20 questions with Mustang trainer Rob West, who will hold clinic in Buchanan in April

Rob West riding Moonshine Lady in the 2016 Extreme Mustang Makeover at the Virginia Horse Center.


Training any horse is no easy task, but for the trainers who take part in the Extreme Mustang Makeover events around the country, the challenge is made even more difficult by four-month time limit and a horse that’s never been handled.

Rob West, of New York, says he has found his true calling in showcasing the potential of Mustangs. “It just doesn’t get any better than this. I am given a lump of clay to mold and sculpt the way I see fit, until I have a masterpiece to present 120 days later.  …  We take these scared wild animals and we ask for their trust. And guess what? They give it to us.”

If you were at the 2016 Extreme Mustang Makeover at the Virginia Horse Center, you may remember West and his red roan mare, Moonshine Lady. Their Native American-themed freestyle routine featured the mare jumping over barrels while a tarp flew overhead, earning them a Top Five finish. Moonshine Lady then was purchased at the competition’s auction by a family in Virginia. But that was not the end of West and Moonshine’s story together.

Not long after going to her new home, the mare jumped her pasture fence to escape a new pasture mate and disappeared into the dense woods. West, tipped off by a fan in Virginia that had heard about her disappearance, traveled to Virginia to help find his beloved partner. (See Rob’s account of training the mare, competing, learning that she was missing and how she ended up going back to New York with him by clicking here.)

The story of how the trainer traveling to Virginia to help find the horse he trained touched New Freedom Farm founder Lois Fritz. She later contacted West and they formed a friendship. Now the Buchanan, Virginia, nonprofit,  which helps veterans suffering PTSD find healing through horses, has announced it will be hosting a Westang Equine Confidence Building Clinic on April 28-29, 2018.

Read about New Freedom Farm here.

The clinic’s basic goal will be to make a braver more confident horse and rider. The clinic is open to all disciplines and horses. There will be an trail obstacle course and a chance to have fun playing equine soccer on your horse. All experience levels are welcome. There is limited space available. The 2-day clinic will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

The clinic costs $150.00 for both days and includes daily lunch. One day clinic is $85.00. Private sessions on Friday afternoon or before or after each clinic day available for $50.00/session. Audit only (includes lunch) $20.

Veterans who want to ride in the clinic are half price and veterans who want to come and audit the clinic are free (includes lunch). Call 540-855-1158 or email newfreedomfarm2016@gmail.com with questions or for more information.
$50 nonrefundable deposit due by April 10 to secure a spot.

We spoke to Rob about his start in the horse industry, the challenges of training a wild horse and his equine teachers/partners along the way.

