Name: Ashleigh Harley
Location: Herefordshire, UK
We chatted with Ashleigh to find out more about her horses, career and ambitions…
I came to the sport after convincing my family to take me to the local riding school on my birthday. Just minutes in, the horse I was riding bolted across the school and leapt a 4-foot gate. To my parents’ constant concern, that set the precedent for many years to come! Five years later I started training internationally in both showjumping and dressage after getting a lucky talent spot at Royal Windsor Horse Show. It seemed everything was going to plan, all of my dreams were coming true. I began riding for owners on some amazing horses that took me from unaffiliated to soaring round the Under 18’s Young Rider circuit and Children On Horses at the Home Pony International. Every day seemed like a step closer to jumping a Grand Prix but then it came to a very abrupt and painful end. I was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder after I started losing consciousness both on the horses and on foot, and impaired my ability to walk. The rides quickly disappeared as I had no means to keep them in training, and the worse blow of all, the only horse I owned, a beautiful Irish showjumper named Springlawn Mist was also diagnosed with a variant of the same condition. I did everything I could to save her, we all did. She was my heart, my soul, my best friend. Even though we gave everything we could, and I sat beside her day and night between my own emergency visits to hospital there was nothing any of us could do. It was a very difficult time, but as I look back I feel blessed to have known such a special horse who took me from riding school level to jumping internationally. I owe her everything.
What inspired you to get back in the saddle?
I couldn’t deny my love for the sport and horses anymore. After losing Misty I hadn’t been able to even look at a horse, but a few months leading up to my last birthday where I was rummaging through the garage and found Misty’s old saddle. I took the covers off, it was still like new. Despite being ten years old it still had that new leather smell, and suddenly all the memories and ambitions hit me again. I knew I wasn’t done. That was the moment everything changed, the same day, on one of my routine hospital visits my mum turned to me and asked what I would like for my birthday, and I said I would like to see a horse again. My family rung so many places trying to find a place that would allow me to ride but nobody was able to for insurance reasons. It seemed there were few opportunities for someone with my condition. Then we stumbled on Ride 2 Achieve who not only completely understood my condition but welcomed my showjumping ambitions with open arms! It’s been a god send finding Ride 2 Achieve, Janet and Jo Alderton and the whole team have been so supportive in getting me back on the horses again. They’re the people who’ve given me the opportunity to compete again, which without them might have been an impossible task. Every day they’re making the seemingly impossible possible, and changing lives. I’ve been so inspired by what they do.
Can you share your best advice with us?
Never give up, no matter the circumstances. Things don’t always work out the way we might have expected but if you believe in anything enough it will work out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out yet, then it isn’t the end.
What are your goals for the future?
My current big dream is to see showjumping recognised by the FEI and at the Paralympics, though I alone cannot do this as this requires a big movement from people of nations all over the world. So I have set out to create a film about it. ‘The Dark Horse’ is going to tell the story of both myself and the sport as we battle to get Para Showjumping recognised internationally, so if you’re reading please head over to my website and hit the sign-up page to get involved! We need more riders and more countries on board to make the change! As for my equestrian career, I am aiming for the Para League run by British Showjumping who are doing an amazing job of opening a world of opportunities for para riders. The international held at Pferd International Horse Show in Germany is a fantastic opportunity to para riders to get on the international circuit. The Bronze League is also on my radar and maybe Young Riders may be on the horizon again someday. If I had the opportunity I would leap at the chance to have my own string of horses again, but that may be some time away still! And long term who knows, I’ve certainly not given up on the dream of jumping a grand prix just yet!
Tell us about your horses
Since coming back to horses I feel like the whole world is come back into colour again. Until recently I was riding solely with Ride 2 Achieve but through an almighty turn of luck I’ve recently started riding two new show jumpers owned by the very talented rider Lucy Williams who was willing to take a shot on my riding! I can’t thank her enough!
Coco “Fianora” – 16.2hh (Tangelo X Cassini I). Coco is a dream come true, she has all the power, scope, speed and rideability but also has an absolute heart of gold. Lucy has produced an outstanding showjumper in Coco and has jumped her through all the age classes at the premier shows up to 1m40. I am unbelievably excited to have the opportunity to ride Coco, she’s a true gem so fingers crossed for the future!
Mouse “Grandeur De Wacht” – 16.1hh (Vigaro x Tangelo). Where Coco is a Rolls Royce, Mouse is an F1 car! He’s lightning fast and has springs in his feet. This horse definitely has the x-factor and he knows it too! I’ve yet to sit on Mouse as I am working on my own strength and fitness in the effort to improve my health but Lucy has once again has produced an incredible talent, he’s definitely one to watch for the future!
Jack – 14.1hh – 18 Years Old. Let’s just say he’s a little superstar and knows it! This cheeky chappy loves to jump and loves being in front of the camera. When Jack is not jumping, he can be seen eating polos or finding ingenious ways of escaping. He’s just the right amount of spirit combined with safeness, he’s got that spark I’ve always loved but when I pass out over a fence, he puts on the brakes and takes me to my dad in the middle of the arena who knows how to handle my condition.
Springlawn Mist – 14.2hh – (would also be 18) Misty will always be with me, she was very different from any horse I’ve ever ridden. She was quite tricky and nervous but once you won her trust she was like nothing else. She was a horse with a great history but had never found her home. She never touched a pole. Nothing was too big, too wide or too difficult she was a dream in every respect and took me from hopping cross poles to being competitive at 1m30. She was a remarkable character. Despite the competitive success it was what we shared on the ground that was special, and the way she transformed from a nervous, difficult pony to spending summer evenings lying in the garden and trying to get in the house are the memories I will cherish above all else.
What’s most important to you when you’re looking for a horse?
For me it’s all about attitude. A horse that loves its jumping is a horse that will be easy to work with. Something that doesn’t enjoy it, no matter how talented will never be a jumper. You can’t force a horse. Ability though extremely important is not as big a factor, there are techniques that can be used to help them improve their performance. So long as they enjoy it, you’re on to a winner. In my situation I need something that is neither too hot nor too quiet, so it’s a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. I used to like riding the ones that would have a buck and a play, as they often had the most fire when competing. But that’s no longer an option for me, so I look for something that still has that spark, but is considerably quieter than what I used to go for! Good health and conformation is also key I’ve learned. It can be a never-ending battle to get a horse well, and where competition is concerned you’re not going to compete if you can’t ride!
What are your favourite Shires Equestrian products?
I’ve always loved Shires products, back when I was competing intensely most of my equipment came from Shires simply because the performance quality is so durable! I’m a big fan of the Performance Supafleece Saddlecloth and Numnah range, it was great back on Misty who was a very sensitive horse and lasts to this day in fantastic condition I’ve also always loved the huge fashion range that Shires has to offer and am very fond of the Aubrion Dutton Riding Tights which look fab! I feel so honoured to be able to get behind a brand I’ve always loved!
Keep up-to-date with Ashleigh and her riding here: