27 July 2016

When I was a teenager, my parents divorced.  It was very hard on me.  I rebelled and fell in with the wrong crowd. 

I would later look back on this period in my life and wonder how different things would have been if I had a horse to love.

I was that stereotypical child, asking for a pony each year for my birthday and Christmas, reading every horse related book I could get my hands on, and collecting Breyer horses until there was not a spare inch on my bookshelf for even one more foal.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much access to horses as I grew up.  My parents always told me that when I was making my own money, I could buy myself a horse.  So, years later, I did.  


At age 22, I joined the Army.  My training took me all around the world, but when things stabilized a bit, I bought my first horse.  His name was Uno, and he was an off-the-track Thoroughbred.  He was beautiful and so kind.  I learned so much about riding from him. 


I started looking for a trainer who could help me improve my riding and Uno’s fitness.  I knew I wanted to ride English, but that was about all I knew.  I met with a trainer who suggested I purchase a dressage saddle.  I was flabbergasted.  I honestly believed that ‘ordinary’ people could not do dressage.  Dressage was for people in the Olympics, right?  When my new trainer assured me that dressage is for everyone, I was hooked.  

“In 2008, I lost Uno in a barn fire. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. ”

Uno and I spent several years learning about dressage together.

We even went to a few schooling shows and placed well.  I realized that I wanted to compete in dressage and was determined to work even harder.  The discipline I had learned in the military served me well here.


In 2008, I lost Uno in a barn fire.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life.  It took at least a year for me to begin to feel normal again, but I always knew I’d continue riding.  I purchased a couple of horses but they just didn’t seem to be the right horses for me, so I decided to sell them and take a break from riding for a while. 


Two years later, I wasn’t even shopping for a horse, but the right horse kind of fell into my lap.  My former trainer saw Mojito in a lesson program.  She called me and told me Mojito would be perfect for me.  She had dressage training but was currently teaching children to jump.  I knew that a mare that had the patience to work as a jump school horse for children had the exact temperament I was looking for.  I purchased the mare, and just like that, I found myself back in the dressage world I had missed so much.


My former trainer had moved away, and I found a young trainer named Chelsea.  Chelsea was just starting her business after taking some time off for college.  I was drawn to her incredible talent and kindness toward the horses in her care.  I’ve been riding with Chelsea now for almost three years.  We’ve progressed far more than I had hoped.  

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At times, I’ve felt as though the deck was stacked against Mojito and me.

She is an aged, loudly colored APHA stock bred mare, and I struggle with my weight.  We certainly do not blend in.  I love browsing through dressage magazines and looking at photos of thin, elegant riders on beautiful purpose-bred dressage horses.  I know I’ll never look like that, and I’m learning to be ok with it. 


I guess the rebellious teenager lives on inside me.  I love to experiment with edgy hairstyles, lots of piercings, and tattoos.  When I first started competing, I was concerned about being judged for not looking traditional enough.  Surprisingly, everyone on the show scene has been more than welcoming. 


Dressage riders tend to get a bad rap for being stuck up and intimidating, but I truly love the friends I’ve made in the dressage world.   I’ve never heard a single negative comment about my appearance.  Most people just want to know who did my tattoos or where I get my hair cut. 


Currently, I work the graveyard shift as a 911 Operator.  Between shifts, Mojito and I take lessons five days per week.  I’m hoping to make my Second Level debut this year, though Mojito is now 19 years old and starting to have some soundness issues.  I’m working with my vet to make sure Mojito is happy and comfortable in her work.  One of my goals is to earn my bronze medal with her, and I hope that you guys will follow my journey here as we go.  


See you soon! 


Text by Misty Ashbrook