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Which horse to lease?

I’ve tried out a couple potential lease horses at two different barns and I can’t decide which to go with. For context, I’m an adult re-rider. Started taking hunter/jumper lessons again last summer so looking for a horse to lease or half lease that’s beginner safe, bomb proof, etc. I’m currently doing w/t/c and some cross rails.

One horse is a mare, definitely tested me at first but was good after a few minutes. The price is great but the barn is very bare bones. They give lessons but they don’t really have a riding ring, mostly open fields and trails. But I loved the vibe of the barn, very low key and friendly, horses very well taken care of.

The other horse I tried at the other barn was a gelding, been there done that type. The barn doesn’t have trails but they had both an outdoor and covered/lighted ring, which is great because in the winter it is hard for me to get to the barn before it gets dark. I liked the barn owner and I think I could be happy with the gelding but I’d be sharing him with the lesson program so it’d be a half lease. There’s no trails or open fields so I’m worried after a while I’m going to get bored with just riding in the ring.

I can’t get the mare out of my head. I really liked her and the barn owner. The barn was very laid back which is what I’m looking for but I’m nervous that once the days get shorter I won’t be able to get there during the week due to my work schedule. She’s looking for a long term leaser so I’d hate to commit now then back out once fall rolls around. (It’s technically a month by month lease but she’s hoping someone will ride the horse for at least a year)

So I’m looking for advice since this is my first lease ever. One, is a mare the best option for a first lease? Two, would the barn with the riding rings versus trails/open fields be better for someone who is still beginner/intermediate?

Having been in your shoes (though as a total beginner, not re-rider) I know that, personally, I would go for the mare. I was at a similar crossroads when I was first trying to lease. Initially I wanted more of a program, maybe a part lease on a lesson horse, something with more supervision and less commitment.

Instead I got a full lease and moved to a barn where I had much more autonomy. I was cautious at first. My lease was not a lesson horse type, and if I’d been working with my previous trainer when I found him, it most likely would have been a hard no.

But I think he was exactly what I needed, as was the entire setup of getting to do my own thing and figure it out. Especially as an adult, you don’t want to be micromanaged and never given a chance to grow in your horsemanship. I used to feel so apologetic all the time, like, “am I doing this right? Am I messing this horse up?” and constantly asking permission to do even trivial little things like take the long way back to the turnout or hand graze. It wasn’t all on me though because frankly some trainers really enforce that kind of reticence and self-consciousness.

The downside is that you could find yourself overhorsed, scared to ride, or just endlessly plateauing without eyes on the ground to set you right. Videoing all my rides helped me a lot. And I was lucky that my horse was a good match for me. You have to be able to trust your own judgment and have a good amount of self belief.


There’s no consistent difference between mares and geldings. Look at the individual.

Really it boils down to facilities. Which place fits what you want to do? And is there a 3rd or 4th choice out there?


Nothing at all wrong with a mare for a first lease! But speaking as someone who has leased/half leased a bunch while navigating a 9-5, I think a factor you maybe aren’t weighing enough is scheduling and barn amenities vs your goals. How often do you want to ride, how often can you reasonably get to the barn? Do you mostly want to hack out, or do you want to work on your skills in the arena, maybe show and compete?

If you can get to the barn enough to keep her fit, you’re comfortable hacking out alone, and you’re clear on how they ride and have lessons in the winter or in case of bad weather (everyone rides in the morning because it gets dark early and none of the riding areas have lights, for example) and that fits with your schedule and life, then the mare is probably a good fit.

Personally, I’d go with the gelding. I can’t get to the barn more than 3x or 4x per week, so I don’t mind a half lease. I’m also a baby about riding in the winter, so an indoor is a must (though this might vary based on where you live) and if I didn’t have an indoor and lights in the winter, I’d barely ride at all. Plus I’m happy to stay in the ring, though I’ve never been at a barn where I couldn’t find SOME way to get out of the ring.

