The Safe Horse Project’s Heart of the Horse Expo and Trainers Challenge


The 2023 Heart of the Horse Expo and Trainers Challenge kicked off Saturday, January 14th, in Jackson, Miss. Horse trainers from five states met on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds to pick their equine Challenge partner from a line up of over 30 untrained rescue horses.

Trainers will have a 120 day training period before they will return to exhibit the results of their training and compete for over $15,000 in cash and prizes.

Photo by Kimberly Boyd Vickrey Jones

The public can follow their favorite horse and trainer teams through social media during the 120 Trainer Challenge, attend the final competition at the Kirk Fordice Equine Center in Jackson on May 19th and 20th, and bid on their favorite horse at the live Safe Horse Auction that will conclude the event on May 20, 2023. There are 23 trainers competing in this year’s Challenge:  


Professional Division

Shelby Ahrens from Port Orchard, Wash., is training “Tesoro” (Paso Fino)

Melinda Anderson Martinez from  McEwan, Tenn., is training “Houston” (TB)

Jackie Crowson from Coldwater, Miss., is training “Jude” (QH)

Jessica Adams from Water Valley, Miss., is training “Dutton” (QH)

Damian de Costa from France currently interning out of Memphis, Tenn., is training “Dallas” (QH)

Kaylee Rice from Duck Hill, Miss., is training “Selene” (QH)

Betsey Munday from Terry, Miss., is training “Petra” (QH)

Lauren Henny from Wilsonville, Ala., is training “Nico” (QH)

Benoit Tilhac from France, currently interning out of Memphis, Tenn., is training “Laredo” (TB)

Audrey Liddle from Talbott, Tenn., is training “Pilgrim” (Paint)

Alicia Liddle from Talbott, Tenn., is training “Doc” (Quarter pony)

Madison Brown from Cookeville, Tenn., is training “Scooter” (grade)


Amateur Division

Brooklyn Cook from Stringer, Miss., is training “Millie” (Paint)

Rachel Little from Ashville, Ala., is training “Catori” (Mustang)

Mercedes Sampsell from Sylacauga, Ala., is training “Edward” (grade)

Michele Sandifer from Liberty, Miss., is training “Onyx” (Mustang)

Kevin Little from Ashville, Ala., is training “Mickey” (Paso Fino)

Julia Whitehead from Collierville, Tenn., is training “Merci” (Quarter pony)


Youth Division

Christina Figueroa from Wilsonville, Ala., is training “Rapper” (QH)

Lexi Sones from Madison, Miss.,  is training “Chief” (Arab/Paint)

Abigail Gipson from Braxton, Miss., is training “Truffles” (Quarter pony)

Skylar Mims from Cascilla, Miss., is training “Loretta Lynn” (Paint)

Mary Claire Allman is training “Razzle” (Paint)


The horses participating in the Challenge will be available for adoption through the Safe Horse Auction, along with a number of other horses that have been fully vetted, evaluated and trained. All potential adopters/bidders must be pre approved for adoption through application to Mississippi Horses ( and must make arrangements to meet with the horse and its trainer prior to the auction in order to bid. The auction horses will be available for showing to potential buyers by appointment  beginning Saturday, April 29th.  This type of auction provides the setting to match buyers and horses appropriately to the suitability of the horse and abilities and activities intended by the buyer, ensuring long-term and lasting homes. Visit for more information.




Lauren Abbott

Lauren is a lifelong equestrian. She was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn. Lauren has worked in Journalism for over 20 years and has served as a staff writer, designer, photographer, audience and business development consultant, & advertising senior executive. She is the Owner & Publisher of MSHR, and CEO of Ford Abbott Media, LLC, the parent company of the Horse Review and Hunt & Field Magazine.

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