If you’re a horse-crazy kid, then you’re familiar with reading every horse book you can get your hands on, drawing pictures, writing horse stories, and spending max time with any real-life horse you can be around. Eventually the time comes that you can feel it in your bones: you want—no, you NEED—your own horse!
Before you rush out to pick up the first $500 pony you see online, take some time to think about the different options that might be a better fit for you. No matter what you end up doing, the first step is to involve your parents! Find out what a realistic budget is for your horsey habit. If you have other siblings or activities that your household is a part of, it’s not fair to channel all of your family funds into something that only you enjoy.
Find out what the right balance is between time, money and your passion for all things horse, then decide if you should lease or a buy a horse.
If you haven’t formally started your horsey journey, lessons should be the first step before you lease or buy a horse.
Have your parents do a search online or ask your horsey friends where they take lessons. Most large barns have a lesson program for kids that don’t own their own horse; they will have several reliable, safe lesson horses on which you can learn the ropes of riding.
Lessons are fantastic, because you can ride different types of horses and quickly move up to bigger or perkier horses as you “graduate” from beginner mounts. If you buy a horse, you will have to sell it, in most cases, if you are ready for a more advanced horse.
Lessons are also a great way to build a relationship with an instructor. If you find one you like, she will get to observe your style and figure out how best to help you improve your riding skills. When you’re ready for the next step, she can offer valuable advice and help you on your horse search.
Once you have a year or more of lessons under your belt, you should be confident with catching a horse, grooming him, tacking up, trotting on the right diagonal, picking up the right canter lead, and more. You may be itching for more one-on-one time with a horse, and perhaps riding outside of lessons. That means it might be time to consider if you should lease or buy a horse.
The great news is that if you’re already working with an instructor with multiple horses, they probably have horses for lease (which means you pay to “rent” a horse for a longer time period) right at the barn where you already ride. An ideal starting point is a quarter or half lease. This gives you responsibility for a horse only a couple of days a week, so you don’t have to be there every day if it’s not practical to do so. Partial leases are also more budget-friendly than a full lease, where you are solely responsible for the horse’s care. With a partial lease, you may ride the horse in your weekly lesson and one or two other days per week.
A full lease—sometimes called a “feed lease”—is the final step before jumping into horse ownership. You will pay for all of the horse’s care and take care of him just like you own him, going to the barn every day to groom and exercise him. This is a big step that will require your parents to drive you to the barn a lot, and costs as much as horse ownership (minus the purchase price!).
There are other types of leases, such as a well-trained show horse that you can compete for a show season. This type of lease may have a large fee on top of the horse’s regular care cost.
Buying a Horse
If you are experienced with confidently riding different kinds of horses, have reliable daily transportation to the barn (or live on a horse property), are experienced with the different facets of horse care, and have a horse shopping budget, you may be ready to take the plunge into horse ownership.
Any talk of ownership needs to start with your parents. If they agree that there is a budget to buy plus boarding, or caring for a horse if you live on a farm, then ask the instructor who best knows your riding style for some help finding horses within your budget.
It can take a long time to find the perfect fit. Be patient, and always have an equine vet perform a pre-purchase exam (PPE) on any horse to check for unsoundness or health problems before buying. Don’t rule out horses based on age, color or a plain appearance. It could be that the perfect fit for your skill level and style is different than what you originally had in mind.
Whether you take lessons, lease or buy, the most important thing is that you are lucky enough to have quality horse time in your life. Whatever fits your family’s budget, make sure to be thankful for an opportunity that not everyone is fortunate enough to have!
This article about choosing to lease or buy a horse originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!