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Lease Agreements That Work

Put it in writing! Signing a lease agreement with clearly defined expectations of both parties will help prevent misunderstandings down the road.

Given the opportunity, most riders would love to have a horse of their own. But sometimes buying is not the most practical option. Leasing may be a good alternative, one that provides many of the pleasures and privileges of ownership without the long-term commitment.

Or if you're an owner of a beloved horse that you're not using to his full potential, you might be delighted to turn him over to someone who will love, care for, and appreciate his talents, without having to give him up completely. A lease might be the answer for you, too.

However, entering into a lease agreement with someone over the care and use of a horse may not be as straightforward as you'd expect. You need to consider many factors-both legal and emotional-before you can make an informed decision.

The reasons to lease are as varied as the spots on an Appaloosa. Sometimes financial considerations come into play, or work schedules make full ownership responsibilities difficult to assume. Perhaps you've recently lost a beloved horse and you're not ready to make the same sort of emotional investment in another animal. Or maybe you want to lease a special horse for breeding or competition so you can get a higher caliber horse than you might otherwise be able to afford.

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According to Roni McAbee, owner and operator of South Wind Stables in Binghamton, New York, there are several recurrent reasons why her students choose to lease. The most common is to experience the responsibilities of ownership before making a commitment to buy.

That is exactly why Roberta Armstrong decided to lease a horse for her daughter Haley.

"The whole reason we did it was to see if Haley liked taking care of a horse and having the responsibility. We weren't sure how serious she was in the beginning. That was the reason to lease before we made a big investment," Roberta explained.

The Armstrongs leased several horses with various temperaments before Haley found a perfect fit with a Thoroughbred named Zak.

Chelsea Babcock, another student at South Wind Stables, leased her first pony for a different reason. Her mother, Lisa, said that it was a purely practical decision.

"We were looking for a pony for Chelsea to do the children's hunter. We knew she would outgrow the pony in a year, so instead of investing to buy one, a lease was more feasible. That way, we wouldn't have to worry about selling the pony and wonder if we could get the price that we paid for it."

The arrangement worked well for Chelsea, who was able to move on to a horse after showing her leased pony for a year.

A Written Agreement
No matter why you choose to lease, keep in mind that the terms of such agreements can vary as much as the reasons for the lease. Whether you are the "lessor" (the person who owns the horse) or the "lessee" (the person leasing the horse), it is essential to sort out the conditions of the lease with one another and then to put the terms in writing.

Even in an arrangement between yourself and a friend, misunderstandings and disagreements can arise-and it is in the best interest of everyone, including the horse, to clearly define the terms you are agreeing to.

Although it may be tempting to make just a verbal agreement, Julie Fershtman, an attorney who specializes in horse-related litigation, emphasizes the importance of putting any agreement into writing.

"If somebody makes promises to you about what they're going to do, the payments they're going to make, the quality of care they're going to give the horse…if you ask them to put that into writing, they should not hesitate," Fershtman says. "If they fail or refuse to put it into writing, you're tipped off that maybe these are not the best people to deal with."

A written agreement is also useful as a tool to more clearly define the terms of the lease for both parties. However, make certain that you understand what rights you may be giving up before signing anything. The language of some contracts can be very one-sided. For example, Fershtman says that it is possible for a contract to be worded so that if a horse is injured in a pasture while under the lessee's care, the lessee could be held responsible for the medical costs related to that injury for the duration of the horse's life. Odds are, you don't want to pay a lifetime of vet bills for a horse you don't even own!

"Understand what rights you may be giving up and what risks you are accepting," Fershtman advises.

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