Q: Tell me about your business. What kind of services do you offer?
I work mostly with both troubled or problem horses with issues ranging from bucking and rearing to bad ground manners and starting young and most times unbroke horses. Although I do not refer to my method as breaking. I call it gentling. When done right, it can be a nice experience for both horse and rider.
Q: When did you get started in horses? What is your riding background?
I started riding at the age of 3 and got my first Shetland pony “Cupcake” on my 4th birthday. My mom wouldn’t allow me to show until I was about 9 years old. Her idea was that I should love the horse first and showing came second. I am glad she was so wise, because that’s exactly what happened. I then began barrel racing and gymkhana gaming shows. I instantly loved it and excelled at it.
MM012Q: What makes your stable/business different than others? What’s your specialty? What do you take the most pride in?
My specialty seems to be that I can gain the trust/respect of a horse almost right away. The horses bond with me and love me to a point that they can overcome their fears by putting their faith in me. My business is very much like a lot of others. All sorts of obstacles and desensitizing tools to make a more bombproof horse, but I believe its how I deal with the horses that makes my barn different. When it comes down to brass tacks, I care. I never started this as a business. I started helping horses because they needed it, and I care so much about them. When I see a distressed horse my heart goes out to them. The thing I take the most pride in is that I can speak to these horses in their language. I can regain their faith in humanity even if we don’t always deserve it. I believe that every horse that I encounter and work with is all the better for it.
Q: Can you describe your training/teaching philosophy?
My philosophy is simple. Make deals and don’t break them. Offer a horse an option and reward it with release of pressure or with praise. NO HAND TREATS. Your horse will not love you because you give him mints. He will however begin nipping and pinning his ears because you aren’t getting the treat when he wants it. I can’t say enough how important praise is.
Q: What is your favorite characteristic about Mustangs?
Its hard to pick just one. They are loyal to a fault. They will also do anything you point them at. Once you have a Mustang’s heart they will literally walk through fire for you.
Q: What is the most difficult part of training a wild horse?
The hardest part for me is far and away letting them go. I try to build a wall and not get attached by telling myself that I am training someone else’s horse for them, but it doesn’t work. I am devastated every time I say goodbye.
Q: How did you learn about New Freedom Farm?
The founder Lois messaged me after hearing I drove from New York to Virginia to find a mustang that I trained that had gone missing. We became instant friends with a mutual respect for each other’s passions.
Q: What will be the main goal taught to the riders at the clinic at New Freedom Farm?
I try to keep an open mind and invite whatever is presented to me, but I always strive to have both more confidant horses and riders in the end. I want to show how we teach our horses on the ground first and then transfer that to the saddle. Its safe and effective.
Q: Who are your riding mentors? How have they influenced your riding?
I don’t have a trainer that I follow. However I have picked up quite a bit from many of them. Like I’ve said before, I am a student of the horse and they teach me more than any other person ever has. On the national level I admire Monty Roberts and Guy McLean. I also had the pleasure of being guided by some people as a child that were great horseman like my neighbor Joan Norman and another strong influence named Richie Fisher.
Q: If you could spend the day riding with any horseman, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
I would have to choose Bobby Kerr. I have met him twice and I just love what he does for
Mustangs. He is a talented horseman and a showman of the highest caliber. We have similar ideas and a flair for a wow factor filled performance in our freestyles. I am not at his level yet, but I am on my way.
Q: What was your proudest moment in the saddle?
My proudest moment has to be finding my lost mustang Moonshine Lady after she was missing for eight days. We covered many miles and exhausting hours. She heard me speaking on my cellphone and came out of the dense woods to find me.

And like magic, all of a sudden, Moonshine turned right toward me from the darkness of the thick woods. I had begun recording her walking toward me. She heard me talking to Mike on the phone, and came to my voice. As I videotaped her, I called her name. My voice cracked and I just lost it crying my eyes out. It was the most beautiful moment in my whole life with horses. I saw the love and trust as she looked at me as if to say, “What took you so long. I was scared.”

— Rob, on finding Moonshine

Q: Do you have a favorite horse movie or book?
My favorite horse movie is “The Black Stallion.” When I saw that movie with my mom as a boy, I have to admit that I wished it could be me stranded on that island with that horse.
Q: What is the one item a rider shouldn’t leave home without when attending your clinic?
Probably their cellphone or camera. Its amazing how much you forget. So if you can record it, or have someone else record it for you, then you can always go back over it later or for years to come.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give new/young riders?
Enjoy your horse. Don’t get caught up in showing and pressure unless you like that. Its supposed to be fun, so make it pleasurable.
Q: If you could try any other riding discipline, what would it be?
I have tried many, but I really do like Dressage. Mounted shooting is a blast, too.
Q: What is the best thing about riding/training horses?
I look back on some people and horses alike that are happier because they met me. I love to get their success stories all the time. I mean some were at the point of selling their horse or giving up riding altogether and I was their last ditch effort. That makes me smile.
Q: What would be your idea of a dream vacation?
I want to travel the United States with my horse trailer and just trail ride every inch of it.
Q: What horse industry/riding trend do you wish would go away and never return?
There are way to many to list but the dying crab canter in western pleasure riding really
bothers me. That is changing at this point though.
Q: Tell us about the best horse you’ve ever ridden.
The best horse I have ever ridden is whichever one I am riding at the time. As corny as that sounds, they are all so amazing. I often refer to myself as an architect that has to carefully uncover each precious artifact. Each horse has those hidden treasures.
Q: If you could ride any famous horse from history, who would you ride?
Secretariat. From what I’ve heard, he was all heart.





