It all started with that horse crazy obsession, the one that almost every little girl has—the yearning to be around the big, beautiful animals. The horse bug hit Ashley at an early age and never quit.
Coming from a not so upwardly mobile family and not being able to afford lessons, the closest Ashley could get to her passion was to volunteer at a local therapeutic riding facility. As a young girl of twelve, who knew nothing of horses, they let her volunteer and taught her from the ground up. Stepping into the stall the first time, she was hooked—finally petting a horse, then grooming, and then tacking up the horses.
They continued teaching Ashley and she continued to soak it in. She spent every waking hour there she could; learning and just being. While the horses themselves were amazing, what she was able to help with and witness was a surreal experience for Ashley. Seeing the affect the horses had on all those who walked through that door was humbling. Kids with physical, developmental, social, emotional disabilities and problems came in, hoping that this “horse therapy” would work. And it did.
After the first initial shock of the size of the animal waned, Ashley found that they couldn’t get the kids off the horses, as they loved it so much. She watched a child with severe autism feel peace. One young adult, who was never supposed to walk again started walking after riding at the barn for a couple of years. She watched child after child and adult after adult change. Some became more mobile, some more social. Parents cried when their child, who rarely spoke, yelled out in excitement over what they were accomplishing with the horses. The experience was inspiring to Ashley, which lead to a life-long passion for the art of horsemanship.
The horses themselves were gods. Specially selected for temperament and carefully trained, these horses were in a class by themselves. To this day, Ashley has yet to meet horses with sprits quite like the ones she had the privilege of working with at the therapeutic riding facility. They were so quiet and so gentle. The horses knew their rider. They stood patiently to be loved on by the student. The horses never reacted to a scream or a sudden movement. The wheelchairs meant nothing to them. Every rider was the same to each horse—another human being to love and take care of.
Ashley’s love for the horses kicked off from this experience. Seeing what the beautiful animals did for the students was something unexplainable. Of course, the horse had a wonderful effect on Ashley, as it was therapy for her as well, only in a different way. Ashley found that as she continued to grow and learn from the horses, she was also learning how to work with the kids. And as her growth in horsemanship continued, she began giving lessons and her responsibilities expanded at the barn. The experience was heaven for Ashley, and when she though it couldn’t get any better, they began teaching her how to ride as well. “Hook, line and sinker” she says.
Ashley went on from there to ride at other barns, have her own horse and pursue a career as a horse trainer and instructor. She went to school with the intention of becoming PATH certified and having her own therapeutic riding stable. While she does not yet feel that she’s at a place to offer therapeutic riding, Poplar Ridge Equestrian is an important step in that direction. Dressage is her discipline, as she lives and breathes the sport. One day Ashley looks forward to bringing therapeutic riding to Poplar Ridge Equestrian— for now, learning from the horse and growing as a horseman is where her heart lies.