The pros and cons of leasing a horse

For many enthusiastic riders, leasing a horse can be the bridge between learning how to ride and getting your first mount. Owning a horse is expensive, and finding the right one for an amateur rider is hard. But usually, there comes a point for most beginner/amateur riders where riding school horses in lessons or on trail rides isn't satisfying their horsey appetite, and they want the chance to strike out on their own. 

Leasing horses in Australia is not as developed a prospect as it is in other countries. In the UK especially, part-leasing or 'sharing' a horse is a common way that horse owners manage the exercise requirements of their pony alongside the financial commitment. 

But leasing is becoming more popular here in Australia as well, and could be a viable option for you. 

So what is a lease?

Leasing a horse, in a nutshell, is having all of the joys and responsibilities of horse ownership without the initial cost of purchase. 

Usually, leasing a horse means you get to: 

  • Be the primary rider and carer for the horse
  • Take on the responsibility of its care, including feed, health care such as shoeing, turning in and out, and managing their exercise
  • Ride at times that suit you and your lifestyle.

You may or may not need to provide the tack and gear for the horse, or have that provided by the owner. 

The lease may or may not take place on property (i.e. at the owner's property or where they currently agist their horse) or off-property (i.e. you get to choose the location, with the owner's permission). 

A full lease means you are the sole rider/carer for the horse, and a part lease is where you might take care of and ride the horse on specific days, with the duties shared either with the owner or another lessee. 

Are leases free?

They can be - but in this case it means that you're paying for all of the care for the horse, just not paying directly to the owner. Other leases may come with a fixed fee, where you're contributing to the costs of the horse, but are not solely responsible. And sometimes people will exchange the care of the horse for your time in exercising it, so that there is no financial commitment from you. It's very case-by-case. 

What are the positives and negatives of leasing a horse? 

When it comes down to it, there are definitely both good and bad things about leasing a horse instead of buying one. Here are some of the main things to consider:

Pro - Leasing is a more affordable alternative to buying a horse

When you reach the point in your riding journey where you feel confident enough to ride on your own, but can't afford the immediate outlay for purchasing a horse, a lease can be the perfect in-between. 

There are also other great reasons why people choose to lease. They might be returning to riding after a break, and want to be in the saddle but not necessarily in a lesson environment. Or, like me, people might be living away from home or in another country, and looking for a temporary way to keep riding and spending time with horses. 

The cost is definitely less of a commitment than if you were paying the purchase price of a horse AND for all of it's gear, transport etc. 

Con - The cost of care of the horse is still expensive, but you have less decision making power 

Most full leases, however, require you to take on the care of the horse, and that means paying for feed, agistment, gear, supplements, the farrier, the vet, and anything else your horse needs. 

Responsible horse ownership does cost money, and if you can't afford to buy a horse due to the ongoing costs of owning one, you probably can't afford to lease either.

If money isn't the issue, it's also worth thinking about the fact that the money you invest into a lease horse isn't the same as investing in your own, because the horse's owner ultimately get's to make the final call on how it's cared for, which at times might contradict your own. And at any point, the lease may end. 

Pro - You get to try horse ownership without the long term commitment

When you're entering into horse ownership for the first time, there's really no way to prepare for the amount of time, money and effort that it takes to own and care for a horse. Leasing is a great way to test the waters and find out what it's like to own a horse without the long term commitment or finality of actually buying one.

Con - A lease can end at any time, which can be upsetting and disruptive

Of course, the flip side of the flexibility of a lease is the fact that your lease horse can be taken from you with no real notice if the owner decides they want their horse back or they want to sell. 

I know plenty of people who have been devastated when the horse they have leased and cared for over months and years is suddenly no longer theirs to love. 

Pro - If the partnership isn't right, you can always return the horse 

When I part-leased a horse in Scotland, I swiftly realised that it wasn't going to work out. The 16.2 Irish Sporthorse gelding was waaay too much horse for me, and he tipped me off his back many times before I decided it just wasn't going to work. 

The beauty of it was I could let the owner know, give them enough time to find a new sharer, and be on my way, knowing the horse was still loved, cared for and would be ridden by its experienced owner regardless. 

Con - There is a large liability risk associated with caring for another person's animal

Horses are risky animals, and prone to injury and illness. When you take on the responsibility of leasing and caring for someone's horse, you're also taking on the risk that something might happen to that horse in your care. 

It's really important that you and the owner are clear on terms and conditions, responsibilities on both parts, and liability should the horse be injured or otherwise harmed, and likewise, should you be injured as a result of the horse's behaviour. A written and signed agreement is the best way forward, as well as insurance if you're wanting to add a layer of protection. 

Leasing a horse can be a wonderful way of expanding your experience with horses and riding, but it's definitely worth weighing up the pros and cons before taking the leap!