Quarantine lifted in Bedford County after December Strangles outbreak

A quarantine has been lifted at a Bedford County, Virginia, farm after a veterinarian reported eight horses affected with Strangles. The horses first showed symptoms on Dec. 21, 2017, including cough, discharge from the nose, swollen lymph nodes and fever.

Strangles is an infection of the upper respiratory tract found only in horses, donkeys and mules. Strangles does not spread through the air, but it is highly contagious. It can be spread by an infected horse touching another horse or indirectly through tack, shared drinking water or feed, clothing, hands and other pets such as barn cats and dogs.

Twelve horses were put under quarantine at the Bedford County farm, but only the original eight horses showed signs of the disease during that first week. All of those horses have recovered and have been free of symptoms for the past three weeks.


‘Horse Whisperer’ coming to Virginia Horse Center in October

Buck Brannaman

One of the things I love the most about living in the Roanoke region of Virginia is having the Virginia Horse Center just a short jaunt up Interstate 81. The first class horse facility brings top competition and horsemen to our region each year, and 2018 will be no exception.

If you are a fan of natural horsemanship, one of the very top clinicians will be visiting the East Complex on Oct. 5-7, 2018. Buck Brannaman was the inspiration for the movie and novel character Tom Booker from “The Horse Whisperer.” He was also the equine consultant on the film. A documentary about Brannaman called “Buck,”Buck directed by Cindy Meehl, won the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Brannaman will hold Foundation Horsemanship and Horsemanship classes at the October clinic. For more information, contact taylorf7@vt.edu. Brannaman’s website lists clinic costs at $700 for three days of class participation as a rider and an auditing fee of $30 a day.

The classes offered are described as follows:

Foundation Horsemanship

This new class is for the green rider or a green horse who may feel the need for additional groundwork prior to riding. During each of the three-day sessions half of the class is dedicated to working the horse from the ground in preparation for riding, with the second half of the class horseback.

Horsemanship 1

For the green horse and rider already comfortable in the snaffle bit along with aged horses needing continued work. This is the first stage of progressing into the bridle with all basic movements introduced. All levels of riders – no matter what discipline – will benefit. The class features strictly dry work – no cattle. All maneuvers stress the vaquero style of riding and are appropriate for horses from first level snaffle to experienced bridle horses. Hackamore horses welcome.

Brannaman, of Sheridan, Wyo., spends much of his year on the road holding clinics around the globe. For instance, his 2018 schedule includes stops in Australia, Italy and throughout the U.S., although most stops are in the Western U.S.

“I often tell people in the clinics, the human possesses the one thing that means more to the horse than anything in the world, and that is peace and comfort,” Brannaman told ABC News in 2012. “That’s all they want.”

The trainer grew up a child of abuse, terrified of their widowed father who forced him and his brothers to perform trick roping.

“The horses at that time in my life, they saved my life,” Brannaman told Weir. “The horses did way for me than I did for them. So they were my friends, and they were sort of my refuge. So it’s interesting that I’ve been given the opportunity to spend the rest of my life making things better for the horses.”

Brannaman is known for his quiet approach to gaining respect from horses. He emphasizes that respect and fear are not the same thing. He was for many years a disciple of Ray Hunt, one of the founders of the natural horsemanship movement, and also inspired by Tom and Bill Dorrance.


BCHA holds 18th Annual Horse Show, adds hunter pace to day’s events

Jill Franceschini and her mare Kelty accept the BCHA Members Only class trophy from association vice president JoAnn Dester.

The Botetourt County Horseman’s Association held it’s annual horse show on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Green Hill Park in Salem. As a new twist on the horse show, the association added a hunter pace to the afternoon, sending riders out on Green Hill Park’s cross country course on a lovely fall ride.

The show included two classes that featured a perpetual trophy to the winner. The BCHA Members Only class was won by Jill Franceschini riding her gray mare Kelty. Along with the trophy, Franceschini also received a free membership renewal with the association.

The Susan Bradley Memorial Arabian Pleasure class, created many years ago to honor one of the club’s founders, was won by Grace Myers riding Shadows Morning Joy.

