Fulfilling a Need: The Appalachian Trainer Face Off

When faced with uncommon adversity, one should try not only to make sure all efforts create a great deal of impact, but also that multiple issues are being tackled at once. That is the aim of the Appalachian Trainer Face Off.

Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trainer Face Off

As most of us who have been around horses for any length of time know, one of the biggest problems in equine management is placing all the horses in need in homes. Simply put, there are more horses than there are people willing and able to care for them. This issue is especially apparent in rural areas that are economically disparaged. Fortunately, there are rescue organizations that are working hard to address the problem, but they often have an uphill battle when it comes to getting at risk equines ready for adoption and finding placements for all of them.

On such rescue is the Heart of Phoenix (which we featured in this Standing Ovation piece in 2018). Heart of Phoenix operates in West Virginia, in one of the nation’s most economically challenged regions. Through the course of the work the organization has done in rescuing and placing horses, Heart of Phoenix recognized the need to “create innovative ways to get a large number of horses trained and adopted each year on a small budget.” Enter the Appalachian Trainer Face Off (ATFO).

The ATFO is a training challenge that brings together both professional and amateur trainers, all with the goal of finding suitable homes for horses that, previously, did not have much hope of adoption. Many of the horses that are rounded up are entirely unhandled. However, they are vetted and cleared before being made available to trainers.

Potential trainers must apply and go through a screening process in order to be approved. The screening process includes determining that the trainers have the funding to properly care for a horse and enter the competition, that they have facilities to accommodate a training horse, that their other horses are well cared for and that they have the experience necessary to bring along a green horse in the allotted timeframe. These horsemen and women spend 100 days — from May through August — working with their horses in order develop “accomplished, willing equine partners” that are adoptable and ready for new homes.

As the trainers work with their new partners, they are encouraged to document their journeys through photos, stories and videos on social media. Doing so helps create a vested interest by the public in the success of each horse, the trainer and the ATFO. At its heart, this competition works to raise awareness about the need for quality homes for so many horses throughout Appalachia.

The event itself takes place over the course of three days. This year, the Appalachian Trainer Face Off will be held from Thursday, August 19 through Saturday, August 21, 2021 in Winfield, WV. At the competition, the trainers showcase what they have accomplished with their horses and receive 50% of the fee for which their horses are adopted. In previous years, horses were auctioned off to approved adoptive homes for as high as $13,000. Trainers can earn additional money in prizes. All prize packages are made possible through the ASPCA as well as other sponsors (if you are interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find out more here).

Ultimately, through the competition, the goal of Heart of Phoenix and the ATFO is achieved: horses receive an education and most go to approved homes at the end of the event. The ATFO has seen an incredible number of equines with solid foundations under them placed into well-suited homes, thus showing the value of adoptable horses and skilled trainers. All adopters are pre-approved and must sign adoption agreements.

Currently, the ATFO is the largest equestrian event in West Virginia, hosting over 1,000 people. In addition to having a variety of vendors attend, nationally known clinicians Josh Lyons, Michael Lyons and Patrick King have stepped up to serve as judges. All told, the ATFO is set up to be an event worth attending.

Heart of Phoenix believes that when faced with uncommon adversity, one should try to not only make sure all efforts create a great deal of impact, but also that multiple issues are being tackled at once. That’s why they designed an event “that leads to better view of what horse rescue means, what adoption should look like and how the horse industry can help us help horses in a meaningful way” (you can learn more about Heart of Phoenix here).

Here at Horse Nation, we always love to see organizations doing good for horses — especially those horses that are most in need. Therefore, we are committed to helping bring more awareness to the good work that Heart of Phoenix is doing through the Appalachian Trainer Face Off. In an effort to do so, we will be following the journey of one trainer as she progresses with her horse.

From now until August, we will be following along with Brianna Ivory, an amateur trainer from Butler, Pennsylvania. Brianna writes, “I have always loved horses my entire life and bought myself my first pony at six years old. We never bought finished horses so I had to train my back yard pasture pets to do the things I wanted to do.” That early exposure is what laid the foundation for Brianna’s love of horses and working with them to build solid equine partners.

As we continue with this series, we will get to know Brianna and her ATFO equine partner Delaware better and see their progress as they work toward the competition. Don’t miss the next installment!

Brianna and Delaware. Photo by Brianna Ivory.