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Loan Horses: Top Insider Tips

by Michelle Holtmeyer
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In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of having a horse on loan. You may have reached the point where you’ve made a commitment to riding and are wondering whether the next logical step is a horse or pony of your own. It’s a big step! Perhaps you’ve already thought about another possibility: having a horse on loan. Here are some tips to help you decide whether it’s right for you or not.

Having a loan horse can be a great introduction to horse ownership. It can work to the benefit of the owner as well as the person who takes the horse on loan. There’s a lot more to it than just going for your weekly ride at a riding school, though. It’s a big commitment in terms of time and finances. Plus, you may not be able to follow your other interests. You can’t opt-out of caring for your loan horse and doing something else instead. You’ll need to be there for your horse or pony just as if you were the owner. Before deciding to go ahead, be honest with yourself and ask: “Am I ready for this commitment?”

You need to be realistic about the amount of money and time it takes, every single day of the year, to care for a horse. Depending on the management system of your horse, you’ll need to allow for a minimum of two to four hours each day. A lot of that time will be spent in basic horse care, rather than riding around with the wind in your hair like they do in the movies. There might be a load of mud to brush off, for a start. Or the water tap might be frozen in winter and need defrosting before you can fill the water buckets. Having a loan horse is as big a responsibility as one of your own, and the horse’s owner needs to be sure their horse is in the right hands.

Be realistic

When you go to see a potential loan horse, always be realistic about your riding skills. If you’re looking for a happy hack to hit the trails with and have fun, say so. If the horse is a sports horse, the owner will probably be looking for someone who can maintain their fitness and training schedule, perhaps compete with it at its current level. However much you’ve fallen in love with the horse at first sight (it happens, trust us!) if you’re not capable of relating to it properly and giving it the work and attention it needs, things aren’t going to end well for any of you. Ask yourself “What does this horse really need?” and make sure you’re being truthful about your capabilities. Getting the right skills and experience match is critical.

So you think you’ve found the right loan horse and want to take it further? Remember, you’ll be responsible for your horse seven days a week and if anything happens, it will be your number that’s called. Things can and do go wrong; illness and accidents for instance. That’s often a point of dispute between owner and the person who has the horse on loan. It’s even been known for loan horses to end up in foal, by accident – now that can lead to arguments!

How much does it cost to keep a horse on loan?

This depends on the agreement, but mostly the person who has the horse on loan will be responsible for livery or stabling costs, shoeing or foot care, and at least some of the feed costs. Some agreements will expect the loaner to take on the insurance and veterinary costs, including vaccinations and worming. Keeping a horse at grass without a stable is often cheaper, but it’s inconvenient if the horse is ill or needs to be kept inside for some reason. Most people with a horse on loan won’t have much change from 500 €/£450 each month. It may cost even more. Can you afford this along with all your other outgoings? Have you got financial reserves if something goes wrong?

How can I get a horse on loan?

If you’re a serious rider with a proven track record and lots of potential, sometimes an owner may approach you directly. (It doesn’t happen often though!) If you’re riding regularly at a riding stable that also boards horses, the best thing to do is go as often as possible and stay alert to the possibilities. Perhaps offer to help one or two of the owners. Let people know that you’re looking for a horse on loan. Put up an ad on the bulletin board if there is one and include your phone number because some people prefer to chat rather than message.

There are many classified ad opportunities, so make use of them. Our ehorses advertising options are a proven way to find a good match. Whichever way you advertise, be honest and realistic about your skills and ambitions. It’s a great opportunity to exercise your networking skills.

First impressions count

This holds good for both owner and loaner! If you’re looking for a horse on loan, it pays to dress tidily and be knowledgeable and friendly. There’s no need to look as though you stepped out of the latest equestrian clothing catalogue, but you do need to give the impression, truthfully, that you’re reliable and committed. Also, that you won’t prefer to spend your time practising your couch potato skills in front of the TV while Thunder is shivering in the rain waiting to be fed.

Equally important, how does the horse look, as well as the place on which it’s kept? Will it have to stay there? How much feed does it need, and does it have supplements? Is it healthy and are its feet in good condition? Basically, you need to check everything as you would if you were actually buying the horse. Do you and the owner get along well? This is so important. If the chemistry isn’t right, however right the horse seems, it’s unlikely to work out.

Trying out your loan horse

Again, trust your instincts and if you’re not happy about something, politely make it clear you don’t want to carry on. Take a friend or your riding instructor if you can so they can observe what happens objectively.

Before you ride, spend time just watching the horse in its stable or field and ask if you can handle it, lead it around and groom it. How does the horse react to you – is it pushy, friendly or nervous? Does it look healthy and relaxed? Ask lots of questions. If you decide to go ahead, then a second visit where you take notes may be a good idea or ask your friend to do this for you. Take good note of what the owner says about their horse’s quirks. A second visit and another ride is also always sensible.

Tack the horse up yourself in the way you usually would. Is the owner happy with how you do things? Ideally, you need to try the horse both in an arena and outside. Do you feel confident or a bit uneasy? It takes time to get to know a horse and you’re not going to understand one another right away. Ask the owner how they feel about it and how you and the horse look together. If they’re a good owner, they’ll understand that it takes time to bond and give you more opportunities to do that.

Do I need to have the horse vetted?

If you’ve taken along a knowledgeable friend or trainer, then ask them whether they can check the horse over, with the owner’s permission of course. They may spot something you’ve missed. If you are planning to compete at an advanced level, then it would make good sense to have the horse vetted as well. If you’re taking the horse on as a “loan with a view to buy” then yes, definitely have it vetted at this stage. A vet check will look at the horse’s overall health and fitness and test its stamina, heart, legs, lungs and so on. This will help to prevent issues with the current owner if something goes wrong.

What does the loan agreement need to include?

If you are planning on a part loan or share, this could include how many days a week you will be responsible for the horse. How does this fit in with your school, university or work? How much can you afford? What will happen during the holidays or if you are ill? Plan for worst-case scenarios – what if you lost your job?

Keeping a horse for pleasure riding is a different commitment from keeping a horse to compete, which requires much more time and investment. There will be additional costs such as transport, clothing, additional training and so on. Can you afford to keep up with your riding lessons when you have a horse to look after?

Costs also vary according to whether the horse is on full livery (that is, looked after by the farm, yard or stable on which it is kept) or on a DIY basis. DIY is cheaper but more time-consuming so you may have less time for riding. A lot depends on what the current owner would like you to do. Again, be realistic. Can you keep the horse up to the owner’s standard? Have a “Plan B” for a change in circumstances.

The bottom line is, don’t go ahead unless you are completely confident financially and in terms of your skills. See if you can negotiate a month or three-month trial before committing to the longer term.

This is the one! Do I need a contract?

Yes, it’s always sensible to get what you’ve agreed with the owner in writing. Drawing up a proper legal contract is a good idea and there are plenty of examples out there on the internet. You can customise your own of course. Still unsure? Get a legal professional to check it out. They may spot things you’ve missed. For a relatively small price, you’ll get additional legal security if things should go wrong.

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