Local couple trains wild horses

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brooke Binns Mike and Tiffany Hurst, residents of Philippi, were set to compete in the 2018 Extreme Mustang Makeover in Lexington, Kentucky, over the weekend.

PHILIPPI — An area couple who shares a passion for horses were set to compete against each other in a very unusual training competition over the weekend.

Mike and Tiffany Hurst, of Philippi, love of horses lead them to taking part in the Extreme Mustang Makeover. This program challenges trainers from across the country to turn wild horses into gentle, adoptable companions.

Individuals are given 100 days with the horses to utilize their personal training styles to break or “start” the horse, as Mike Hurst says.

“We’ve got completely opposite horses and training styles, but we’re getting it done and it’s been a fun ride so far,” he said prior to the competition.

Tiffany Hurst echoed her husband, saying she has been showing horses for many years, and noting she was happy that she and her husband were able to use their different training techniques to work together.

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brooke Binns Tiffany Hurst works with the wild mustang Oogie, a 6-year-old gelding.

“The difference between us is that she has showed horses and I just do what people call ‘breaking’ the horses, but we actually call it ‘starting’ the horses,” Mike Hurst said. “So, she has more of a background in horse shows and I have more of a background in helping people who have troubled horses — by helping to fix whatever problem the horse has, which is normally something mental.

“If a horse has never been ridden — or it’s a young horse — and they want somebody to take the first rides, that’s where my background is, in breaking the horses,” he continued.

Although the couple were set to compete against each other in the competition held in Lexington, Kentucky, they emphasized that they have been able to work together and learn from each other throughout the process.

“If I need a hand or she needs a hand, we’re there for each other,” Mike Hurst said.

For the 100-day period, Tiffany Hurst emphasized that the trainers spend at least an hour everyday with the animals in order to successfully “start” the horse.

Mike Hurst said he first took an interest in horses while he was serving in the U.S. Army.

“When I was in the military, we were in Arizona and our plane broke down,” he said. “While we were stuck there, there was a horse corral on base and I started riding up in the high Sierra — it was so cool, so I knew when I got out of the military I had to get a horse.”

His love for horses led him to a career in training, and ever since, he’s helped make horses safe for riders in all disciplines.

Tiffany Hurst said her love and interest in horses started at a young age, noting she has shown horses for around 10 years. She added she became interested in the Mustang Makeover after seeing her husband compete.

The mustangs competing in this year’s event lived in a U.S. Bureau of Land Management holding facility among wild herds, virtually untouched by humans, according to EMM. As herd numbers on the range continue to increase, the need for re-homing these animals grows.

Mike Hurst said he believes trainers like he and his wife should help train and find homes for these mustangs to help save them from starvation.

“I think it is important to bring awareness to the mustangs that are in holdout facilities and the strain that they put on the lands out west because there are ranchers trying to make a living. … The Bureau of Land Management is involved and the Mustang Heritage Foundation are all trying to do what is best for the animals, and there are so many opposing views because you have activists who think that’s where the horses belong, but they’re not seeing the horses starve out there on the ranch. It’s a pretty big dilemma that we’re in. … If you love horses, you can see the problems with it when they’re starving or in holding facilities,” he said. “There are so many of these horses and they’re being held in facilities and they need homes.”

After three months of trust-building, training, hard work and patience, mustangs like Oogie, Tiffany Hurst’s mustang, and Jericho, Mike Hurst’s mustang, got to showcase new skills like reining, spinning and responding to voice commands at the Kentucky EMM.

The 5-year-old gelding Jericho, is a strong draft horse. Michael Hurst has been refining his power and muscle for a great trot that will go strides, whereas Oogie, Tiffany’s 6-year-old gelding, is a smaller but speedy horse who has become a great trail horse, according to information from Mustang Makeover.

After the competition in Lexington, the Extreme Mustang Makeover will head to Fort Worth, Texas, as part of the 2018 tour.

For additional information or to see an event schedule, individuals may visit the website extrememustangmakeover.com.