OTTB for Hire

Elizabeth Hurst has been leasing out her longtime partner, Play It Again Sam, so he can enjoy a lower-level job. Photo by CanterClix

Play It Again Sam is Elizabeth Hurst’s heart horse. She acquired the son of Behrens in 2014, and together the pair have tackled hunter paces, local shows and life’s milestones. As Sam entered his late teens, it became evident he needed a lower-level job, but Hurst wasn’t ready to retire him and certainly never intends to sell him. The solution? Lease the lovable bay gelding to a young rider in need of a confidence-builder. Sam is now teaching his fourth kid the ropes while Hurst moves up the jumper levels with her new off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB).

This is just one example of a lease situation gone right. When riding time is short, money is tight or talents no longer align, selling your beloved equine partner is not your only option. Many Thoroughbreds make good lease horses. The key to a fruitful arrangement, however, is vetting potential lessees properly and ensuring every little detail is spelled out in a foolproof contract. If you’re considering leasing out your horse, read on.

The Benefits of Leasing

Owners choose to lease out their horses for a variety of reasons that can benefit both the animal and the people involved.

“A good reason to lease out a horse is as simple as you do not want to sell him or her and would love to make some money in the process,” says Stevie McCarron Wigley, a hunter/jumper trainer and owner of Cloud Nine Farm, in Midway, Kentucky. The daughter of Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron has helped clients of all levels and experiences navigate the leasing process.

“Some people might have a horse that they don’t have the time for because of some personal reasons so they decide to lease it out until they can commit more time,” she continues. “Some people will lease out if it is an older horse and they have graduated to a different horse, but their horse might be too old to sell because not a lot of people want to buy an older horse. Some people will lease out a horse because they are solid and can produce a good income year after year.”

Owners and lessees can negotiate different types of leases depending on the horse and their needs. These include full, half and care leases. For a full lease, the lessee is responsible for all the expenses associated with the horse and typically pays an agreed-upon fee in full at the start of the lease. Full leases can provide the owner with extra income or funds to offset other costs.

With a half-lease, the lessee typically pays half the expenses and has a set amount of time or number of days they can ride the horse each week, McCarron Wigley explains. This type of arrangement can benefit owners who don’t have enough time to keep the horse in full-time work. Plus, “depending upon your relationship with your lessee, you may have a companion to go with you to horse events and take pride in your horse’s progress,” says Rachel Kosmal McCart, JD, a lifelong horsewoman and an equine lawyer based in Oregon.

Finally, “A care lease is a lease where there is no fee upfront, but (the lessee) incurs the expenses to care for the horse,” says McCarron Wigley.

Leases can also last varying amounts of time, with the most common being a year lease.

“In this case, the lessee pays a fee and has the horse for one year and assumes all expenses and cares for the horse for that period of time,” she explains. “You can also shorten the term and do a six-month lease if the lessee does not want to commit to a full year. Another option is a month-to-month lease where the lessee can decide at the end of each month if they want to proceed for another month, and it is typically paid for each month.”

The Downsides of Leasing

Leasing comes with its potential risks, as well, and many a horseperson can tell you a horror story about a lease gone wrong. Understanding the downsides can help you take steps to prevent them.

For example, your horse could regress in his training over the lease period. “Each person rides differently and brings a different set of beliefs and experiences with them to the barn,” says Kosmal McCart. “If your lessee’s riding and training style is different from yours, it could undermine some of your own training efforts.”

Leasing also makes you liable for injuries and issues that might be beyond your control. “Even if your lessee is an experienced horse person who treats your horse with lots of TLC, accidents will probably happen,” she says. “To help minimize these types of risks, make sure that your lease agreement spells out any specific care your horse requires and who will be responsible if anything happens to your horse, your equipment, the lessee or anyone else.”

Also make sure your OTTB is truly a good candidate for a lease. Green or unpredictable horses, for example, don’t often make the best lease horses. Their behavior and capabilities are less proven.

“Unless you are leasing out to a professional that is going to put loads of professional miles and training, it is typically not a good idea to lease out a green horse,” McCarron Wigley says. “Horses will typically learn bad habits quicker than good ones. Horses with behavior issues are certainly in this category. Horses with health issues also might be risky to lease out unless you are clear on what type of program keeps the horse comfortable and sound.”

Vetting a Lessee

You’re taking a big risk when sending a horse out for lease. You can control some of that risk by asking questions and choosing your lease partner carefully.

“Ask them lots of questions about their experience and what they want from the lease arrangement,” says Kosmal McCart. “Make sure they understand exactly what your expectations are for the leasing arrangement, and determine whether your expectations match up with the lessee’s goals and experience.”

If someone is interested in your horse but you don’t know them, ask for references.

“You must be sure that the lessee is going to care for your horse in the same manner you would,” says McCarron Wigley. “Having solid references is the best way to go. Also, knowing the lessee’s vets and farriers is a key part in knowing the program your horse will be in and how the horse will be managed.”

Also vet the lessee’s riding ability and care standards. “Make sure that you see them put your horse through his paces, noticing whether your horse seems happy with his new rider,” Kosmal McCart notes. “If the lessee will be taking your horse off your property, you should schedule a time to come and inspect their barn before you agree to lease the horse.”

You might also want to build a trial period into the contract so you can cancel the lease if it’s clearly not working out.

“Don’t worry about offending any potential lessees, as experienced horse people should understand your need to take these precautions,” says Kosmal McCart. “If they give you a hard time at the interview stage, imagine what they would be like as lease partners.”

Get Everything in Writing

Before handing your horse’s reins over to another rider, put together a lease agreement, and have the lessee review and sign it. This contract should include every detail about the lease term, expenses and who’s responsible for them, as well as care instructions unique to the horse.

“Information that should be included in a lease is anything that is important and required for the horse’s soundness and health,” says McCarron Wigley. “Some examples would be location of where the horse is housed, amount of competitions they are allowed to compete in, certain maintenance routines to keep the horse comfortable and sound, tack requirements and insurance requirements.”

Typically, the lessee is responsible for all the horse’s expenses, including daily care, training, board, farriery, veterinary care and an insurance policy to cover major vet expenses. However, try to imagine every possible scenario and include it in the contract.

“For example, what happens if the horse goes lame and can’t be ridden — does the lessee still have to pay the lease fee?” says Kosmal McCart. “Can the lessee take the horse off the property and, if she can, who is financially responsible if the horse injures himself in the trailer on the way home? Your lease agreement should be comprehensive, addressing all the elements of your agreement.”

Also include the circumstances under which either party can terminate the agreement and how that process should work.

“Unless you put the entire lease agreement in writing and have all parties sign it, you will have nothing to prove what your agreement is later if trouble arises,” she says.

Evaluate and Communicate

Before leasing your Thoroughbred out to another rider, consider what you have to gain as well as lose from the transaction. Evaluate your goals for both yourself and your horse.

“Plan how you want the lease arrangement to work, and consider carefully whether your plan is realistic and practical,” says Kosmal McCart. “As a planning tool, you may find it helpful to write down your goals and the key points of the lease arrangement.”

Once both parties sign the agreement and your horse leaves for his lease period, remember that communication is key. “If you are sending your horse out to someone, I think it is totally fair to keep open communication with the lessee,” says McCarron Wigley. “For the lessee, if you are concerned about certain behavior or veterinary issues, be open to contacting the lessor and finding out what their thoughts and recommendations are. Trying to hide things or being negligent never ends well.”

What to Include in a Lease Contract

A quick internet search brings up dozens of generic lease agreements you can use to formulate your own. Or you can work with a qualified equine attorney to draft a contract unique to your horse that covers all your bases. Rachel Kosmal McCart, JD, a lifelong horsewoman and an equine lawyer based in Oregon, includes the following in the full lease contracts she prepares for her clients:

The Basics

  • Information identifying horse to be leased (breed, sex, age, registration number, etc.).
  • Term of lease.
  • Insurance required (if any), and who must obtain and pay for it.


  • Lease fees, if any, and when they are due.
  • The lessee’s responsibility for horse’s care and expenses during lease.

Horse Owner’s Representations

  • Horse is in good health and sound. Includes space for owner to write in exceptions.
  • Horse does not have any of a list of bad habits. Includes space for owner to write in exceptions.

Protections for the Horse Owner

  • Horse owner can require lessee to obtain mortality, major medical and/or loss of use insurance on horse.
  • Lessee agrees to indemnify horse owner if horse owner is sued in connection with the lease.
  • Lessee assumes risk of death or personal injury to self.
  • Lessee assumes all risk of injury to or loss of horse during lease.
  • Lessee agrees to pay owner a specified sum if horse becomes unsound or develops certain other specified conditions during lease.
  • Lessee agrees to provide specific standard of care for horse during lease.
  • Owner has right to examine horse during lease and end lease early if horse is not being properly cared for.
  • Owner can specify what lessee can and can’t do with horse, including tack and equipment.
  • Owner can specify if lessee is required to work with a trainer or take lessons.
  • Lessee can’t transport horse without owner’s permission.
  • Owner can list tack (if any) going with the horse that must be returned in good condition at the end of the lease.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, the only publication dedicated to the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse in second careers. Want four information-packed issues a year delivered to your door or your favorite digital device? Subscribe now!