(A Guest Post by Emily Edwards)
Many people dream of owning their own horse but, for some reason or another, are not quite at that stage yet. The next best thing, of course, is leasing. Leasing provides an opportunity to get a taste of horse ownership, but the logistics of being a leaser can often be a bit of a mine field. Fortunately for us, the lovely and talented Emily Edwards has the inside track on being a horse-leaser-extraordinaire, and she was generous enough to share some of her top tips with us.
Leasing a horse has numerous benefits, especially for those of us with time or money restrictions, and there is quite a lot of information available about how to find a horse to lease.
There are thousands of articles about how to choose an appropriate horse and what to look for in the lease agreement but there’s not too much advice about how to act after the lease begins. Sure, the general rules of being a decent and respectful horse person apply, but how can you be the best darn leaser your barn has ever seen?
How to be a good leaser is not a million miles away from how to be a good boarder – you need to follow the barn rules and pay on time in both situations. But when you own the horse yourself, in the case of boarding, your responsibilities are more obvious. Hoof care? Tack cleaning? Sheath cleaning? That’s all you, horse owners.
When you lease a horse, the rules are often less cut and dry. Here are some tips for how to be a DOLL (Downright Outstanding Leaser Lady). Yes, I did just assume your gender because 99% of the people who lease horses are female.
Disclaimer: I am by no means holding myself up as the shining example of how to be a DOLL – these suggestions reflect how I think a DOLL should behave, not necessarily how I behave. The struggle is real (see Part 3).
Part 1: Treat the horse like you own him or her
I started leasing the most adorable (this is not an exaggeration – ask anyone who knows him) QH X Labrador gelding several months ago and it took me approximately half an hour to feel like he was “mine.” This was great on several levels, but most importantly because it benefits him.
The more I think of him as my responsibility, the better care I take of him. If the horse you lease is also ridden by other people, as mine is, you could assume that someone else is keeping an eye on him (I’m going to use “him” to refer to all horses because mine is a gelding).
I operate under the assumption that the buck stops with me. So I check him carefully for cuts, I clean out his nostrils and butt, I polish his little teacup feet, and do all the things that maybe other people who ride him aren’t doing.
Pro tip: Learn how to clean out small cuts yourself so you don’t annoy the barn staff every time he gets an owie.
A key part of leasing a horse is balancing how often you ride him with his existing lesson demands, fitness level, and of course your own schedule. Some lease agreements, particularly full lease agreements, state that you can ride the horse whenever he’s not in a lesson or “anytime at all.”
Unfortunately, some people take this a bit too literally and ride the poor horse too much. Just because you can ride him every day doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes my guy has two lessons on Saturdays. So I don’t ride on Saturdays. I make sure he has at least one full day off every week. Horses are not machines. Hopefully if you’re reading this article you already know that.
Part 2: Be a decent human being.
This section heading might make you think “of course, how basic.” But really, I can’t emphasize this enough: being a kind, helpful, friendly human is going to bump you up from a GAL (Good, Acceptable Leaser) to a DOLL. Why be a GAL when you can be a DOLL?
If you have limited people skills please focus whatever you have on the barn staff. These people should be treated like gold – not only do they work super hard but they probably see the horse more than you do. It behooves you to stay on their good side, partly because they’ll keep you informed if he loses a shoe or seems off but mostly because it’s the Right Thing To Do. These people deserve way more appreciation than they typically get.
Communication is key, people. Find out if your horse needs a certain medication. If you’re going on vacation, if your horse took an odd step, or if you broke a piece of tack – tell the BBLs (that stands for Beautiful Barn Ladies. Too many acronyms? OK, I’ll stop now).
Offer to help! Hopefully this is a no-brainer but you never know. Turning out your horse in that far-away field? Ask if you can bring another horse on your way back. Or, even better, don’t ask if you can help – just pick up a pitchfork and start shovelling. No one is going to tell you to stop picking up manure. I don’t think “please stop cleaning up poop” is a phrase that has ever been uttered in the English language.
Follow the rules. This one is easy for me because I have the rule-following gene deep within my veins. My lease agreement says “no galloping” so do you think we’ve even cantered fast? No, we have not. One time I posted a picture of us cantering and the wind in his mane made it look like we were going too fast so I deleted it.
Be tidy and don’t make work for anyone. If you use the barn’s feed buckets, put them back when you’re done. Sure, other people leave them lying around but not you. Never you! This is a quick and easy way for you to make the leap from a GAL to a DOLL.
Pay promptly. If the lease money is due on the first of the month and the barn has to remind you to pay every time, you’re not even a GAL – you’re a POS. The hardworking barn folks do not have time to chase you down and harass you for something you already know you should do. Do you think they’ll forget if you don’t pony up the cash in time? Mark it in your calendar, tie a string on your finger, whatever – just pay on time.
Put your name on all your gear so there’s no drama if someone else thinks your saddle pad is their saddle pad. Sure, your stuff will look like you’re going away to camp but it could save you some tedious she said/she said crap down the road.
Find out how your barn does things and do it that way. Horse people are notorious for doing the same task 453 different ways, but really, if it’s safe just do it their way. I’d also suggest keeping your mouth shut about you think it should be done.
Be careful about how you voice concerns. Okay, this one is less black and white than some of the other points. Like in the above tip, you should keep it to yourself if you just don’t like how someone lunges her horse. But if you see a serious incident that bothers you, tell the barn manager in private and just relay the facts.
Pro tip: do not make complaints or judge other people on Facebook.
Part 3: Make the best of your time with the horse
If you’re leasing a horse who has changed hands several times in the past, you may not know his full history. It’s easy to assume that he’s always been the amazing lesson horse you see beneath you. However, it’s in your best interests to find out what the horse did in his previous life. Was he a reiner? That could explain a lot of how he reacts to your leg aids.
Find out if the horse had previous injuries or accidents – you might think there’s no harm in popping him over a little cross pole but then you find out that he can’t ever be jumped. Crisis and horrible injuries avoided!
Also, find out what he does when you’re not around. Is he mostly used in trail rides? If so, that could be a nice complement to your dressage sessions.
Ask questions and pay attention. But don’t be annoying. I struggle the most with this one because I want to ask endless questions, which doesn’t always go over well with busy barn folks.
I find myself picking and choosing the most important questions so I don’t overwhelm the poor BBLs with a slew of “how tos” and “what ifs” and “whycomes.” You may have registered by this point that I am a slightly anxious person and this doesn’t always translate into being a DOLL. I’m working on it, I swear.
If you take away just one point from this article I’d like it to be that just because you don’t own the horse doesn’t mean you should act differently than if he were your own.
You are the de facto “owner” and ought to shoulder more responsibility than other riders. This will happen naturally for most people but if you’ve been a GAL up to this point, I hope that, like me, you’re always striving to be a DOLL
Emily leases a Quarter Horse gelding in Northern California. Together, they practice low-level dressage and are preparing for their first show.