I'm a former boarder at my lesson barn, but sent my horse to a retirement farm last year.
Now I take once-weekly lessons on another boarder's horse. A little background on her:
She never rides, grooms or even visits her horse
She has 5 kids, none of whom rides or has any interest
She lets the horse out for lessons to help offset board
She and the BO/instructor are good friends
For my lesson, I pay $20 to the boarder for use of her horse, above and beyond the lesson fee. That's fair.
Occasionally I have to cancel because of work/personal conflicts. The BO is now telling me that with every cancellation, I have to pay a fee to the *boarder* of $10. And this doesn't just apply to last-minute cancellations. She's talking any time I miss a weekly lesson, even with ample notice.
Does that sound right? I'd understand a last-minute cancellation fee for the instructor, but I don't think I should be subsidizing the boarder for use of the horse when I'm not in a lesson. I signed no contract committing me to X number of lessons per month.
No, I've heard of higher lesson prices if you ride a school horse, which this horse for all practical purposes is, but then the cost of it goes into the lesson fee and you'd pay whatever the missed lesson fee happens to be. Sounds like a cost increase in sheep's clothing.
Well... if the horse owner is really relying on that $ to offset board (and with 5 kids, I can easily see that...) then maybe she really can't afford cancellations. She is probably relying on a certain %/month board coming in.
I don't think you should hold it against the horse owner that she does not visit/ride the horse. She is supporting the beast, and if the critter is cared for and healthy, then the bleeding hearts on COTH should be happy that the horse has a home. If the OP needs to kick in a few extra $ to support the beast, which I can easily see being the case, then everyone should be happy. The OP is still paying a teeny, tiny portion of the support costs on the critter. And getting use of the horse with no risk to herself (of having to own a horse.)
I think this "cost increase" would have come across better if they had just increased the rate or asked for a flat monthly/weekly fee allowing for one lesson per week whether you used it or not. Perhaps there has been some minor issue where the horse could have been scheduled for someone else if it hadn't been reserved for you. Perhaps this is a popular horse and other people are scheduling their lessons (in advance) as to whether or not it is available. Perhaps the owner wants a more reliable amount of lesson money from the horse each month.
At $10/missed lesson, no one is "lining their pockets." I think it is a poorly designed charge, and I'd be annoyed by it. If I really enjoyed the barn and the horse I might just consider it like paying a lease fee (and $80/month is pretty cheap for the use of a decent horse in a lesson one day a week). Perhaps you could negotiate to ride the horse on your own a different day of the week to make up for any cancellations and still pay the $20 fee for that ride?
Why not come up with some sort of lease agreement so this won't be an issue?
That's what I was thinking also. The OP is kind of wanting to 'a la carte' the situation. But horses require regular care regardless. The OP is getting a very good deal on use of a horse. A lot of + with none of the draw backs.
I can understand a fee for cancelling a lesson that day. But penalizing you for daring to cancel a lesson regardless of how much notice you give is poorly done. I can't believe a BO is playing along with this.
If the horse owner needs the guaranteed income, it was stupid of her to ever agree to a $20 per lesson fee and not lease the horse out or set up a monthly/weekly set cost with a contract stating that there would be no refunds for missed/cancelled lessons. That is owner's problem, not OP. Owner either needs to talk to OP about stopping the current set up and offering a lease or she needs to suck it up and accept that the current situation *she put herself in* does not offer guaranteed income. Trying to stick on a ridiculous fee is not the answer.
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If the horse owner needs the guaranteed income, it was stupid of her to ever agree to a $20 per lesson fee and not lease the horse out or set up a monthly/weekly set cost with a contract stating that there would be no refunds for missed/cancelled lessons. That is owner's problem, not OP. Owner either needs to talk to OP about stopping the current set up and offering a lease or she needs to suck it up and accept that the current situation *she put herself in* does not offer guaranteed income.
That's my perspective on this, too. Letting her horse do lessons offsets only a very small portion of board/vet/farrier, etc. She put herself into a buyer's market, and no one in that position is guaranteed an income if the customers are not buying that day, week or even month.
The owner has zero real contact with her horse and I can't imagine why she's still an owner, though that's not my place to speculate. Ironically, her gelding is so dead-broke and lesson-ready now, she could probably get a good price if she just sold him to a family with kids or even a lesson barn.
gaitedandcali got it completely right. If the owner wants regular, reliable income then she needs to offer a lease. OP, you might consider bringing that up if you like the horse enough. I can see charging the fee if the lesson is cancelled last minute, same as you would for a trainer's time, but not if lesson cancels more than 24 hours in advance - i.e enough time to reschedule use of horse.
If you don't like the horse enough to propose a lease, maybe start riding a school horse?
"Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tides" - Garth Brooks
"With your permission, dear, I'll take my fences one at a time" - Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Look at it a different way: most lesson students ride once a week, so the lesson instructor books enough lessons to maximize her time and use of the horses. Even with ample cancellation time she likely can't add another student to that lesson day to give that horse use and the owner payment. She isn't going to keep someone waiting in the wings in case you can't make it.
Not sure that a once a day lease would be cheaper than the $10-20 a week they are looking for.
Sorry, but $10 extra or so per month is not exactly "gouging." While I disagree with the idea of charging a cancellation fee for lessons cancelled in advance, the overall amount being charged including the cancellation fee is still very reasonable. I don't see why an owner wouldn't charge a fair proportion of a horse's costs for use of that horse in lessons (which are usually harder work than regular riding) when the horse in question is decent and well trained.
It may be a buyer's market right now, so if the OP happens to have access to other similar quality horses to ride at a lesser cost (or for free) then by all means the OP should take advantage of that.
I agree with CHT's point that most instructors have set lesson slots and may not be able to fill cancellations even with advance notice. This is one reason why most instructors prefer students that show up regularly for lessons and not just "here and there."
I don't think it's fair if you cancel well ahead of time. The owner of the horse is benefitting greatly by all of the people taking lessons on her horse. This enables her horse to be a lesson horse, to be groomed and have feet picked regularly, and to stay fit and be ridden with correct training. It also helps her make money to offset the board. Otherwise, her horse would be standing around doing nothing, never groomed or handled, etc. The trainer also benefits from being able to charge for people taking lessons on this well-used lesson horse. $10 isn't much, but it's not nothing. On principle I'd be a little upset if I had to pay $10 for NOT using a horse in a lesson. I'd lean towards booking at last minute or using another horse or paying for X amount of lessons ahead of time, whenever you can take them.
The owner of the horse getting a fair price for the value of the horse and $10 seeming cheap if it is a good horse is irrelevant.
The OP pays a use fee when she uses the horse, past that they have no contract.
If the OP decides to not take lessons for a month, would that mean the OP owes the owner $40 because the OP did not ride? What about two months? When would the ridiculous 'you must pay me no matter what' fee end? A year of no lessons?
I totally get a fee if the OP cancels without adequate notice, whatever that barn has stated their notice time is (24hours, 12 hours, two days, etc).
If the horse owner wants guaranteed money no matter if the OP rides or not then the horse owner needs to do a lease.
OP, does the lesson barn have lesson horses you can ride instead of this horse?
I'm not sure why you have to pay extra to ride the horse. Shouldn't the break in board be the payment for the horse being used? Maybe this is standard, but I would assume that the horse owner works it out with the trainer that the horse can be used in lessons, for x payment/break on board. Because its the trainer getting the benefit (the use of a horse for her lesson program). Again, maybe this is the norm.
Besides that, I do think if you've given ample notice, you shouldn't have to pay a penalty fee.