Now that I have ample space for more equines at my Tucson horse boarding facility, I am starting my search for my next horse. My two current horses are both well-broke, so I have the extra time to take on a project this winter. As a stable owner, I am always looking for more ways to make money, and a project horse gives me the opportunity to improve my riding skills, get in shape, and connect with other horse people in my local community.
Choosing a project horse requires more than picking one out of a pasture, especially if you want to make a profit with your project. I trained my first project horse in 2005 and turned a $125 horse into a $5,000 horse in only 60 days. I have taken on a few others over the years, and some have been great money makers, while others have been money pits. To make a profit, these are the steps to take when choosing your next project horse.
Know the Market
When choosing a project horse, you need to know your local horse market. My background is in hunter jumpers, but I live in Tucson, Arizona where western-type horses bring a higher price, especially if started on cattle. No, cow horses are not my passion, but they will bring me the most return on my investment. I have access to cattle on my property, so it makes sense for me to go this direction. Do not choose a project horse based on what you want to ride. Instead, choose one based on what sells.
Beyond discipline, consider sex, age, and color. Where I live, an AQHA registered gelding with color between the ages of six and ten brings the highest price. Mares with equal training sell for significantly lower prices. APHA registered and stock horse type grade geldings also bring a good price, but other breeds are hard to sell.
How do you determine what horses sell in your market? Local Facebook groups are a good place to start. Pay attention to what type of horses people list for sale and how much interest their ads generate. Another good website is Dreamhorse.com. You can filter your search by sold horses in your area, and you will see which horses sold at what price.
Set a Budget
A successful project means that you make a profit. Setting the right budget keeps you on track to do this.
The first – and probably largest – cost is the purchase of the horse. The sky is the limit here, so it is important to know your market. I am willing to spend more up front on a well-started, registered, colored gelding than I am a green broke, sorrel, grade mare because the first one will resell for a much higher price. My general rule is that the purchase price should be no more than 1/4 of the resale value after 60 to 90 days. Fall and winter are great times to buy because horse prices drop as owners must start feeding hay.
The next cost to consider is veterinary fees. You may choose to do a pre-purchase vet check. With higher-end horses I also do X-rays. Even if you choose not to do either of those, your future buyer will expect the horse to be current on vaccinations, worming, and teeth floating.
Your project horse will need one or two visits from the farrier during his 60 to 90 days with you. Look closely at his feet before you buy. Whether he is shod with special shoes or stays sound barefoot can make a huge difference in your budget.
You will have to feed your project horse or pay board for him. Is he an easy keeper, or will he need extra feed to maintain the proper weight? Does he need supplements? I like to make sure that my project horses have good hooves and shiny coats when I resell them, so I add Farnam's Horseshoer's Secret (buy it here) to their grain while they are with me. I live in a sandy area, too, so they get two to three month's worth of Sand Clear (buy it here) as well. Be mindful of what you feed because these costs can add up quickly.
Tack is another consideration. Even though I primarily ride English, I already own a Tex Tan Western saddle like this one (buy it here) and I have a long-shank snaffle bit and a curb bit that I can use on a Western horse. Make sure you have the right lunging equipment (see my recommendations here). If you are branching into another discipline, you may need to buy the appropriate tack.
A horse that has shown or competed will bring a higher price than one that has not. I always budget to take my project horse to one or two events. This also gives me the opportunity to connect with potential buyers.
Finally, I sit down and add up all these costs to determine my final budget. I want all my costs to equal less than half of the potential sale price for this project to be worth my investment.
Find the Right Horse
Too often, when asked what we want, we start listing all the qualities we don’t want. Challenge yourself to only list what you DO want and write it down. Determine which traits you must have, and which you would prefer but can live without. Look at this list several times a day. It will keep you on the right track.
I write mine in the front of my Live Whale Planner (buy it here). I use the budget pages to track all the expenses for my project horse so that I all the numbers handy.
Then, the search is on! Check online classified websites like Dreamhorse.com and Craigslist. Join Facebook groups with horses listed for sale. Visit auctions. Tell other horse people that you are looking for a project. Even in the digital age, word of mouth is still very powerful.
Once you find a project horse that fits your market, your budget, and your desired discipline, you are ready to start! I set a strict time limit for myself of 60 to 90 days before resale, but you can set whatever time frame works for you. If you are starting colts, you may want to put more rides on your project than if you are just finishing a well-started horse.
A successful project brings you a profit. Take the time to do your research, set a budget, and track your expenses, and your project will start on the right track.
What do you look for in a project horse? Let me know in the comments below!
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.