MUSTANG MAKEOVER: Short Gap's Addi Cross to put her love of horses to use

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Short Gap's Addi Cross will be competing in the Youth Extreme Mustang Makeover.

By Chapin Jewell

Tribune Correspondent

SHORT GAP - Addison “Addi” Cross is a 15-year old resident of Short Gap and currently a sophomore at Frankfort High School. While admittedly Cross works real hard at school, getting good grades with AP and honors classes, it’s horse riding and training that occupies the bulk of her extracurricular time.  

She is the daughter of Lori and Mike Troutman, and Jason and Jacque Cross.

This passion for horses, according to Cross, began 10 years ago when she was 5 years old. What began with simple weekly lessons quickly grew into a much larger commitment. By the time Cross was 7 years old, she began showing horses.  As the passion grew, so too did the commitment.  

Initially, those shows were local at places like the Mineral County Fairgrounds, then it was on to bigger things such as the West Virginia State Fair.  About three years ago, Cross’ skill level and dedication took her to bigger shows beyond the state of West Virginia, and against stiffer competition, those with a very high skill level and with very good horses.

“I got an opportunity to work with many different horses and many different trainers, and it gave me the ability and confidence I needed to compete in several different disciplines, and the confidence to do something like the Mustang Makeover,” Cross explained.

Mustang Makeover?  No, this isn’t an MTV “Pimp My Ride”-style competition where a classic car is restored and customized by or for the owner. There is, however, horsepower involved, but in this case, it’s horsepower supplied by an actual horse.  And the horse involved is not just your typical horse, it’s a Mustang, as in, a “free-roaming horse of the Western United States descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish,” according to Wikipedia.

According to the Mustang Heritage Foundation, the group provides opportunities for youth to gentle and train yearling and 2-year old wild horses, and then compete in programs and events. The program is intended to teach youth problem solving and leadership skills that will serve them in all areas of their lives, now and into the future.

In the Extreme Mustang Makeover Youth Division, of which Addi Cross has been accepted to compete, “Youths, ages 8-17, are eligible to compete in Extreme Mustang Makeover Events offering youth divisions. In these events, youths have approximately 100 days to gentle and train a previously untouched horse.  At the end of the training period, youths and their horses will compete in hand for cash and prizes. Trainers and their families will adopt the mustang prior to the competition,” according to the group’s website.

According to Cross, “it’s a training event that’s designed to showcase the trainability of these wild horses. After being accepted based on the trainer’s experience, facility approvals and references, the youth trainer will get a younger horse that isn’t able to ride yet. In about a month, I’m going to Springfield, Ohio, and when I get there, I’ll get to look at all the two-year and younger horses and get to pick out whichever one I want.

“These horses have never been touched before. So you just stand outside where they’re being held, and you just pick out whichever one you want. Then the horse will be corralled into your trailer, you’ll fill out the paperwork and everything, then upon coming home, the gentling process begins,” Cross stated.  “I’ll have roughly 100 days to train the horse basic things such as halter-breaking, trailer loading, and other basic skills.”

At the conclusion of the 100 days, Cross and the horse will go to Kentucky and compete against all the other youth competitors that are involved in the competition.

“I will be judged on things like how well the horse works, the relationship the horse has with me, and then there will be a freestyle event. In the freestyle event, you get three minutes to showcase a routine that demonstrates how much the horse has learned; you can perform tricks, just anything to show how much you taught the horse, and how much of a relationship you have formed together,” she explained.  

The events are scored and the competitors are placed in accordance with those scores. For the top three, there is a cash prize of $1,000.

It’s important to note again that these Mustangs have never had any human interaction before. The horses therefore need to learn that the human interaction is a good thing, that they shouldn’t be scared of the trainers. For this reason, obviously Cross and her fellow youth competitors will have their work cut out for them.  

According to Cross, “They basically do this because where these horses are captured from in the Western States like Nevada and Wyoming, they are just so populated, so much so that the land cannot support all of them. The Bureau of Land Management, therefore, needs to thin out the population of the wild horses, so that the ones that are left will be more able to survive.

“Therefore, by doing this, the Mustang Heritage Foundation brings in these horses and they try to adopt them from the facilities from which they are being held out to private individuals who can use them. They have programs beyond the Extreme Mustang Makeover that have seen the adopting out of 15,000 Mustangs and Burrows,” Cross detailed.

Cross, as far as she knows, is the third such local girl who has participated from the program. Others include Gracie Alexander, also from Frankfort, and Addison Cox from Hampshire County.

“I just saw how much they learned from it and what a great experience it was for them, and they got these amazing horses.  Since I’m a youth competitor, I get to keep the horse after the competition. I will be the official adopter of the horse. These competitions are so important, because they give you a platform to advocated for these Mustangs and how important it is for them to be adopted out. It helps keep the Mustang population safe,” Cross stated.

There is a benefit to the horse, there is a benefit to the trainers, and there is the benefit of educating the general public. It’s quite a project and endeavor for Cross and her fellow competitors, many of which got their start in the horse world with simple weekly lessons like Cross.

Cross got her start and continues to work with horses at Pinedoro Stables off Knobley Road in Short Gap, just a few minutes down the road from her house. There, she has worked with Joyce Heinz and Sally Orbin, learning so much from both.  In addition, Cross has worked with Jeff Prescott out of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, among others.

For Cross, the competition period will be conducted at Pinedoro Stables but in the summertime, the horse will move to her own house as she is getting her own barn.

“That’s actually been a dream of mine since I started all this, that someday I would have a barn here,” Cross explained.

Hard work, dedication, and most importantly passion often transform casual hobbies or pursuits into much larger, more important, life-long commitments.  

Addi Cross has already dedicated a tremendous portion of her talents and energies to horses. What’s coming her way in the Extreme Mustang Makeover takes everything to higher level.

High risk. High reward. We’ll keep you updated on Addi Cross and the exciting and challenging times that await her.