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Hello, I just would like some others’ input on an awkward situation.

I have been half-leasing a horse for over a year and a half. In mid-March, the barn he is boarded at closed to clients due to the coronavirus stay at home orders. We don’t know how long this will last, my guess is at least until May or June. My question is, am I obligated to still pay for my lease or lessons, even though I can not even see the horse?

For background, I do not have a contract with either the trainer or the horse’s owner (now I wish I did!). I pay $450/month for 3 rides/week, and $260/month for four lessons/month. So it’s not an insignificant amount of money! I am a veterinarian so I am still working, but my partner who I live with is a freelance photographer and so is now essentially unemployed for the foreseeable future. I already paid for the entirety of March but only got to ride for half of it and only received one out of my four lessons, and no one has offered to give me any money back.

It’s still the first week of April and so far no one has said anything to me about payment, but I don’t want to look like a jerk for not paying anything, and I don’t know how to respond if they come looking for payment. My trainer also has mentioned several times how she is riding the horse 3 days per week. I never asked her to do that, but I’m worried she might expect payment for it. I of course appreciate that he’s still getting worked while I can’t ride, but at the end of the day, he’s someone else’s horse. If I owned the horse I would completely understand the need to pay board and for training, but I only half-lease him.

Thanks! Any thoughts anyone has would be appreciated!
 

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These are unprecedented times. I think the owner would understand you for waiting until the pandemic is over since you are not even allowed on the property to ride for now. I certainly would stop leasing if I didn't own my own horses, especially if the horse is in a larger boarding barn with several people coming and going.

How do you normally give the payments to the barn owner or trainer? If it is through e-transfer, is there a possibility that you could send them a message through that? Or mabye your trainer could get a hold of their trainer?

If you really have no means of contacting them, then I would wait and see if they contact you. First, have a talk with your trainer to stop working with the horse for the meantime (if she is expecting payment). Then, if the owners contact you about payment, you can apologize for not giving them a heads up since you couldn't contact them. Explain to them why you'd like to resume payment when quarantine is lifted. Any reasonable person would understand and accommodate for your current situation.
 

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if you do not have a year long lease, but rather a month to month one, then you should feel free to not pay in April. I would consider March's payments as a loss, and let that go, not expecting to be reimbursed.


However, if you chose not to pay, please get in contact with the owner and the trainer and let them know of your decision. if you sever the relationship on bad terms, I would not be surprised to see them finding a different leassor next time.
 

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Was the barn ordered to close to clients? I know some barns have voluntarily closed to lessons but owners are allowed to come as long as they abide by the 10 people rule. The training barn I ride at is still ok but they limit the number to 10. No one enters the barn, everyone wears gloves and they staff tacks the horses up. The riders ride in the outdoor ring for their lesson or just to ride their private horse and then they leave. No socializing.

If it's a voluntary closure to leasers and clients then I would say you should not have to pay. If you are not working and have no money coming in then I would say don't pay. If you do have money coming in and you would like to pay then it would be helpful to the barn owner but I'm not sure you would have to. Owners would not have a choice. They would have to pay.
 
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I have a month-to-month half lease, as well, so I have already given thought to my own situation if my barn were to close to leasers (fortunately, it doesn't look like it will). If there is no contract obligating you to pay, I do not think you are financially responsible to pay for months where you know you will not be riding. As others have said, it would be good to contact the horse owner letting her know you plan to pause the lease since you are unable to ride. That would also open the conversation on if there are any issues with that.

On the other hand, if there is any chance of losing the lease to someone else or burning bridges, you might want to see if there is any "good faith" deposit or support they would like you to pay during the months you don't ride. (Not really your responsibility as not a horse owner, but the horse doesn't stop costing money for them just because the barn is closed!) I wouldn't offer that straight up of course, but if you get any sense of burning bridges, might be something to consider. I would absolutely have been willing to pay like 50% of my normal monthly lease or something to ensure my lease horse was still mine at the end of this.
 

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I would contact the owner and if you are happy with the horse offer to pay for feed and keep. I would also ask that the trainer cut back to riding once a week until you are able to ride again. If you cut both off cold turkey you may not get that horse back as a leaser. These are difficult times for all but, the good part is your income has remained. We had to take our border collie in yesterday and we had to take her to the back door and hand her over to a tech while we sat in the car. When done the vet came out to the car and told us all the findings. If you had no income then you would be in a different situation and it would be understandable to have to break your lease. Open dialog is always best in any deal, especially if it is a verbal agreement. You should not have to pay for lessons you are not receiving.
 

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I half leased horses for years. There were months in winter where I could hardly ride at all. There were weeks of bad weather , or frozen ground, or horses locked down due to EPM virus scares, etc. I always continued to pay. The owner has to keep paying the board, so I can't just pay only when I can ride.


However, if I knew it was a total no ride, no visit situation, for several months, I would definitely speak with the owner about a pause, or perhaps halving my costs? It's hard to say, becuase her costs wont' go down.
 

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I understand that the cost of the horse is still there for the owner but I don't think that a lessee should be held responsible for that cost if they aren't getting anything out of it. That's the whole point of leasing instead of owning. A lot more responsibility comes along with owning. Personally myself, I wouldn't expect a month to month lessee to continue to pay if they absolutely were forbidden to come ride.
 

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Like Jolly said, this is a particularly unusual time - even in bad weather or outbreaks of equine illness, there's an idea that those will end at some point. With the pandemic, it's much harder to predict that.



At the barn I go to, owners and leasers are still permitted to come, just no public trail rides/lessons. (Owners loosely fall under the excepted category of "persons taking care of pets/animals/livestock"). But if you live in a place where there's an actual order to stay at home (vs. an advisory as in some states), that's going to put you in a different situation. I think you should get in touch with your trainer, and talk over cancelling the lessons for this month (and probably next). As for the lease, it's true, the barn owner does still have to take care of the horses - those costs don't go away for him/her. You've been leasing a year and a half - you probably have a good relationship with the barn, are considered reliable, etc. I bet other people are in the same boat, and it wouldn't be out of bounds to say "hey, times are really hard right now - can I cancel off the lessons for the next two months but keep paying the lease" or something like that.



As for someone taking over your lease and not giving it back ... I really hope no one would do that. I'm leasing a horse right now whose regular leaser (and she's been leasing him for at least a couple of years) is laid off for the next couple of months, but I wouldn't dream of not giving it up once she can come back. She has seniority, after all.
 
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