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"What Is a Project Horse?"

Updated on November 25, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Ask Them Why They Consider Their Horse A Project?

There are many reasons why some people might put their horse in the "project horse" category. Some reasons for them being called that make them 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. Like for example, green, inexperienced, spooky, been out of work for a long time......The particular reason why the horse is being called a "project" horse is going to help you determine whether or not it is a prospective horse for you to look at.

My Zelda was a project horse she was not broke to ride when I got her. I broke her with the help of my trainer at the time.
My Zelda was a project horse she was not broke to ride when I got her. I broke her with the help of my trainer at the time. | Source

Dangerous Behavior Makes 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, is 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 undertaking a horse as a "project".

This is my friends horse, who is ant trailer loading as you can see from the picture. He is otherwise a pretty calm dude.
This is my friends horse, who is ant trailer loading as you can see from the picture. He is otherwise a pretty calm dude. | Source

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 that the horse 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. Since having time off they may be advertised as a "project horse". So not because they have no particular training, but because they have 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 times will get a bit of an attitude when they realize they aren't retired and are being put back to work.

Dublin had been out of work for years when he became mine and I took him to my house and turned him into a lesson horse. You can teach an old "dog" or horse new tricks.
Dublin had been out of work for years when he became mine and I took him to my house and turned him into a lesson horse. You can teach an old "dog" or horse new tricks. | Source

Time Off Because The Horse Had To Recover From 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. In this case, 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.

This is my heart horse Danny. I bought him knowing he would need the winter off to heal a bowed tendon. Unfortunately later that year he sustained a terrible puncture wound to his hock that ultimately ended his life. Rest in Peace sweet boy.
This is my heart horse Danny. I bought him knowing he would need the winter off to heal a bowed tendon. Unfortunately later that year he sustained a terrible puncture wound to his hock that ultimately ended his life. Rest in Peace sweet boy. | Source

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 maybe 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 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 just a little more forward than they feel comfortable with and they want something 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!

Buddy came to me as a project. He was not broke to ride and intimidated his previous owner in everything they did with him. After getting him going under saddle, I sold him to Megan and for her they are a perfect match. He is old and retired now.
Buddy came to me as a project. He was not broke to ride and intimidated his previous owner in everything they did with him. After getting him going under saddle, I sold him to Megan and for her they are a perfect match. He is old and retired now. | Source

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?

Spunk was a project for me. My friend broke her to ride, but for some reason I could never connect with her and we didn't get along. I gave her to a friend who found her a perfect match.
Spunk was a project for me. My friend broke her to ride, but for some reason I could never connect with her and we didn't get along. I gave her to a friend who found her a perfect match. | Source

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, only you and your trainer will know the answer to that question.

When I got Zelda, when I was 15, I would have had no business trying to break a horse by myself without the help of my trainer. Here we were teaching her to ground drive, by the time I climbed on her back she already knew how to steer!
When I got Zelda, when I was 15, I would have had no business trying to break a horse by myself without the help of my trainer. Here we were teaching her to ground drive, by the time I climbed on her back she already knew how to steer! | Source

"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. Be patient, rushing into a horse that needs work because it is all you can afford, is bound to just frustrate or even worse 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.

Don't rush into a horse that is more of a project than you can handle just because it's all you can afford. Keep practicing and keep saving. Nice horses are out their for reasonable prices. Like this one, Thea, she was free to a good home!
Don't rush into a horse that is more of a project than you can handle just because it's all you can afford. Keep practicing and keep saving. Nice horses are out their for reasonable prices. Like this one, Thea, she was free to a good home! | Source

Set Yourself Up For Success

So 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!

My Zelda was most definitely a project for me, from day one! I learned a lot from her and she earned a permanent place in my heart.
My Zelda was most definitely a project for me, from day one! I learned a lot from her and she earned a permanent place in my heart. | Source

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