The Project Horse. The Rescue Horse. The “Free to a Good Home” Horse. The “Tugs at Your Heartstrings” Horse. These horses are out there, in the market and in abundance. Why? Well, the economic downturn certainly created the need for many people to “rehome” their horses or give them to horse rescues because they simply could not afford to keep them any longer. Uneducated and unprepared buyers purchase “a great deal” horse and then realize they bit off way more than they can chew due to bad habits, poor behavior and even health issues of the horse. The list of reasons goes on and on. The odds are that this project horse you are considering is going to have some real challenges and issues as it progresses. If the horse was a dream to be around – kind/husband safe, great levels of training, great breeding and so on – it most likely would NOT BE a project horse but someone’s cherished equine partner. Think about that for a moment.
In nutshell, these “project horses” are out there and they may be right for you if you are honest with yourself about some important key factors.
SKILLS/KNOWLEDGE: Do you have the skills and knowledge to really help the horse reach its full potential? Are you able to handle the various “issues” that may arise during the process of rehabilitation and retraining? These are some of the hardest questions for potential project horse buyers to answer because their ego and their emotions are clouding their judgment. The horse you met today, who was skinny and tugging at your compassionate heart, may become a handful once it is on the path to being healthy again. It may challenge your leadership and push you in ways you have not thought of. You have to be VERY honest about what you can and cannot handle today, tomorrow and in the near future. If you cannot handle issues in training/conditioning, do you have a network or resources that you can tap into to get the help the horse needs? Do you have the right set-up at home to house and train the horse or are you going to have to board the horse at a local facility that can help you handle the care of a project horse? The honest answers to these questions should tell you straight away if a project horse is right for you.
TIME/ PATIENCE: Project horses are NOT “once a week for 30 minutes” horses. You have to be consistent and constant in your time with them. Can you give the horse three to four days a week for the first several months? Can you connect and establish your communication and leadership consistently? Can you put the time into the horse to help it overcome fears, insecurities and possibly poor behavior? Even “pasture pets” need handling and ground manners that ensure they are safe to handle and be around. Patience is another thing you will need by the cartload. Project horses are not usually clean slates. They come with baggage and some of that baggage needs to be eliminated before positive experiences and take their place. You will need patience to understand that, in so many cases, the human failed the horse and created issues that you now have to address and correct. In order to help the project horse reach its full potential, you may have to dedicate real time to achieve your goals. If you do not have the time and patience needed, then you have to have the resources to pay a professional trainer to help the horse with the understanding that it may not be a typical 30-60 day “tune-up” but more of a long-term investment.
GOALS: What do you hope to achieve with a project horse? Are you looking for a cost-effective way to improve your horsemanship? Hoping to reeducate and rehome the horse? Looking for that long-term partner? The goals you set will dictate what kind of project horse you look for. Be clear and realistic in your goal. Write them down in the form of a NEEDS/ WANTS list. The Needs column are the must-have characteristics of the project horse. If it does not have them, you need to move on to the next candidate. Wants are those things you would like to see in a project horse but are not “deal-killers” in nature. Your goals and your need/want list combined with your level of experience and ability to dedicate time and resources will illuminate very quickly if a project horse is right for you.
Working with a project horse can be incredibly rewarding and teach you a great deal about yourself and where you are in your horsemanship journey. The investment of time, focus and skill into the re-education of a horse, helping it find its true potential is an experience that is almost beyond words to describe. It is a noble and selfless endeavor. It is also not for everyone and it takes some real forethought and planning to decide if the journey with a project horse is one that is good for you, and the horse, right now. If it is, then do your homework and select the right candidate that meets all the needs on your list. You will be glad you did.
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