Grace Myers riding Shadows Morning Joy receive the Susan Bradley Memorial Trophy.

The show also featured a $100-added Jackpot Pleasure class, won by Aubrey Puckett on Hennley. She took home a jackpot of $75 for her win. Other money was split between second and third place horses and a exhibitor drawn at random.

The show, judged by USEF “r” carded Rachel Bandy Witt, featured a wide variety of classes from model in the morning, three over fences divisions in the afternoon, plus pleasure classes for English, Western, Ranch, and Gaited horses. Those were followed by a series of Games classes to round out the day.

Rachel Cook and It’s All About Tonight
Clair Humphreys and Red Badge of Trouble


Grace Myers dressed as a witch for the Costume Class.

Gorgeous fall weekend closes the Cross View Show Series’ 2017 season

Zipposhandsomedevil and Lauren Owen

The Cross View Horse Show Series closed it’s 2017 series, crowning its high point winners for the day and the season at its fall show this past weekend. While the calendar said it was fall, the weather felt more like mid-summer with temperatures well into the mid-80s and the sun shining hot and bright all day.

By the time I arrived on Sunday afternoon, their was a decent, if not spectacular, turnout for the show. I was a bit surprised that more didn’t take advantage of the incredible September weather to come out with their horses. As with each Cross View show, the midway between the two main rings included vendors and games.


Most of the Western classes appeared to have between two and five entries. Five vied for the Jackpot GAYP Pleasure class. Laura Owen took home the largest slice of the jackpot on her sorrel gelding, Zipposhandsomedevil, who she rode without a bridle in the class.


The ranch horse classes were also well attended. Riders in the ranch rail classes were asked to walk, job and lope, but also to extend the jog.

Attire for Western part of the show was very casual for some — I saw ball caps and blue jeans on some — to gemstones and standard pleasure glitz on others. So don’t let your lack of show attire keep you from coming out to complete next year!




Morgan Strickler and Ima Glowin CocoChip repeat Virginia 4-H Western Pleasure Classic win

Morgan Strickler and Ima Glowin Coco Chip (front)

There’s something inspiring about the Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse Show that’s held every September at the Virginia Horse Center.

Not every truck and trailer you see parked in the lot is brand new, although many are. Not every saddle is covered in silver or every show shirt perfectly tailored and covered in sparkling jewels, although many are. But the atmosphere is every bit as electric as the biggest shows, maybe even more so.

Parents stand on the rail more nervous than if they were showing, muttering instructions and tips even though their children are at the other end of the arena and couldn’t possibly hear. Horses are lovingly prepared to enter what for many will be the biggest show of the year, if not their careers, to make memories that may last the rest of the exhibitors’ lives.

Morgan Strickler and Ima Glowin CocoChip placed first and second under the two judges in Horsemanship, taking home the overall championship.

Morgan Strickler of Frederick County is one such exhibitor who is bound to always have great memories of her rides at the 4-H State Championship Show. She was returning to the championship show after winning the Western Pleasure Classic last year on her Appaloosa Ima Glowin CocoChip. Sunday morning, the defending champion made it two in a row. First Morgan won the Horsemanship title in a split judge’s decision (Gillian Davis riding VS Red Solo was first under the second judge), and then she took the Western Pleasure Horse Classic in a unanimous decision. Julia Marie Haney of Prince William County and The Kyrmsun Cowboy were Reserve in the Western Pleasure Horse Classic.




Photos from the Virginia 4-H Championship Horse Show available for purchase are being uploaded now at www.roanokeequestrian.smugmug.com.
Digital copies and print versions are available.


The Classics, which require a qualifying ride in a previous class during the show, are simply a cap to what is a busy weekend at the horse center. The show begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday. The winners of the various class divisions then come back at the end of the show for the “Classic” classes… the best of the best enter the ring to vie for the class title. This year, the Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Hunt Seat Equitation and Horsemanship Classics were held in the East Complex on Sunday morning. But other Classics are held also on both Saturday and Sunday.

