by RSE Guest Blogger: Ashley Bradshaw
I remember when I first starting riding. I was around 10 or 11 and my best friend at the time started riding, so of course I wanted to ride too. I begged my parents until they gave in and signed me up for lessons with my friend. Although several decades have passed since then, I remember that year fondly.
Both my parents supported me, my dad was always taking me to my early Saturday morning lessons and my mom always working the schooling shows. I remember Sunny, the beautiful horse that all the kids hoped they would get to ride. I also remember Mocha, the spunky little pony I always got stuck with, and who managed to throw me off more than once (giving my mom a heart attack in the process).
"Even back then, I knew this wasn't the last I would ride."
Looking back I realize that it is the Mochas of the world that teach us the most, but at the time I didn’t appreciate that. That was a great year, but unfortunately, this is not a cheap sport, even in the early 90s, so although my parents did their best we couldn’t maintain the lifestyle any longer. Even back then, I knew this wasn’t the last I would ride.
Many years passed, occasionally I would get on a horse when the opportunity presented itself. One year my ex’s sisters swept me away for my birthday to a dude ranch, where I got to gallop through a tree lined trail, I felt so alive. I smiled from ear to ear, in fact the girls joked they had never seen me so happy. Another time I went to visit friends and family in Kentucky, some owned leisure horses and graciously took us “horseback camping”, we still talk about that trip. And of course the excursions on all-inclusive vacations. I always made sure to tell the leader I could ride, usually they would make sure to put me on a lively horse and let me run in the open while other vacationers looked on concerned my horse was taking off on me and I was in grave danger.
Fast forward to my early 30s. I was newly single, had just worked through my CMA/CPA accounting designation and was starting my new career. I also bought a house in the burbs, ironically, about 3 blocks from the barn that I rode at as a kid. Driving by every day, seeing the horses in the field really lit a fire. I started off slowly, finding a barn within ½ hr drive that would allow me to pay as I go for bi-weekly lessons. After a year or so, my coach changed barns, and I wanted to follow her, however, her new barn was even further away, and they would not allow bi-weekly lessons, so I was on the hunt for a new barn closer to home, and I was finally ready for a weekly commitment.
"I could pay a therapist and lay on their couch talking for an hour, or I could get the same effects from riding and just being at the barn..."
Since then, I’ve rode at several different barns with very different coaches, each teaching me something different. I have now worked my way up from weekly lesson to part boarding an amazing little horse named Sonia (aka“Princess”). If you had asked me 5 years ago if I could imagine spending the amount of money I do every month on riding I would have thought it crazy, it’s funny how quickly things can escalate, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, I look at it this way, I don’t have kids, I’m not married, I have a small house and a good job that I work hard at, so I’m ok spending money on the things that make me happy, otherwise what’s the point? Also, I could pay a therapist and lay on their couch talking for an hour, or I could get the same effects from riding and just being at the barn, plus Sonia is a good listener and she doesn’t judge me.
"We help each other out, support each other and share the joys of riding."
I still lesson once a week, not because I want to compete or that I want to go to the Olympics (I have neither the time nor money for that), but because I want to get better for me, and for Sonia. I also practice ride 2 days a week, one of which is at sunrise on a Saturday morning, where I have the place to myself, this is where I feel happiest. Riding isn’t the only part that I enjoy, it’s the barn community too. I have made some good friends along the way, and though some of us are now at different barns, or different stages of our riding, we help each other out, support each other and share the joys of riding.
At my current barn, the people there have been so welcoming and friendly and always say “hi, how are you doing?” or “how was your ride?”. Also, they all love Sonia (it’s hard not to). I also enjoy my time spent with Sonia, even when not in the saddle. Over the winter Sonia got ill, and was out of commission for 3 months, but I was still up at the barn 3 days a week, grooming her and spoiling her with treats. I remember how happy I was the first day I went up and she had her personality back, and after that, the first time I lunged her and then the day she was finally ready for me to hop on, even if it was only for a light walk around the arena. Some days I just go up on my “off days” just to say hi. The thing about Sonia, in addition to being a good therapist, she is also a great snuggler!
Looking back to when I started this journey, I remember watching over the girls at the barn that had their own horses, with great admiration, they seemed to know everything. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I now realize that I could be that person for someone else. I certainly don’t know everything, I sometimes ask for help myself, but I often have kids come to me for help tacking up when there’s no one around or asking a question about riding and I’m more than happy to oblige. In the end, we are all here for the same reason, the love of horses & riding.
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Who is Ashley Bradshaw?
I’m an accountant from Toronto, Ontario. My love of horses and riding started at a young age, and never fizzled out. At almost 40, I continue to ask my parents for a pony every Christmas.