Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tracy Meisenbach: Prospect or Project


Prospect or Project: Which are you creating?

           At various times in my long horse owning life I have fallen into the “prospect or project” method of horse owning. Most of my prospects have turned out very well, and most of my projects have also turned out well, after twice the time, effort and money that the prospects take. In fact for a period of time in the late 80s/early 90s I had quite a roaring business in buying projects, fixing them and reselling them as prospects. I prospered because of the ignorance or laziness of other people. While my wallet got fat, my body, and frustration levels, took severe abuse. Would I do it all over again? Probably not. I can buy, or breed, better prospects and bring them up right and not waste the time on fixing endless project horses. This is not to say that some “project” horses aren’t worth the effort. If their only flaw is the stupidity of the person trying to sell them, then they may be worth the effort. If they are the product of poor breeding choices, poor handling and poor conformation then they probably aren’t worth the time and trouble it takes to “fix” them. It costs just as much to feed and care for an unsuitable horse as it does a good horse.

Most people don’t distinguish between a prospect and a project. I do. A prospect is a horse with the potential to do a certain discipline or even several disciplines, in such a manner as to require a minimal amount of effort to get there. A project is a horse that has to be rebuilt, usually after some cack-handed “trainer” has already messed up the horse’s mouth, brain and natural personality OR some stupid breeder has created a horse based on only one, or NONE, of the principles of good breeding.

Prospects are generally bought as weanlings, yearlings, two year olds or three year olds and have the breeding, conformation and personality to be trained to an upper level for whichever discipline you choose. Dressage prospects have great butts, long sloping shoulders, natural cadence and the ability to round up. Race prospects have natural speed, heart and power. Jump prospects have rear power, focus, good legs and drive. Reining and cutting prospects are catty on their feet, sensible, bold and flexible. You get the drift; Prospects are born, not made. You can plan on producing a prospect with careful nicking of bloodlines and conformational traits, but if the genes don’t align all you’ve created is a well-bred horse with little potential for long-term use.

Projects have generally been through a few owners or trainers. They have “issues”. They usually get advertised as having great bloodlines, a lot of potential and some aspect ( height, age, color) that shows they are perfectly suited for whatever task the advertisers deem fit. Some of the ads are flat out ridiculous. There should be no ten-year-old prospects. At ten years old a horse should have had a good job for a few years and be pretty well settled into his life’s work.

Where do prospects come from?
Good breeders, good handlers and good horsemen.

Where do projects come from?
Most of the time they come from people who don’t know diddly about training beyond reading a few natural horsemanship books and watching old Fury re-runs. Projects also come about when a horse flunks out of the field for which he was bred. There are a lot of racing prospects that become dressage and hunter under saddle projects. Ditto western pleasure prospects that become games or trail riding projects. Teaching a horse to spur stop is one of the quickest routes to becoming a project horse for someone else. Some of these fix quicker than others, depending on the amount of discipline related training you have to undo in order the send the horse in a different direction.

As I stated before, good prospects are born, not made. The horse hits the ground with every physical trait he needs to be a good horse. He is also born with the intelligence to be guided by training toward achieving his peak performance abilities.

That being said, all good prospects have the potential to become bad projects through poor handling. All projects do NOT have the potential to be a good prospect. In fact some projects remain projects their whole lives, never achieving any level of consistency that is indicative of a good working horse.

What creates and fosters a prospect?
1) Good breeding choices that are founded on the five principles of a horsemen:
a) Sire and dam that have merited reproduction through their own abilities
b) Bloodlines that merit reproduction and carry no major genetic defects
c) Conformation
d) Ability
e) Marketability

You’ll notice that COLOR is NOT listed as one of the five principles of horsemen. Color is gravy, icing, the cherry on top, or whatever other treat you want to call it. Color comes into play after all of the other five principles are invoked.

2) Good handling from an early age
a) Respect for humans
b) Social skills
c) Fostering intelligent thinking
d) Careful honing of the horse’s physical characteristics

People that know how to handle horses produce good prospects. Prospects are raised with manners, common sense and good social skills. They are not treated like large furry children and allowed to run rampant until they are 1200 pound lap dogs with no manners. If you can’t provide the above for all of your colts then QUIT raising them. STOP breeding horses. You’re not producing prospects, you’re producing projects that someone else has to take on and fix.

