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How to Make Money From ‘Project Ponies’ – The Rules

An advert picture for one of the author's profitable project ponies.

An advert picture for one of the author’s profitable project ponies.

It can be done! I’ve had 6 or 7 project ponies over the last couple of years and have made a decent profit on every one. Enough to cover livery, feed, shoes, competition fees and to pay me more than the minimum wage for my time. It’s not easy: you need to be very strict with budget, timescale and choice of pony. You need to put in a lot of time and graft. It can be very satisfying though, both the money and the challenge of turning round a horse which, on the face of things, didn’t have much of a future. I still get a thrill from checking the BE results of my ex-ponies and although most of them will never set the world alight they’ve all gone to homes where they are happy and loved and doing the job they were sold to do.

The rules:

1) Budget – spend under £1000 if you can. The most I ever spent on a project was £1100, which was about £200 too much. Look at adverts for horses up to £1800 but come in with a low offer and be prepared to walk away. Spend £500 too much buying a horse and that’s £500 less in your pocket when you sell.

2) Temperament – I don’t mind whether horses are broken or unbroken, what they’ve done or where they’ve been, whether they’re 15hh or 16.2hh but they must must MUST be nice people. You’re not looking for an Olympic athlete, you’re looking for a horse that can take a joke. Walk up to the horse in the field, run a hand all over it and pick a leg or two up. If they’re happy, confident and interested in you then you’re probably OK. Pick out horses that have a genuine reason for being cheap –owner has 3 small kids and no time, daughter lost interest and gone off after boys, divorce. All good reasons. ‘Lost confidence in it because it spends most of its time on its back legs/running away from traffic/kicking the lorry to bits’ – bad reasons! You haven’t got time to reform a hooligan and when you sell the horse you want to be able to put your hand on your heart and tell people that it’s OK.

3) No ex-racers. I’ve broken this rule three times and sold all three (the horse featured above is one of them) but they were exceptions and I wouldn’t pick another one. There are too many cheap ones on the market and a surprising number of purchasers absolutely don’t want an ex-racehorse. I should add that I have nothing against them personally, have successfully retrained and competed several, but for commercial reasons I wouldn’t buy one to sell. I reckon that a 16hh 6yo IDx gelding will sell for about £1500 more than a 16hh 6yo ex-racer gelding which has exactly the same experience.

4) Trendy colours are good – dun, roan, coloured. All sell well.

5) Geldings are definitely easier to sell than mares.

6) Don’t buy anything younger than 4 or older than 9.

7) No ex-racers.

8) Buy in the spring – about March is ideal. This means that the nights and mornings are getting lighter so you will have more time to spend on the project and that it can live out. This is key to a profit. Unless you have your own place grass livery is the cheapest way to keep a horse. It probably won’t need any hard food or hay if it lives out either. More money in your pocket!

9) Aim to sell around the end of July. This means that people are still looking for horses for summer shows/eventing/PC camp etc. but also gives you time if it doesn’t sell straight away. You’re not faced with still having the horse in October eating into your profit.

10) No ex-racers.

11) Put in the work! Ride twice a day if need be. Make sure you’ve tried everything with it, and I mean EVERYTHING. Spend time making sure it will load first time every time into a trailer and lorry, both for you and other people. Hack it out everywhere. Mine go to the pub and stand outside whilst I sit on them drinking a pint, they go on the main road, they potter round the village and stop to talk to people, they go for a ride on the beach and a splash through the river in the next village. They have dogs, chickens and kids running round their legs. All of this fulfills two functions – it makes your pony a well-rounded and attractive individual and it also gets it seen out and about being sensible.

12) Get out and about to some shows and win some rosettes. This also fulfills a dual function as you should get some pro photographs taken which are useful for adverts. Pick your battles though – enter classes within your horse’s capabilities. Make it look good. Do not use outings to school in public. Do your practicing at home and only take your horse out in public when it will behave impeccably. Every spectator is a potential customer and word will soon get round if it is naughty.

13) No ex-racers.

14) Advertise – write an attractive and descriptive advert which really sells your horse. Take good pictures. Have the horse clean and tidy, have yourself clean and tidy and only use pictures which show it in a very good light. Purchasers increasingly want some video so I usually prepare a 3 or 4 minute youtube vid which I can send people to which shows the horse going nicely in walk, trot and canter on both reins, popping a few fences and hacking alone out of the yard. Neither over nor under-price the horse. Be realistic, not greedy.

15) Be social media savvy. Praise the horse fulsomely on Facebook from day one. Mention the good things, highlight its accomplishments. Say how thrilled you are with it and how sweet and obliging it is. Never mention any naughty moments and never have any photos or videos of the horse publicly displayed that are anything less than complimentary.

16) NO EX-RACERS!

So what can you expect to make? I’ll give you a quick breakdown of prices, based on an average project:
Purchase – £700
Keep for (worst case scenario) 16 weeks @ £25/week grass livery – £400
Three sets of shoes @ £65 a set – £195
Entry fees/XC schooling fees etc. – approx. £100
Advertising fees – approx. £60

Total outgoings – £1455
So if you sell this horse for £3000 you will have made £1545. It will have paid you £386.25 per month to ride it. That’s just over £10/hour based on an hour a day, every day. Not bad, eh?
Two disclaimers:
Firstly – never invest money you can’t afford to lose. I’ve been lucky and none of my horses have had any serious problems. However if any of them had broken a leg in the field I would have lost under £1000. A lot of money for me, but money I was prepared to write off if it all went wrong.
Secondly – it’s your call but you should declare any additional income to the taxman. Selling your own horses is fine. Selling expressly for profit isn’t. Get advice and declare it if necessary.

About the author

The Eventing Vet