen free leases discussed frequently on equine forums. Of course, very few people post about how great their lease has gone, so most of the ones I’ve read about are the ones with issues! But what comes through loud and clear is that often people have very different expectations about what they will get out of the deal.

Riders want horses that they can have fun with, preferably are reasonably  trained, and which they can return in a year or two when they want to move on or up. Many of them don’t want to take on green, or untrained, horses. As one poster wrote:

I’m not paying to train someone else’s horse only for them to turn a $2500 horse into a $12000 horse on MY dime.

Owners want riders who will make it possible for them to keep their horse (financially) and who will keep their horse fit and happy. They want riders who are competent enough to not cause damage to their horses and who will not mess up whatever training they have already.

I see posts where owners complain that their horse developed soundness or training issues, where the horse came back malnourished, or where the horse simply disappeared. You can understand why they want to retain some control over their horse. When you send your horse out on a lease, there’s a not-so-slight chance that the horse will come back less valuable, rather than more valuable.

So what’s reasonable? and what’s not?

I think it’s difficult to find a free lease horse that’s wonderfully trained, requires no special maintenance, and is competitive. Those horses generally sell, even in today’s economy. And I’m not so sure that riding someone else’s youngster is such a  bad move.  I had a free lease on a horse for about three years when I was just out of college. The horse was very green but fun to ride and I knew I couldn’t make the commitment to own a horse at that time. So, while I put a lot of “sweat equity” and training into the horse, I had a lot of fun bringing him along. When I gave him back to the owner he was an event horse with a very distinguished record who had been to the division finals. Honestly, I would have bought him if I’d been able, but I left feeling that both of us got value from the lease.

Another problem that I see mentioned frequently is that riders don’t want the owners to mess with “their” horse during the lease. Of course, much of the contention comes from poorly written contracts but I do think it’s unreasonable to forbid the owner from riding their own horse during a lease period, at least to make sure that it’s still going well. Looking at it from the owner’s perspective, they want to make sure their horses aren’t messed up by riders who are maybe not as skilled as they perceive themselves to be. In an online discussion on this topic, many people sided with the person leasing the horse — that it was “her” horse during that time. I disagree: there’s a much larger commitment to ownership than merely covering costs.

Kronefurst Free lease
I briefly leased my gelding, Kroni, when I was at an expensive commercial barn. It was fine until the day I showed up to ride and found my lessor riding him. It was not his time to ride but he thought it as “too cold” that morning so decided to ride that afternoon. I’d already hired a babysitter so I could ride then. The lease ended right then and there. My next lessor was terrific and rode Kroni for several years.

I also see disagreements about what an owner can require of a lessee.  For example, someone is looking at a horse to free lease.  She finds the “ideal” horse that meets all her “requirements” in that it’s a horse she can get on and compete with now. However, the owner has a lot of requirements regarding which supplements the horse must be fed and what type of medical treatments (acupuncture, chiropractic care) the horse must receive. The girl complained that these were unreasonable requirements that had no proven value and wanted to see if others thought the owner was being too demanding.

My feeling is, if you don’t like the conditions, don’t lease the horse. With a few exceptions, most of the horse owners I know (including myself) all do things that others might consider unreasonable. But it’s the owners prerogative to specify the conditions under which someone else can ride their horse. Most things are open to some negotiation, but if you really don’t like the deal, buy your own horse!

When “free leases” work well, they are great. As I mentioned, I had a free lease on a horse for about three years that worked really well. Since then I’ve half leased my horses three times. One worked extremely well: the lessee was a nice rider with modest goals and lots of common sense. I never worried about her riding my horse. I had a free lease on a horse for several years before I was able to buy my own. It was a nice arrangement, but probably best for me because the owner wasn’t interested in riding the horse very often!

Two were less successful. One many seemed incapable of following a schedule and so was once riding my horse when I showed up to ride. One woman had problems following my program. There were certain ways of handling the horse or riding the horse that she didn’t want to do (such as always leading her with a lead rope).  I also found that my horse started to pick up bad habits under saddle. Basically, my lessee was treating my horse as hers and didn’t appreciate my concerns. The horse was for sale and luckily sold before it became more of an issue.

Tell me about your free lease situation — did it work well? or not?

5 thoughts on “Free lease – what should you expect?

  1. Your article was so spot on. I only once leased my horse out to what I believed to be a mature responsible lady. It was a free lease and the lady was to pay my mare’s board and to make sure she was exercised no less than 4 days/week. I would pay the vet bills and farrier bills in order to ensure that her needs would be met. I also expected the lady to keep my equipment neat ,clean and in good repair and she agreed to all of my conditions in writing. This agreement worked well for about a month however, when it came time to pay my mare’s board for the second month the lady failed to pay and had disappeared without notice. When I checked on all the other conditions, none of them had been adheared to! I personally would never consider this type of arrangement again. I am sure their are good people out there but I never met one. If you love horses and want to ride, save up and buy your own.

  2. Thanks for this post. I am with you on the leasers prerogative to put conditions and check in. I leased my large pony to a lesson program some years ago. I knew the instructor and boarded at the barn periodically so I was comfortable with the set up and care. Initially it went very well, the pony behaved (no small feat) and she had a real job for the first time in her life. However, once winter came they used her less and the lessons took place in an indoor with a very hard track (and of course the kids spent the hour on the track). Getting pulled out of the field a few times a month to pound for an hour around a hard track did not work for her (no kidding). She got sour, starting rearing and I think had a lameness (maybe in her back?).

    Anyway, I brought her home in the spring and it took a full 2 years before she was really right again, both in attitude and in body. This summer she will finally walk, trot and canter without bucking or balking. I don’t just blame the barn, I know her well and knew something was up and should have pulled the plug sooner. One problem was that the barn was put up for sale, the owner had a major illness in the family and things were starting to slip in all areas.

    I would consider leasing her again, but she is quirky and I would be very particular about the arrangement. Oh, and no more lesson pony for her.

  3. I’m on the other side: I’ve been half leasing a horse for the past several years and it works well for me. I don’t have property to keep a horse at home, and the barn I ride at isn’t quite convenient enough to go to more than 2-3 times per week. Additionally, there hasn’t been anyone else taking the other half of the lease, so I essentially get a full lease for half price.

    The arrangement works so well for me that I really couldn’t justify buying my own horse unless I had my own property to keep it on! (And if I did get a property that I could keep a horse on, I’d definitely offer to buy the horse I’m leasing!)

  4. My friend decided to free lease 2 of her horses to a family. The family drove an hour to the farm and tailored the horses anfld loaded all of the tack then transported them another hour to their new home. Over the course of 4 or 5 days disagreements arose and a 2 versions of a contract were generated but neither of them could come to an agagreemenbc neither of them can compromise and neither contract was signed so a day or 2 later the owner one day showed up and loaded her horses into the trailer. As she was getting ready to pack up her tack the family showed up with an invoice to compensate them for moving renting a trailer training blanketing so on and so forth they had made Incase the owner had decided not to lease her horses. The family handed her the invoice of over $1,000 and would not allow her to take her tack until they wer reembersed for the work they had done…my question is since no contract was signed and even if it was signed no where did it state. Nor was verbally spoken that she would have to compensate the family can they legally hold the owners tack “ransom” still she pays them?

    1. With no contract, it’s probably unenforceable but your friend would likely have to get the local police dept. involved and bring proof of ownership of the horses along with the two versions of the contract. However, if the people had to rent a trailer to move the horses, I think she may be obligated to reimburse them. Never, ever let your horses leave your property until all details have been settled!

Leave a Reply