I had a friend suggest that I write a post on this topic, so here it goes:
I’ve had a number of horses that I would consider project horses – some were rescues of sorts and others were just youngsters without a lot of experience. In fact, when I got Galahad, he had actually never been ridden and I got to be the first person to ride him.
Start with a bond:
To start, you need to form some kind of bond with them on the ground; a relationship where there is mutual respect. Often times I’ve found that project horses that I’ve encountered are quite pushy and need lessons in learning to respect humans, but positive reinforcement and consistent corrections is key. In another case, I have a mare that when I got her had been abused somewhere along the way and would back up and flip over when simply asked to walk forward. With her, everything we have is based on this bond, that honestly took us quite some time to form. Now, 4 years later, she’s a fantastic ride.
Understand that it takes an undetermined amount of time:
Nothing is perfect. You might have a show that you’re looking into for the future, but every animal is different and your plans need to be fluid. I have a friend who has been working with this horse that seemed to progressing at a snails pace. He was pushy and stubborn and somewhat uninterested in completing simple tasks such as lunging in a circle the second direction of the ring. Despite his slow progress earlier, the instant they introduced him to jumps, he became a superstar. Some of this is finding what training someone else has already done with a new horse you’ve gotten, but also, sometimes you just make a breakthrough. Other times, things seem to be going great and then you just hit a wall. In the case of babies, sometimes they just need a little bit of time to grow up a little, other times you need to think about other ways to approach the situation and do so slowly.
Understand that not every horse will want to do what you want to do:
Galahad’s previous owners had bred him to be a saddlebred show horse and sold him when they realized that he wasn’t going to be cut out for that, and I’m glad they did. We sort of stumbled upon jumping and trail riding as our thing. I feel like many horses don’t really get a choice in what they do. People will push and push a horse to do something that they are bred for, even if its unrealistic and not really take into account whether the horse has the heart for it. It’s important to test things out, You might find something that either your horse really enjoys or already has some training in.
If you take the time to make a solid bond with your horse, take your time, and keep your expectations realistic, you might just end up with an amazing, diamond in the rough kind of horse.
Second photo here of the mare that used to flip over