Emily Michelle Strom of Henrico County and her gray Arabian KK Dream Catcher

Emily Michelle Strom of Henrico County and her gray Arabian KK Dream Catcher won the Western Pleasure Pony Classic.

In the Hunt Seat Equitation Classic, Holly Kate Longest of James City rode Playing Hooky to victory. Holly was part of a four-horse work-off the required the exhibitors to show at a walk, rising trot, sitting trot and canter without their irons. Reserve went to Marissa Jones of Loudoun on Above the Clouds.

There’s a balance here between everyone getting a shot and the top riders achieving the giant trophy. And the trophies really are enormous — one Classic trophy required two people to carry it into the arena. Disciplines offered are as varied as the ponies. Western, Saddle Seat, Hunt Seat, Dressage, Speed, Reining and even Side Saddle are represented.

What the 4-H State Show has that many other shows seem to lack is a fabulous sense of community. Counties band together, decorate their stalls to a common theme and everyone seems to have their own cheering section when the results came in after each class. There’s a lot that professionals could learn from the youth in that arena.

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Botetourt County Horseman’s Association to hold 18th Annual Horse Show & Hunter Pace Oct. 7.

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The Botetourt County Horseman’s Association will hold its 18th Annual Horse Show on Oct. 7 at Green Hill Park in Salem. The open horse show will include three over-fences divisions, model, showmanship, coached, pleasure, ranch riding, gaited and games classes. Rachel Bandy Witt will judge.

The horse show will also include a $100-added money Jackpot Pleasure class. Money from entries will be contributed to the pot for each of the top 3 placings and a rider drawn at random. The more who enter, the bigger the payout. Entry fees for that class will be $25. All other classes will be $8.

The show also includes a special classes of Arabian exhibitors. The Susan Bradley Memorial Trophy Open Arabian Pleasure class returns to the BCHA show this year. And BCHA members may ride in the BCHA Members Only pleasure class.

Eleven division champions will be crowned, with special prizes to each of those winners. Class winners will also receive prizes beyond the blue ribbon.

New this year, a hunter pace will accompany the horse show. Starting at noon, teams of two may tackle the course. The team closest to the optimal time wins. All jumps are optional and three divisions will be offered, including a trail division for those who just want to ride at a leisurely pace. All disciplines welcome. The cost to ride in the hunter pace is $35/rider for non-members, $25/rider for BCHA members. The hunter pace will run through 3 p.m.



Cross View Horse Show holds July installment of its 2017 series

CrossViewBLOG-0306The Cross View Horse Show series continued last weekend at Green Hill Park Equestrian Center with a two-day horse show. Saturday featured hunters/jumpers and Sunday featured an all-breed open horse show with a special division of gaited horses.

The Cross View series is a great show for all levels of riders looking for a well-run show with a low-pressure, community atmosphere. Along with the competition, vendors also camped out in the grassy section between the two arenas.

Green Hill Equestrian Center offers three arenas with dirt footing. There is a large field across from the arenas for easy trailer parking, even for the largest of rigs. There also limited stalls available. The Green Hill venue does get hot in the summer with limited shade, so bring your pop up canopies or consider arriving early to secure a spot near the woods.

The show moves along fairly quickly. On Sunday, the gaited horses and model/showmanship started the show in separate arenas. The gaited portion was completed by 11 a.m and featured Rocky Mountain Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Saddlebreds and Peruvian Pasos among the horses shown.

See a photo you love? Photos taken at the Cross View Horse Show can be purchased online by clicking here.

Turnout was good considering the heat in July. Youth classes were particularly well attended with 10-15 in the youth pleasure classes. However the adult classes on Sunday weren’t as well attended and the English pleasure division had just one adult showing this time. Classes run $9/class.

Cross View would hold the last show in its 2017 series on Sept. 23-24 at Green Hill Equestrian Center, where it will crown the high point winners for the entire series.

Below are a sample of photos from the weekend. These photos and many others are available for purchase at roanokeequestrian.smugmug.com.




