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.





Get ready for a fantastic fall of riding


School is back in session and Labor Day is on the horizon, but most would agree that our best riding days are just around the corner. Cooler fall days, surrounded by the beautiful colors of autumn make for gorgeous riding. Here are some upcoming equestrian events to help you plan your fall.


There is nothing like a trail ride in the fall. The smell of fallen leaves as they crunch under your horse’s hooves is as much a part of the season as pumpkin spice flavors for equestrians. Here area few trail ride events happening within a few hours of Roanoke this fall:

  • fleetwood
    The Fleetwood Community Center Trail Ride.

    The Fleetwood Community Center Trail Ride is Oct. 14-16 at 1357 Crabtree Falls Highway, Roseland, Virginia. The ride is a fundraiser for Nelson County’s Fleetwood Community Center. The building was once an elementary school. Today its grounds provide a beautiful location to host events such as the trail ride and for youth sports. The trail ride takes place twice a year, once in the spring in April, and once in the fall in October. It includes several rides throughout the weekend. On Friday, there is a short trail ride of 6-8 miles. Saturday there are two rides to choose from: One long ride of about 25 miles, and one short ride,of about 15 miles. On Sunday a nice easy 10-12 mile ride is available. All three rides cover a variety of terrain: water crossings, dirt trails, rocky trails, mountain ridges and the climbs to get there (some are pretty steep but we offer alternates if you want to avoid them). Fees are $80 per adult rider and $40 per rider under 18 and all non-riders. The fee includes three days and two nights of camping on a level field alongside the Tye River. Five meals, including lunch on the trail, are included. Registration is due by Oct. 1.  Questions? For registration and general questions, contact Audrey Diane Evans @ either 434-277­-5814 or bossmare1955@gmail.com or contact Nancy Brockman @ 434 277­5630 for questions
    about the trails.

  • The Liberty Trail Ride will be held Sept. 17 in Orange, Virginia. The ride is organized by Orange County Parks & Recreation and Oakland Heights Farm, hosted by James Madison’s Montpelier, and supported by the Virginia Horse Industry Board and Virginia Horse Council. The ride begins promptly at 10am, so it is highly recommended that participants arrive before 9am, though participants are welcome to arrive as early as 8:15 am. The length of the ride is between 7 and 10 miles round-trip (route may change based on weather and trail conditions), and the terrain is pasture land, wooded trails, and gravel roads, so please make sure horses are shod accordingly. (Shoes are highly recommended, without shoes some horses have experienced fatigue on the gravel roads.) This is a group trail ride with a trail master who leads the ride. This first portion of the ride is optional since it will expose horses to crowds of observers. Lunch will be provided at the end of the ride.
  • The Flint Hill Volunteer Fire Department 2016 Annual Benefit Trail Ride will be held Oct. 21-23. Campers may arrive Thursday, October 20 at 2 PM. Registration starts Friday morning at 8:00. One day tickets are $40, and three day tickets are $60. A dinner will be served on Saturday evening for an extra $20 per person.  Beautiful groomed trails with two loops, 9 miles or 17 miles. Contact Deb Miloslavich at honeymoonhollow@hotmail.com for more information.
  • Amelia Springs Trail Ride is Sept. 16-18 in Amelia Springs, Va. Trails are self guided on private Hunt Club property and will be marked for short or long rides. Gates open at 10 a.m.. Friday for camping. Early arrivals welcome on Thursday after 3 p.m. It is a primitive site in an open field. There are no electric hook-ups. There is water, showers and horse wash at the barn. This is a pre-registration ride. The Cost is $65 for adults and $35 for youth (11 – 17) for the entire weekend, which includes camping. Registrations not post-marked by Sept. 6 the cost is $70 for Adults.


Beat the heat of the summer horse shows by catching one of these competitions this fall. Ribbons make the best colors of fall, afterall.

  • 917bb-crossview24
    Costumes are encouraged for all classes at Green Hill Equestrian Center Halloween Fun Show and your sure to find a costume class at other open shows this time of year as well.

    The Virginia Horse Center will host the Hear the Beat Open Horse Show on Sept. 4 in the center’s East Complex. Classes will begin at 8 a.m. and Lesley Morris will judge.

  • The Southwest Virginia Horseman’s Association is holding a Fall Fun Horse Show on Sept. 10 at the New River Fairgrounds in Dublin, Virginia. The show will start at 10 a.m. with game classes, then the fun show will continue at 1 p.m. with classes for English, Western and Gaited horses. Lesley Morris will be the judge. A $5 admission will be collected from spectators.
  • On Sept. 17, the Franklin County Equestrian Club will hold the 3rd Annual Franklin County Fair Open Horse Show at Ginther Farm in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The show includes a wide variety of classes, including over fences, trail, pleasure, gaited, and ranch. Speed/game classes will follow, not to begin before 1 p.m. The show is Blue Ridge Horse Force sanctioned and will be judged by Marty Wood.
  • The New London Horse Show Series finale is set Oct. 22 in Coyote Crossing Cattle Company in Bedford, Va. Wendy Snyder will judge the show, which includes classes for a variety of disciplines including Hunt Seat, Western, Ranch, Mini, Gaited and Speed.
  • Green Hill Equestrian Center Halloween Fun Show will be held Oct. 30 at the equestrian center in Salem, Va. Find a variety of pleasure and game classes to round out the show season. The show is Blue Ridge Horse Force sanctioned. Costumes are encouraged in all classes, so get ready to put your creativity to the test!
  • The Cross View Horse Show series will close its season on Nov. 5-6 at Green Hill Equestrian Center in Salem. The two-day show begins Saturday with hunters. Sunday features an open horse show with a variety of classes on the flat. The show is Blue Ridge Horse Force and Franklin County Equestrian Club sanctioned. Ann Martin will judge on Saturday and Tricia Monzingo will judge Sunday.


