Shaping Rescue Horses for Adoption at Appalachian Trainer Face Off

Appalachian therapeutic riding center.

Situated in Rockingham County, Virginia, a dedicated equine trainer named Laura Lezotte from Fulks Run participates in the esteemed Appalachian Trainer Face Off in West Virginia for the second consecutive year.

This event creates a pathway for wild rescue horses to find loving homes.

In this contest, trainers receive 100 days to prepare their horses for the competition, teaching them the necessary skills to ensure they are ready for adoption.

“These horses are trained to be exemplary equine citizens. They are taught basic etiquette and handling skills, along with riding skills. Many of them even learn to perform tricks,” Lezotte remarked.

Over the span of three days, the horses are exhibited in various categories at the event, allowing them to demonstrate their newly-acquired skills.

The competition concludes with an auction where pre-approved bidders can bid on the horse they want to adopt.

Fortunate enough to train her top-choice horse, Lezotte shared her experience. “Khan, a Tennessee walking horse cross, was my first choice. I have a fondness for Tennessee walkers as I grew up around them. They are incredibly delightful creatures,” she revealed.

Khan, a six-year-old horse, suffered a shoulder blade injury when he was just a year old.

Subsequently, he spent four years with the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, waiting to be medically cleared to participate in competitions and be available for adoption.

“Khan is such a sweet, affectionate, and adorable horse. I fell for him the moment I laid my eyes on him,” said Lezotte.

As soon as Lezotte took Khan in, they embarked on their 100-day journey together.

“The aim is to identify what triggers the horse and gradually build their confidence and trust in their trainer and humans in general,” she explained.

However, a few weeks into the training, Lezotte realized that the demanding competition might not be suited for Khan due to his previous shoulder injury.

“He’s going to be an excellent riding horse, but I don’t feel comfortable pushing him into this rigorous 100-day competition,” she confessed.

However, this setback doesn’t deter Khan’s chances of finding a permanent home.

“I am fostering Khan and if he’s physically sound for riding, even at a moderate pace, I think I might have a place for him here,” Lezotte added.

Despite this, Lezotte isn’t withdrawing from the competition. She recently welcomed a new rescue horse, Casino.

“He’s incredibly cute but a little shy, so we have some work to help him come out of his shell,” she noted.

However, starting her training anew a month into the competition is a significant challenge.

“When I get home, I go directly to the field and spend time with Casino. It’s not all about training; it’s also about feeding him, grooming him, and spending time around him to familiarize him with me,” she said.

This video showcases the Appalachian Trainer Face Off by Heart of Phoenix, where dedicated trainers transform the lives of previously neglected horses through intensive rehabilitation and training:

Although the competition deadline is approaching, Lezotte’s primary focus is to work with Casino at his own pace.

“It’s about respecting the horse’s pace, understanding their insecurities, and fostering trust and confidence,” she shared.

The Appalachian Trainer Face Off will occur in Winfield, West Virginia, from August 17 to 19.

Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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