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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tracy Meisenbach: Because My Daughter Grew Up With Horses.


            Because My Daughter Grew Up With Horses © 
While watching my daughter ride today, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future. As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and the determined woman she would soon be.
I started thinking about some the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to nowhere, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The parents of these same girls have asked me why I “waste” the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I’m told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation’s “slacker” label on my child. I don’t think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no “days off” just because you don’t feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don’t matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn’t care if you’re wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren’t produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to outsmart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to “read” her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regardless of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned that color, sex, and age do not establish a horse’s, or a person’s, intelligence, ability or value. She has learned that only personal actions can tell you the merit of each individual, all other labels are put on things because of snobbery or fear by narrow minded people. A good horse has no set color, or age, or sex, neither does a good person.

          When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven’t “wasted” a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.

Written and copyrighted January 21, 2008
U.S. Library of Congress #TX0007159977

By Tracy Meisenbach

Brookneal VA

All rights are reserved by Tracy Meisenbach, this article may not be reproduced, disseminated, published, or transferred in any form or by any means, except with the prior written permission of Tracy Meisenbach. All rights reserved by foreign and domestic. Do not share or copy without written permission.. Do NOT plagiarise this article and change the topic to livestock, dogs, cats or anything else. Theft is not flattering, it is theft.