When reading through ads, owners often list their horse as a "project" horse. Usually, these horses have lower price tags, which can make them appealing to buyers on a budget. If you don't have the necessary skill set though, you are not setting yourself up for success.
Ask Them Why They Consider Their Horse a Project
There are many reasons why people might put their horse in the "project" horse category. Some are bigger projects than others, so ask the owner why they are using this word to describe their horse. There are a zillion different descriptive terms they could have used. For example, they could have used the term green, inexperienced, spooky, out of work for a long time, etc. Knowing the specific reason they consider their horse a project horse is going to be extremely important in helping you understand whether or not this is a prospective horse for you to look at.
Dangerous Behaviors Make for an Automatic No
If you are new to horse ownership, a "project" horse may be okay for you. The one non-negotiable that I have with my students and potential "project" horses are that they do not have a history of dangerous behavior. A horse can be a "project" and not be dangerous or scary at all.
Steer clear of horses that have a history of bucking, rearing, or bolting. All of these behaviors can be corrected by a professional but are not the types of behaviors that you should be taking on as a first-time horse owner.
A Horse That Has Been out of Work
A horse that has just been out of work for a while can be a reasonable prospect for a "project," assuming it was well-broke and fairly well-trained in the basics before it had the time off.
These situations tend to occur rather frequently. Teenagers lose interest, people have families and they don't have time for the horse, there are a lot of different scenarios where horses are left standing for long periods of time. So having time off could be a reason an owner lists their horse as a "project" horse. It doesn't mean they have no training – it just means they had a break and will need a refresher course.
One thing to bear in mind with a horse that has been out of work is that not only do you have to give them the time to physically get fit enough to work again, you also have to keep their mind stimulated and interested. These types of horses often will get a bit of an attitude when they realize they aren't retired and are being put back to work.
Time off Because the Horse Had to Recover From an Injury
If after talking to the owner of the horse for sale you realize it is called a "project" because it has had time off due to it sustaining some sort of injury, you need to find out about the horses training prior to the injury, as well as his prognosis for work in the future. You need to make sure that whatever happened to the horse won't keep it from being able to do the type of activities or disciplines that you have in mind.
Too Much Horse for the Current Owner
A horse may be listed as a "project" because it was purchased by someone with good intentions that didn't have the skill set necessary to ride it, whether that be because the horse was too green or the opposite. The horse could have been too well-trained and sensitive for the new owner.
They say one man's trash is another man's treasure. It is sort of like one rider's project horse is another rider's dream horse. You just need to make sure you find out as much as you can about the current owner's ability level, what they did with the horse, and why it didn't work out as a match.
It could be something as simple as the horse was more forward than they felt comfortable with and they want a horse that is more laid back. If you are a confident rider, that probably wouldn't be much of a "project" for you at all. It might actually be ideal!
The Horse Has One Particular Issue That Needs Work
This could range from anything like the horse is head shy and hard to bridle, to it won't cross water on trail rides, or even it won't load on a horse trailer. The horse may just have one particular thing that is like a thorn in the current owner's side and has caused them to give up on the horse and want to get one they can enjoy.
What the particular issue is that is causing the problem is what will determine whether or not you think that the horse could be a good prospect for you. Do you have the time, skills, and patience needed to work through whatever the issue might be?
Having a Trainer to Help
I would like to think that if you are looking at horse ads, that you have a trainer or knowledgeable friend who is guiding you in your search. Having an expert to consult with that knows your ability level will be a great resource in deciding if a "project" horse will work for you.
We all want our students to enjoy their horses and continue to learn and progress without getting frustrated. Whether or not you are able to do this on a horse that needs work is something only you and your trainer will know the answer to.
"It's All I Can Afford"
I have heard this many times. When people begin to horse shop and their budget is meager, it may seem like "project" horses are the only ones in their price range.
If you fall into this category, but you do not yet feel you are up to the challenge, take more time to build your skills, lease a horse at the farm you ride at while you continue to save and make your horse fund a little bigger.
There are well-trained affordable horses out there, so be patient. Rushing into a horse that needs work because it is all you can afford is bound to just frustrate or scare you.
It takes a long time to gain confidence in the saddle and an even longer time to get it back if it is lost.
Set Yourself up for Success
Set yourself up for success! If you think you are ready to take on a "project," let your trainer help you find one that is appropriate – one that will allow you to build your skill set and not shake your confidence.
If your trainer doesn't think you are ready, there is no shame in that. Keep working hard in your lessons and devote yourself to being a better rider and learning as much as you can.
Before you know it, you will be equipped to take on whatever "project" horse you might want. Remember, horsemanship is a journey. I have said it before and I will say it again: never stop learning!
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