Have you ever wished that you could cut your horse-care costs in half? Or maybe dreamed that your horse could be exercised more times throughout the week? There's a way to achieve both those goals and retain ownership of your horse. It's called the "half lease."
In this type of agreement, the owner of the horse—or lessor—splits the horse's care expenses and riding time with a lessee. It can be a beneficial way to save money on board, feed, vet bills, etc., and it can be great for your horse if your own saddle time is limited. With respect to the lessee, a half lease can act as a steppingstone into horse ownership.
However, it's not an agreement that should be taken lightly. In fact, it's a deal that should be in writing—every time.
"I receive numerous calls every week from people who're involved in disputes over arrangements, such as leases and half leases. Yet nothing is in writing," says Julie Fershtman, attorney at law and equine law specialist. "Without a written contract that clarifies the arrangement between the parties, resolving these types of disputes is never easy, quick, or cheap," she notes.
So what should the contract include? That's where we, and Julie, come in. tapping her expertise, we'll share four hypothetical scenarios to show the importance of certain contract provisions. We'll also go over all the bullet points every contract should include, should you decide to write your own. (Note: This list will also be helpful if you have an attorney draft it.)
If you decide to half lease your horse, we hope this article will help protect you—and your lessee—in the event of an incident.
Mary is half leasing Bandit, her 15-year-old Quarter horse gelding, to her friend Kevin. During one of Kevin and Bandit's rides, the horse spooks at the delivery truck driving past the arena. The quick movement unseats Kevin, and he falls off, breaking his arm. Kevin then decides to sue Mary for the cost of medical expenses.
In this case, Mary could've attempted to avoid a costly lawsuit, and more, by using a carefully worded release of liability.
This is one of the most important factors for the horse owner to consider, and Julie stresses that "homemade" releases are more likely to fail in court than those drafted by attorneys.
"Because their horses are used in a half lease, the owners accept a degree of risk that someone might be injured by that animal," says Julie. "I wish more people were aware of this risk. To me, the risk of liability is far more significant than the risk of injury to the animal. I don't mean to diminish the value of the horse, but when a person is killed or seriously injured, it could be millions of dollars in liability. If the animal is injured, that number is far less."
Keep a couple of important factors in mind with the release of liability.
First, most states will enforce a properly worded release of liability, so make sure that your state does (more on that later), and make sure your document meets state law requirements, as they all differ.
"It's important to remember that people who sign releases can and do sometimes sue. The release might cause a dismissal of the case, but not always," says Julie.
Second, don't assume that a release will be effective for a minor who's injured. A release signed by someone under 18 isn't valid. Even if the parents sign for the child, there could be some issues. Some states won't enforce it and some will.
"A lessor who's uninformed accepts a tremendous liability risk in that situation," Julie warns.
To find out about which agreements your state allows and will enforce, it's best to speak with an attorney.
Another action you can take as the lessor, suggests Julie, is to purchase an appropriate liability policy, such as a personal horse owner's liability insurance policy. However, the insurer should be notified that the horse is subject to a lease arrangement.
With this type of insurance, she adds, the policy is designed to protect you if someone were bitten, kicked, struck, or thrown by the horse, and, at the very least, provides a legal defense.
Kara is half leasing Jazzie, a 10-year-old Appaloosa mare, from her trainer. She and Jazzie get along great, and the arrangement is working well. A month into the half lease, Kara receives an unexpected bill from her trainer for half the cost of Jazzie's hock injections and two chiropractic appointments. Though Kara agreed to pay half of Jazzie's board and vet bills in her contract, she had no idea the mare was on such an expensive regimen.
There are two things Kara could've done to avoid the surprise bill. First, she should've done her homework and talked extensively with her trainer about Jazzie's care and upkeep and all of her veterinary expenses.
"The lessee needs to be very comfortable with the horse that will be half leased. If willing to enter an agreement, the lessee should do his or her homework and understand the history of that particular horse—any quirks or propensities and special care needs," says Julie.
Second, this particular issue could've been addressed in Kara's contract. Along with the provision of all the fees the lessee is responsible for, the trainer could've listed all of the extra care Jazzie receives on a regular basis. (These can be as little as extra supplements in the mare's diet to more costly chiropractic, equine dental, massage, acupuncture treatments, etc.)
Or, Kara could've insisted that the contract cap her expenses to a certain limit. Another option to cover this in the contract would be to set an approximated flat fee per month, rather than half the expenses.