The average prospect has been trained to lead, load, bathe, have feet handled and keep his teeth and feet off of people by the time he is a year old. At two years old he can lunge, ground drive, tie, have light items placed on his back, pony off of another horse, walk over things without freaking out, tolerate flapping items, avoid fences and trees and respect boundaries in regards to his handler’s person. By three years old this horse is ready to saddle and start a career. If he’s done none, or few, of the above by this age then he’s a project, not a prospect. If he’s done several of the above, but in the wrong manner, then he’s a project not a prospect.

I do not in any way advocate riding horses two and under, nor in over working young horses. I do advocate daily, sensible handling. I advocate teaching a horse to use his brain and keeping him mentally and physically active. Fat spoiled yearlings with no social skills are NOT cute. They are not prospects for anything except becoming actors on the hit show “Refilling the Emergency Rooms of America.” Three year olds that can barely be caught, don’t know what work is and think people are nothing but feed buckets and scratching posts are NOT good prospects.

How do you create a project?
It’s really simple: breed for a foal that you had no intention of training. One of the most jaw dropping things I’ve ever heard was a statement from a breed advocate that excused the lack of training on a group of horses by saying “ These people are BREEDERS not TRAINERS”. Say again? If you can’t put the basics on a horse: leading, tying, loading, feet handling and standing for treatment, then you don’t need to be breeding anything, except maybe dust mites, because they don’t take much handling. Not every breeder needs to be a world class reining trainer or Olympic level rider, but all breeders need to have a basic understanding of safe horse handling and the ability to teach the foals they produce to behave. If you can’t do it yourself, and you’re not rich enough to afford a trainer to help you with your yearly crop of four legged manure machines, then don’t produce any more of them. There is no written law that says you have the right to produce “projects” that someone else has to risk their life dealing with. Those of us that train for a living do NOT have a requirement that says we have to fix your mistakes in order to give a horse you created a long productive life. Your poor choices are not our problem, so quit trying to lure us into buying them with your bountiful adjectives, rare colors and ancestry back to Noah's Ark.

How do you create a project?
1) Breed junk to junk and get junk
2) Breed based on emotion, not merit
3) Breed for the low end market that thinks $500.00 is a good price for a foal
4) Don’t handle your babies once they get past the cute fuzzy stage
5) Don’t handle your yearlings at all
6) Try every single training technique just long enough to confuse your horse and mess up his head
7) Breed for one or two specific traits, like color and pedigrees, and ignore good physical traits as well as performance records on the sire and dam. 

Hint: If your pedigree doesn’t have some actual performance champions in the first two generations then it’s NOT from champion stock and probably doesn’t need to reproduce. A few top horses five generations back do not mean a thing. 

Another hint: Having Man O’War in your horse’s pedigree in this day and age means NOTHING. Ditto Seabiscuit, Wimpy, Skowronek, The Godolphin Arabian, Justin Morgan, Roan Allen, Hambletonian etc. They are too far back to mean anything beyond the fact that someone recorded their descendants.
Having Impressive and Poco Bueno in your horse’s pedigree means you better be HYPP and HERDA testing before breeding them.

8) Ignoring proper veterinary and farrier care until the point that your horse has physical flaws that are impossible to clear up
9) Taking on more than you can physically, or mentally, handle. This form of non-accountability is what creates the most projects as well as hoarding.
10) Ignore the physical, and mental, limitations of your horse and trying to push him into a discipline he is clearly not suited for.

Prospect or project? 

Which are you creating? We owe it to our horses to make sure they have long productive lives, with every advantage that will ensure their survival in today’s volatile market. If you aren’t producing good prospects after years of breeding, if you aren’t honestly contributing to the improvement of the equine market, then take some accountability, stop breeding and stop expecting other people to fix your mistakes. In all likelihood the only fix is going to be when the slaughterhouse buyers take your problem off of your hands and onto the plates in Europe. Don't blame the buyers that don't want your "projects", blame yourself for creating them.

Tracy Meisenbach
Copyright 2007
             All rights reserved foreign and domestic
            Do not share, republish or post with written permission

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