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About the ATFO

Finding Inspiration in Every Trainer and Every Horse

Operating in one of the nation’s most economically challenged regions, Heart of Phoenix found through necessity that it was essential to create innovative ways to get a large number of horses trained and adopted each year on a small budget.

Our answer to this was the Appalachian Trainer Face Off, a training competition that began in 2017.

The ATFO currently one of the largest equine events in West Virginia, hosting over 2,500 people (2021) over the 3 day August event each year.

The ATFO helped make the rescue organization an equine leader in the country.

Many of the horses are rounded up entirely unhandled.

Trainers apply and go through a screening process, and horses are vetted and cleared beforehand. These horsemen and women work with their horses to offer accomplished, willing equine partners for adoption and document their process strategically on social media.

The photos, stories and videos required create a vested interest by the public in the success of each horse, trainer and the “ATFO.”

Trainers then compete to showcase all they have accomplished with their horses.

In the end, the trainers showcase their skills while horses gain training, with most going into approved adoptive homes in an auction format at the end of the event.  Adoption fees went as high as  $14,000, as of 2023.

Adopters are pre-approved and adopted through adoption agreements.

The event and prize packages have been made possible by HSUS, ASPCA, Buckeye, Excel, Equine 100X, ADM and  and other sponsors.

Nationally known clinicians, such a Josh Lyons, Colton Woods, Carl Bledsoe, Michael Lyons and Patrick King have stepped up as judges.

Over  200 horses have found homes with solid foundations under them, proven the value of the adoptable horses and highlighted excellent trainers because of this!

The trainers leave the event with a new partnership with us as well, that continues to give back through the months and years after each event ends.  


They also happily market their adoption horses and the organization standing behind them, which helps further cement Heart of Phoenix as a worthwhile part of the horse industry in Appalachia.  It helps the public realize considering adoption first makes a lot of sense.

Like many of the things we do here in Appalachia, we wanted to make sure this event offered a return in a multitude of ways, so while the primary goals are training and adoption of horses, additional benefits are increasing our name recognition across the area, gaining training partners that last once the event ends each year and making adoption extremely mainstream within the horse community.

Heart of Phoenix believes when faced with uncommon adversity, you should not only try to ensure all efforts create a great deal of impact, but that we also need to make certain we are tackling multiple issues at once. We have found the Appalachian Trainer Face Off has accomplished so many things 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.


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