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Rescued horses trot to the showring

By Clint Thomas, Metro Reporter
Youth competitor Chloe Adkins will ride Dori, a rescue mare, at the Appalachian Trainer Face Off Aug. 25-26 in Winfield. Courtesy photo
Youth competitor Chloe Adkins will ride Dori, a rescue mare, at the Appalachian Trainer Face Off Aug. 25-26 in Winfield. Courtesy photo
Sissonville trainer Dan Hull practices with his rescue horse, Rory, during their 100 days of training. Courtesy photo
CLINT THOMAS | Putnam Review Dan Hull “horse mumbles” mare Rory. They will compete at the Appalachian Trainer Face Off Aug. 25 and 26 at the Winfield Riding Club.

Horses and their riders will strut their stuff and show their mutual skills during the fifth annual Open Fun Show and Appalachian Trainer Face Off, scheduled for 1 to 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 at the Winfield Riding Club.

The family-friendly Open Fun Show welcomes beginner and advanced and Western and English riders to participate or observe.

Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, based in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, hosts the Open Fun Show. This year’s show will get underway at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, with competitions such as youth poles and youth barrels for riders 18 and younger, as well as ladies’ poles, ladies’ barrels, open poles and open barrels.

Open Fun Show competition will continue on the second day; a full list of competition categories can be viewed at

New to the event is the Appalachian Trainer Face Off. Earlier this year, eight trainers were paired with eight rescue horses. They were given 100 days to train and will demonstrate the results at the two-day competition.

Selected in May, the trainers are Dan Hull of Sissonville; Mike Hurst of Philippi; Adam Black of Dresden, Ohio; Aubrey Adkins Pyles of Ironton, Ohio; Olivia Dixon of Salvisa, Kentucky; Nicole Valeri of New Kensington, Pennsylvania; Rebecca Francis of Burgettstown, Pa.; Jay Lewis of Martinsburg and youth competitor Chloe Adkins, 11, from Ohio. Their mounts include rescue horses Vato, Rory, Luna, Katniss, Zoey, Dempsey, Dori and Dune.

Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue oversees the Face Off, as well, to showcase regional trainers and permit the public to see what previously abandoned and neglected horses are capable of with the right training. The horses will be available for adoption by pre-registered bidders.

According to a statement on the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue Facebook page, “Making more horses highly adoptable is what this event is about and dispelling the myth that rescue horses are in some way less because a person let them down along the way. ... The trainers stand to show their skill with difficult cases. The horses stand to gain knowledge that goes with them to their adoptive homes, showing what rescues are capable of for many years to come. ... Essentially, the Face Off will go a long way by bringing hope to previously neglected horses.”

The competition will include a set of challenges, a trail/obstacle course and a free-style performance. Industry professionals Michael Lyons from North Carolina, Susan Sunday of Sunday Stables in St. Albans and Tim Clyne of Ohio will judge the Face Off.

Hull, whose equine partner is Rory, operates “From The Ground Up” Horse Training. He has more than 40 years of experience training horses and was “fine-tuning” Rory for the Face Off earlier this month at the Dakota Stables in Sissonville.

Rory’s story is that she is a 12-year-old former brood mare. According to the Heart of Phoenix website, “Rory was rescued with her filly by her side two years ago in Pennsylvania from an auction. She has been used, they were told, as a brood mare only. She was barely halter broken. She couldn’t be trimmed or seen by a vet without heavy sedation. She was difficult to handle, load and work with as a semi-feral mare who had been both neglected and ignored when it came to any aspect of her well being and care.

“Last September, Heart of Phoenix was contacted about accepting this mare, but we did not have space at that time. The small group needed to reduce their numbers due to care costs, and Rory was a difficult horse to handle. We told them whenever we could get space, we would try to help. It took many months, but right before the start of the Face Off, Rory was hauled down to West Virginia, and not only did she become part of HOP, but she arrived in time and as a perfect candidate to be in the training competition. She arrived thin and very afraid, as well as reactive. It wasn’t hard to see that behind all those years of neglect of her body and mind, a willing girl was waiting in there for someone to teach and care for, though.”

Hull said Rory bucked only once with him, when he first tried to saddle her. After three months of patience and practice of three to five hours daily (with tongue in cheek, he calls his technique “horse mumbling” instead of “horse whispering”), Rory responds unflinchingly and virtually automatically to her trainer’s commands.

Hull said whoever buys Rory for “the second chance she deserves,” will receive two, eight-hour instructional sessions from him to learn how to acclimate the mare to her new owners and environment.

“That’s what this is all about,” he said of the Face Off, “finding a good home for these horses.”

The Face Off demonstrations will conclude with an awards ceremony, prizes and an auction on Aug. 26. Fans will also get to vote for their favorite horse in the Face Off match-up.

For further information about the HOP Fun Show and Appalachian Trainer Face Off, visit


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