If you’re really interested in the mare I’d also suggest you be up-front and let the owner know you’re very interested but can’t commit to a year right now. Everyone doing a month-to-month lease would PREFER a long-term commitment… but don’t feel obligated to make one! I’ve had a lot of luck saying “Hey, I’d love to do a trial month to see if this works with my schedule, and if it seems like a good fit I’d then be happy to commit through September and revisit then” or similar. Most people offering a month-to-month will jump on that offer.


What level rider were you prior to taking time off? Is there potential for help at the barn with the mare? What are you looking to do? Long hacks or even fox hunting? Tool around at a walk & enjoy life? Compete?

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Thank you everyone for responding!

@danhelm441 The mare situation is a lot like what you’re describing - full autonomy, so it’s really be like she was “my” horse which is probably what I’m most excited about. But like you also said, the downside is also the fear of riding, lack of supervision, plateauing, etc. I think over time, I would definitely get more confident. It will just take some getting used to since I haven’t ridden without an instructor in a really long time (and I’ve never leased a horse).

@Scribbler So true about the mare and gelding thing. I’ve definitely ridden some jerk geldings and super sweet mares. I just always see people saying don’t buy a mare as your first horse so I figured it’d be worth asking for a lease situation! I wish the two barns could mesh together and they’d have all the facilities I was looking for. Unfortunately, no other options within my budget or driving distance.

@173north I’m hoping to ride 4-5 days a week. But as you said, that can be difficult to navigate with a 9-5. I live in South Carolina so it’s really only about 4 or 5 months where riding while there’s daylight will be difficult. I’m hoping to continue re-learning to jump and do a couple of shows a year. The barn owner of the mare has a ring (its an unused pasture) with a few jumps. I think I just need to call her tomorrow and be very clear that 1) it’s going to be hard for me to ride 4-5 times a week in the winter and 2) can she actually help me achieve my riding goals at her facility.

@TheDBYC I was showing in Hunter classes at 2’6” before I quit riding so I’d like to get back to that. But I also want to be able to hack/trail ride. The barn with the gelding I know can definitely help me get back to where I was before I quit. But no trails so I could see myself wanting to switch barns after a year or two. I’m hoping to find a long-term barn.

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If I had to choose I’d choose the mare . I would not want a horse in a lesson program.


Depends on your goals. With the gelding you will possibly learn more technical riding skills. With the mare you will possibly learn more horsemanship skills. As I believe we learn by our mistakes, I would go for the mare and more autonomy.

You say you want to show. Does the low-key barn even go to shows?


Yeah unfortunately if these are your only options, I’d go this route because sharing a horse used in a lesson program is not a route I’d go for a “first lease.” However you have stated your work schedule will keep you from riding in the winter except for days off, which means you are already thinking about “bailing” on the lease in the fall.

Is it possible to keep looking or ? Either a full lease you can move to the barn with lights, or see about setting up temporary lights to ride the mare.

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I dont know that either barn is a long term option. Once you want to do 2’6" courses, it doesnt sound like the mare’s barn with only an unused pasture for a ring will work - not to mention the lack of riding time in bad weather, early darkness, etc.

If you want to advance your riding, I would take a trial lesson with each instructor to see who works better for you. If you are working on your riding, you are less likely to be “bored in a ring”. And perhaps a half lease on the gelding is cheaper and within your time constraints? OTOH, if you want to have some fun and riding time on trails, then the mare is for you!

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Actually, this is the best advice. Keep looking.

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Keep in mind that grass rings get muddy anytime it rains. I also wouldn’t risk your confidence not having a regular trainer and program. You’re not buying the horse so it’s not going to be long term. I’d go with the gelding take lots of lessons go to some shows then re-evaluate what you want


Which barn has better instruction? That’s just as important as finding the right horse. I’d probably recommend you keep looking.


When I was returning to riding almost 15 years ago, I spent a couple of years doing lessons twice a week at a decent h/j barn. But I never wanted to lease there because the facility was completely landlocked with no trails access. As a kid I rode trails primarily, I had access to some sand flats and a small ring to school in, but they were a good long hack away, and nothing at home.

So when I went looking for a lease I looked for places with trails. I got back into trail riding easily, and when I got bored with the home trails, I got a truck and trailer and discovered horse camping in the back country.