Roanoke Valley Horse Show continues to evolve at Virginia Horse Center

rvhs cecil wheeler
Ceil Wheeler and Callaway’s Brioni. Photo courtesy of Shiflet Photography
The Roanoke Shenandoah Valley Horse Show returned to the Virginia Horse Center on June 21-25. And while high-steppin’ horses took to the Coliseum to compete for top honors, there were no high jumps in a chase for a title.

While technically this is a continuation of the show once run by the Roanoke Valley Horseman’s Association at the Salem Civic Center and hosted by the Virginia Horse Center in 2016, the show is now under new management, R.H. Bennett, of Shelbyville, Kentucky. 

The 2017 show was a very different affair than what fans will remember from 1972-2014. The hunter/jumper classes that were at the heart of the multi-breed Salem show are no more. Nor are the barrels or Western classes that were traditionally held on Monday. And fans would not find a Grand Prix of Roanoke to cap the event on Saturday night. This year’s show showcased only American Saddlebreds.

The show, begun in 1972, has been granted United States Equestrian Federation designation as a USEF Heritage Competition. The designation is only given to those competitions that have made substantial contributions toward the development of the sport, promote and practice equestrian ideals of sportsmanship, and have been established for a long period of time.

For 2017, there were 103 classes. Horses come from far and wide with  23 states represented. Spectators were admitted at no charge. The Salem show sold tickets to its evening classes.

During this year’s competition, Ceil Wheeler and her own Callaway’s Brioni took home the championship in the ASB Ladies Five Gaited Championship. The reserve champion was presented to Phyllis Brookshire aboard Man on the Move.

Suzanne Wright and Fort Chiswell’s Wild Kiss earned the ASB Five Gaited Show Pleasure Adult championship, with the reserve championship going to Jennie Garlington riding Kalarama’s New Moon.

In the Hackney Pony Pleasure Adult Championship, it was Toni Nastali aboard Sandra Surber’s Heartland Resplendent that received the tricolor. The reserve champion in the Hackney division went Patty Hylton riding her own, Crystal Creek’s Legacy.

The win in the ASB Fine Harness Jackpot went to Larry Hodge aboard Trust My Imagination, owned by Hillcroft Farm. Hodge also took home the win in the ASB Five Gaited Jackpot, this time aboard Two Sweet to Kiss.

The ASB Five Gaited Jackpot was dedicated to Matt Shiflet’s grandfather, Claude Shiflet, a trainer whose family has been coming to the Roanoke Valley Horse Show from the beginning. The Shiflet family was honored before the class.


Former Roanoke Valley Horse Show has new name, format


Cross View Horse Show kicks off 2017 season with hunter/jumper classes

The Cross View Horse Show series kicked off on Saturday, May 20, 2017, at Green Hill Park Equestrian Center in Salem, Virginia, with hunter/jumper classes before shifting into their open show on Sunday. Saturday saw a good turnout with classes varying in size from just a few riders to numbers reaching into the teens. While the youth divisions are strong, the show still lacks good numbers in the adult divisions.

A variety of classes both over fences and on the flat were held. The day was hot for May and felt more like midsummer than spring, complete with late afternoon thunderstorms rolling in and causing the show to break until they rolled past. Meanwhile, Sunday’s show would be much cooler, with the rain holding off until near the end of the show.

Cross View’s shows feature great prizes, with embroidered chairs going to the high point champions. The atmosphere is professional, yet relaxed. The jumper and hunter rings are separate and the show runs along at a decent clip with two divisions running at the same time. This also leaves the largest arena open for schooling, as well as plenty of space behind the trailers for riding. The show is a great place to take green horses for schooling or young riders for experience. And the great prizes and fun atmosphere makes is an enjoyable show for more experienced teams as well.

While Green Hill Park has been trying to raise funds to upgrade the arenas, the hunter ring (Arena 2) still appeared to be a bit hard with course crushed stone for footing. That arena was regraded last fall and now sports temporary fencing that some may recognize from the Roanoke Valley Horse Show in Salem.

The Cross View Horse Show Series continues on July 15-16. Katie Skelly will judge the hunter/jumper classes on Saturday and Tricia Mozingo will judge the open classes on Sunday. Ken Davis will judge Gaited/Trail/Games on Sunday as well. The series will close Sept. 23-24.