Q: I am preparing to lease out my 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding for the first time, and, while I know and trust the lessee, I’ve heard horror stories of leased horses coming back entirely unsound or unusable. Is there anything I can do to help protect myself and my horse from that scenario?  

Armand Leone: Yes, and you are already taking the first and most important step by thinking of these possible scenarios now, rather than waiting for a problem to arise! The majority of what you can do to protect both you and your horse all relates to having a detailed lease contract signed prior to the start of the lease. Here are a few components of a good lease contract that you may want to consider in direct relation to your question:

The Trainer – The most important factor in deciding whether to lease your horse is the stable the horse is going to and the trainer who will be responsible for managing the horse’s training and showing program. It is important to learn the qualifications and reputation of the trainer who will be in charge. You should specify in the lease which trainer will be responsible for the horse and that a change in trainer can only occur with your approval in writing.

Restrictions on use – This is your opportunity to put into writing anything that you may not want the horse to be used for or that exceeds his abilities and puts him at greater risk for injury. For instance, how high are you comfortable having him jumped? If you prefer he is never jumped over 3’6”, put that in the contract. If the horse is only to be used in hunter and equitation classes, put that in. What about trail rides? Or the number of horse shows per month in which the rider competes the horse? How about riders; are other riders aside from the lessee allowed to ride your gelding? Think of anything that you may not be comfortable with and include mention of it in the lease.

Quality of care – The lease contract also provides you with the opportunity to spell out the standard of care that you expect the horse to receive. As an example, if the horse is to be shod every six weeks, this can be mentioned. You can also go into even greater specifics, providing details such as ‘the horse should always be ridden in boots;’ ‘the horse should wear a sheet or blanket any time temperatures reach below 50 degrees Fahrenheit,’ etc. This is again your opportunity to put into writing anything that you see pertinent and helpful in ensuring quality care of your animal throughout the lease term.

In case of injury – Any good lease contract should include information on what happens should death, injury, or illness occur. While we hate to think of it, these situations do commonly arise, and all parties will want to be prepared if they do. In the case of lameness, who is responsible for the vet bills? Will the lessee have the option to return the horse and terminate the lease early if the horse becomes unsound? In the tragic but possible case of death, what is the responsibility of the lessee (see insurance requirement below)? There is much to consider in these situations, and it should be well articulated in the contract and discussed thoroughly with all involved parties before the lease is entered into.

Insurance – In that same vein, insurance requirements must be included in the lease contract. If the horse is insured prior to the lease, the contract could state that the lessee must continue to pay for the horse’s insurance coverage. If the horse is not insured, the contract must require the purchase of mortality and/or major medical insurance for the duration of the lease.

While it may sound overwhelming at first, a good lease contract can go a long way in protecting you and your horse and in helping you to feel good about the lease!

Equine lawyers like our team at Leone Equestrian Law are also well-versed in proper lease documentation and are always available to aid in putting together a sound contract that will leave you feeling comfortable with your lease arrangement.

About the Author

Armand Leone is the founding partner of Leone Equestrian Law LLC, a New Jersey-based law firm that provides legal services and consultation for equestrian professionals ranging from riders and trainers to owners and show managers in the FEI disciplines on a wide variety of issues. Learn more about Leone Equestrian Law LLC at equestriancounsel.com.