It’s no secret that riding is an expensive sport. Depending on where you live, and whether or not the barn you ride at charges for the use of school masters, riding lessons themselves can be hard to budget, let alone actually owning a horse. If owning a horse outright isn’t in your budget, progressing as a rider can be difficult — especially if you have limited access to your lesson horse, such as limited trainer availability or even horse availability because he’s used in other lessons. Finding ways to clock more hours in the saddle, with or without trainer supervision and guidance, might be easier than you think if you know where to look.

The first thing, and maybe the most obvious thing, you can do is ask your trainer if there are other riding opportunities available at your barn. See if she has a horse available for lease or even a half-lease that she thinks you’d be a good match with. Your trainer knows your skill level and knows the other horses in the barn, so trust her judgment when it comes to matchmaking. If your trainer has the time, but your budget doesn’t allow for more than one lesson a week, see if there are working student opportunities available.

While playing musical trainers is not a good idea, consider reaching out to other barns in the area. First and foremost, talk to your (main) trainer about their thoughts and who they trust. If you ride with a trainer who specializes in breed shows or hunter/jumper, but you want to really start to build up your dressage work, find a trainer who does specialize in your chosen discipline. Ride with them a few times a month while you’re building up saddle time, confidence, and muscle. Not only will you be getting in more ride time, but you’ll also have built a relationship with the trainer that will help you get to the next level. If you follow this route, make sure that you communicate with everyone you’re working with about your goals, where else you ride, and what you’re doing in your lessons. The key to making this a successful experience is communication.

Another place you can look for local leases. Some barns actually lease out their horses for free, off-site, in the winter to make sure their horses are being ridden regularly during the off-season — you just have to pay to take care of them. If this isn’t an option, check local classifieds, Facebook groups, and horse websites for advertisements for riders looking to lease their horses. In both situations, ask your trainer to come with you to meet the horse you’re considering leasing. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s a good fit! They’ll be able to help you determine whether this horse is a good fit for you and what you want to be working on.

Don’t be discouraged if your trainer has a busy schedule. There are options out there if you’re willing to do the leg work.