But trail riding ended up being fun for me because I had done it and loved it as a kid, and at some level still thought that a fairly technical mountain ride of 5 hours was the definition of “real riding.” :slight_smile:

I do however see lots of riders especially with a more competition or arena focus who never quite get comfortable in the open, or who are slightly bored on trail rides. So it really depends what you like to do.

I’d also spend a moment evaluating the trails at the one barn. Google map satellite view is your friend. How long are they, do you need to cross roads, do you have access to a big wilderness area? I say this because there have certainly been times I’ve been told “oh, there’s trails,” but actually they don’t exist anymore or are less than promised.

Working 9 to 5 and riding in winter after work without arena lights is pretty much impossible. Riding in an outdoor arena might be possible even in rain, but not in the dark. I’m OK with coming home in the dark on very familiar trails, but not with actually heading out in the dark.

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This was my thought too.

Have you confirmed the mare is willing to go out on trail rides alone? Do not want to get yourself into a situation where a riding buddy is required to make the trail ride fun when having a riding buddy is not an easy thing to do at that barn.


@trubandloki That’s super important!! So important I forgot to mention it! :slight_smile:

Yes, if you are planning to trail ride you need to know that (a) horse is perfectly fine alone as well as with a buddy and (b) you are perfectly fine alone. In addition to if horse is indeed sound enough to be happy on the trails. Do a trial trail ride, even if you need to pay a fee, to spend an hour on the trails alone.

Unfortunately lots of semi unsound horses get downgraded to “trail riding” in late career, which is fine if that means pottering along a sand trail three times a week for half an hour. But for myself, I want to walk trot canter on trails, go over all kinds of footing, push occasionally on length or terrain. Horse needs to be super sound. Not managing navicular or founder or bad arthritis etc.


Want to play devil’s advocate to this point of view, as someone in a similar position to the OP. If you get busy and unable to ride much in the winter due to lack of an indoor, is someone else going to be working the mare? If not, do you know whether she needs to be in consistent work to be safe and reliable for what you want to do? The silver-lining of the lease horse being in the lesson program is that the horse is still in work even if you’re not able to ride for some reason. If you go with the mare, and you cannot ride for 3 weeks in the winter due to weather/ work, you might find yourself getting on a very different horse when you return.

And, if you can afford it, an alternative to finding a third place is to keep riding at both (if possible). Maybe ask to do a 2 day per week on both horses so you get both arena time and continue with the mare. I’d also share your concerns pretty frankly with each trainer/BO. Maybe the owner of the place with indoor comes back and says, “oh, but we trailer out twice a month for a trail ride and you can join for that.” Again, just a few thoughts based on my own recent experience.


Very hard to comment without knowing more about skills/goals, but I did it the other way around.

I started back with lots of lessons first, and I picked a place with a covered, lighted arena for the very reasons you mention. I wouldn’t be sidelined either for lack of light or mucky arena. I could be consistent in building my strength back.

Then I went out later and leased a trail horse.

The horses I ride are NOT the same, and I’m not sure I’d want them to be. What I want in a trail horse is quite different from what I want when jumping. I wouldn’t feel really solid taking the horse I jump out on the trail. He’s a great arena horse, but only so-so in the Real World. And my trail horse is gaited and doesn’t jump at all. Trail is all he does.

I’ve had a lot of flexibility on offer in my area. I could take lessons 3X a week or only 1. I could ride trail 1X a week or 5. I can adjust as the seasons makes a mess of the trails or there’s too much competition for arena time.

Maybe you could ask about flexibility at both barns and see what is offered/suggested. I would say, as a re-rider, time in lessons with eyes on is probably good for you.

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One point that I’ll add is that even a year is not that big a deal. In other words, if you do decide to go for the mare, and it just turns out that you don’t have enough time or you aren’t achieving goals that you’d hope to achieve, it’s a year. No biggie. You’ll learn a lot even if it’s not always what you’d hoped to learn!

I’d go for the mare, or I’d keep looking. As a re-rider, you may initially feel more secure with the gelding being a lesson horse and the half-lease, but you’ll probably get bored or begin to chafe at not being able to ride when you want. (I would anyway).

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