Did you find a few weak spots in your riding or your mount’s training? There are some opportunities to get help this fall.

Gabrielle Hooten teaches at the Dressage clinic.
  • Healing Strides will host Steuart Pittman for a cross-country and showjumping clinic, on Sept. 3-4 in Boones Mill, Virginia. Steuart is a nationally-recognized clinician whose prior clinics at Healing Strides have been very popular. He is well regarded for his teaching and training abilities and his positive, fun-loving attitude, which make his clinics both educational and fun. Register by Aug. 26 to ride.
  • Basic Horsemanship/Problem Solving Clinic with Knight Horsemanship (of Jumping Branch, West Virginia) will be held Oct. 29 at Shadow Ridge Stable in Wirtz. The clinic will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch break. $150/ride $20/audit All riders welcome !Come out and also enjoy a mounted shooting Demo with Bobby Knight. Call to reserve your spot (540) 632-3002
  • Shadow Ridge Stables in Wirtz, Virginia is hosting a Gabrielle Hooten Dressage Clinic on Sept. 3. Spots to ride in this clinic are already full, but auditors are welcome for $10. Because this clinic filled so quickly, Shadow Ridge will offer a second clinic on Oct. 1. Be sure to reserve your spot early by calling 540-632-3002.
  • The Botetourt County Horseman’s Association will host a Lunch & Learn at Green Hill Equestrian Center in Salem on Oct. 1. Come out and ride at Green Hill for the day. A local clinician will also hold sessions. The details of this event are still being worked out, so watch for updates!


Trailer in the shop, horse not up to leaving the farm , don’t have a horse at all or just plain prefer to watch others ride? There are plenty of options for hanging out along the rail this fall. Many riders are closing out their season at championship horse shows and appreciate a crowd cheering them on.

The Virginia State 4-H Championships are held Sept. 15-18 at the Virginia Horse Center.
  • It’s not quite in fall, the the Extreme Mustang Makeover on Aug. 26-28 is not to be missed for any horse training fans. This wild horse training competition will offer two divisions: Youth, ages 8-17, will compete with a mustang they adopt in-hand and adults, ages 18 and over, will ride their assigned mustang in preliminary classes to compete for a spot in the top 10 freestyle finals. This event will award $25,000 in cash and prizes. All adult mustangs will be available for adoption after the event by competitive bid. Bureau of Land Management representatives will be on site to approve interested adopters. All events are free except for Saturday evening. Tickets may be purchased in advance or on-site. Kids 5 and under are Free.
  • The VPHC Color Classic will be held over Labor Day weekend at the Virginia Horse Center. The APHA show showcases top horses in the Paint horse industry in a variety of classes.
  • The Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse and Pony Show will be held Sept. 15-18 at the Virginia Horse Center, featuring 4-H youth from across the state. Plan to stay into the evening on Saturday and attend the championship classes for Horsemanship and Western Pleasure. The Hunter championships are on Sunday.
  • The Virginia Horse Shows Association Championship will be held Nov. 10-13 at the Virginia Horse Center. This show caps a year of hard work by the exhibitors and is a great way to close the season.

For a complete list of equestrian events happening through the end of the year, visit the Roanoke Equestrian Calendar Page.



Extreme Mustang Makeover coming to Virginia Horse Center

Courtesy BLM


The Extreme Mustang Makeover is scheduled at the Virginia Horse Center on August 26-28.

This wild horse training competition will offer two divisions: Youth, ages 8-17, will compete with a mustang in-hand and adults, ages 18 and over, will ride their assigned mustang in preliminary classes to compete for a spot in the top 10 freestyle finals.

After being selected to compete at an Extreme Mustang Makeover event, a trainer picks up a Mustang that has been virtually untouched by humans. With approximately 100 days to gentle, halter break and saddle train the Mustang before the competition.

Horse and rider teams compete in preliminary classes that include evaluating the horse’s ability to maneuver through patterns and/or trail courses.

After the preliminary scores are tallied, the highest-placing horses are chosen to compete in the finals. Trainers have 4 minutes to present a freestyle performance to showcase their Mustangs’ abilities and talents.

Mustang Makeover
The winner of last year’s Mustang Makeover at the Virginia Horse Festival.

The event will award $25,000 in cash and prizes. All adult mustangs will be available for adoption via auction. Bureau of Land Management representatives will be on site to approve interested adopters.

The entry deadline is March 28. Mustangs will be picked up April 29-30 in  Knoxville, TN

A Mustang Makeover competition was held last year at the Virginia Horse Festival at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia.

The Mustang Makeover competition’s is an effort by the the Mustang Heritage Foundation to promote the Mustang’s versatility, trainability, and worth as an equine companion. Over 5,000 American Mustangs have been adopted through the Mustang Heritage Foundation since 2007. The foundation will hold 10 Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions this year.