Vato: FACE OFF Adoptable Horse Profile #HOPTEAMVATO with Nicole Valeri




  • Liver Chestnut Grade Gelding
  • 4 years old
  • 14hh (estimate)
  • 100 days of training with Nicole Valeri
  • ADOPTION FEE starts at an opening bid of $500 on August 26th (Learn how to Apply and about the adoption auction here)

ALL FACE OFF horses come UTD on farrier care and vetting, as well as freshly out of extremely thorough training (that alone is worth thousands of dollars)

His Story

Vato was rounded up in a feral herd in Northern, WV in late winter 2017. He came into Heart of Phoenix a stallion, reactive and afraid and entirely unhanded and not able to be haltered, caught, trimmed or groomed. He went to this trainer, Nicole, in the same fashion, though we had been able (by the grace of God) have him gelded.

His Training

Vato is, to date, the most reactive and fearful horse we’ve had in Heart of Phoenix. He came into us following a seizure were many of his herd had starved to death. He was very thin and hadn’t be touched by a human before his round up.

Horses are individuals. The same approach doesn’t work with all horses. After having him in HOP for several months, we were still not able to catch him in a 10×10 stall without a hour of effort, so this tells you a lot about this guy. We’ve moved various feral horses, and that fear level is very rare.

Nicole has been in touch with us throughout this last 60 days or so, and she has explained what a challenge he has been compared to other horses she has worked with, and she has been so patient, not wanting to ruin this young boy before he has really had a chance. We have appreciated this tremendously, as while she is a competitor, she has put him first.

Nicole says day, upon sharing this video:

“Vato is a 4 yr old recently gelding feral horse from the Heart of Phoenix Rescue.

It was our goal to compete in the Appalachian Horse Trainer Challenge, where trainers were given 100 days to train feral or hardly handled horses and then present them over two days before the judges.

Vato was born completely in a wild herd and had never had human contact up until about four or so months ago. While I am not sure we will make it to the arena, I’m proud of our slow steady progress. Is this where I wish I was at this point? Absolutely not. But sometimes the horses have other ideas and I’ve found it best to listen rather than rush them along and push them past their threshold.

Vato has been particularly difficult for me, and I will admit I have not worked with a feral horse before so this is a learning experience for me as well. I tried right off the bat to get him under saddle and saw him becoming more worried and anxious by my presence so I backed off for many weeks and simply offered him companionship, treats, and goodies.

At least now, I can approach him outside or in the stall without him avoiding me. I am trying to work him up to the point of accepting me as a rider but I won’t put either of us in a position to have a negative experience so slowly we go.

Even if I do not get to compete in August at the event I am still glad I chose to participate in this event as trying to form a bond with Vato has done a lot of good for my soul and has certainly helped me become a better, and more patient, horseman in the end.”

Here is to hoping VATO and his trainer, Nicole Valeri, make it to the arena, but if not, we are thankful for her consideration to this horse. THAT IS WHAT HORSEMANSHIP IS ABOUT, FOLKS!


While we know Vato isn’t likely to receive applications because he is still a horse only a skilled expert can handle, we still felt he and his awesome trainer who has worked so hard deserved the opportunity to be featured and have consideration!



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