Asking someone if he owns something
My parents are native Russian speakers, so I take this course to get down some Russian basics so I can talk with them a bit and they can teach me some Russian without having to start at 0. I asked them how they would ask someone if he owns something, and they would say it like so: "есть у тебя лошад?". In this course, you get (at least at the beginning) taught to ask like this: " У тебя есть лошадь?" I asked them what the difference between those two ways of asking is, and they couldn't explain it to me, just said that both works. Can anyone here explain to me the difference between putting "есть" in the beginning when asking and putting "есть" before the subject like you get taught here? Thanks
If you want to simply ask if someone owns something, "есть у тебя..." may sound awkward or demanding (or even aggressive). This construction emphasize the word "есть". It may sound natural in skeptical, emotional context, like:
Но для этого нам нужна лошадь! Есть у тебя лошадь? Нету у тебя лошади. Ну и сиди молча!
But we need a horse then! Do you have a horse? No, you don't have one. So shut up!
Another context where it can be used with the same meaning as "у тебя есть" — colloquial speech, especially in the countryside:
Петровна, есть у тебя сахар? Отсыпь немного, мне на пирог не хватает. Petrovna, do you have some sugar? Give me a little; I'm preparing a cake and do not have enough sugar.
As the word "есть" stressed, you are implying that a person has what you ask them for (or definitely does not have).
Another thing, the words "у тебя" may be dropped out, making a short colloquial form of the question "есть something?". Your fellow may ask you for a pen: "есть ручка?", etc. However, you may want to avoid such wording yourself. It is often used by uneducated persons and you may look silly if you use it in inappropriate way.