“I’m a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason, and that anything can happen at any time.”
“My name is Ashley and I’m 22. I’ve been riding since probably 4 or 5 years old and competing for the last 8 years. Barrel racing was and is my life-long dream. I live in Vermont and travel quite often for different events. Winter months here are cold and bitter so I usually try to hit some NBHA or NO BULL shows down south to get away for a short while.”
The morning started off like any other that September day in 2015. Ashley groomed and tacked her horse, Bebe, at the state championship Gymkhana in Vermont, in preparation for their upcoming events. She took great care to ensure her horses were happy, healthy and sound. Before an event, each hoof was carefully inspected, each leg checked for swelling and heat, a once over to insure no ailments or injuries were present anywhere…Bebe was ready. The sun was shining down on the arena and the breeze was subtly blowing through Ashley’s hair. It was perfect. She was focused, determined, and yet completely unaware that she was breathing in what would be the last breaths she would take.
“Imagine you are performing whatever it is you love, gymnastics, football, or baseball …in my case, horseback riding. All of your friends and family are there watching and cheering you on. When it’s your time up, their eyes all fixed on you with great expectations and anticipation of how you’ll do. The excitement you feel as you take your starting place gives you a rush of confidence and a feeling of self-accomplishment. Now, imagine right in the middle of your event, something goes terribly wrong…in front of everyone you love and care about. Suddenly the atmosphere and expressions shift from excitement to extreme fear, as you lay there on the ground, lifeless.
The event was four barrels on one side and four on the other, spaced about 6-8 feet apart and we had to run through them like a tunnel and go out the other end. Well, my reins got caught in Bebe’s tie down and when I checked her, I made her head go right to the air…she couldn’t see. She tried to jump the barrels but just couldn’t. She crashed onto the ground, rolling over on top of me, and stepping on me when she got up. Thankfully I was in my treeless saddle and it didn’t affect her back. Bebe walked away with a couple of scratches on her shoulders and a little swelling. …I didn’t fair so lucky.
I’m told I was lying in the middle of the arena and had a total of 8 seizures and then I was gone. They had to revive me. I had no idea what had happened. When I came to, I couldn’t feel my right side, couldn’t feel my legs or move my toes. I broke all of my ribs, shattered my pelvis, sustained three brain bleeds, wasn’t able to see out of my right eye for quite some time and was in a wheel chair for about 4 months. It was very scary. I don’t remember much of the crash, just the constant, awful pain after. I lay in my bed for days on end in the dark to get rid of the headaches and trying to let my brain heal. My balance was way off and it still sometimes isn’t 100% two years later.”
Like many riders, Ashley did not wear a helmet. Fashion and comfort are often valued over safety, especially in western riding where tradition is to wear a cowboy hat. Ashley had heard the familiar words “you should wear a helmet” more often than she could count, but being a western, experienced rider, she didn’t want nor need one, so she thought.
“Determined to heal and get back into the saddle, 5.5 months later I was at a race for NBHA in South Carolina. Doctors warned of the dangers, but I was determined. Not long after that I was back on Bebe overcoming our fears together and rebuilding our bond.
Today? I race Bebe all over with two of my other horses! We still have our days when we can’t quite get it or my nerves get the best of me, but we have come so far! I can’t thank enough my family, friends, sponsors and supporters that were by my side during the darkest days- literally! And from here- I just hope more people wear helmets because you just never know! Even on the safest horse that you’ve ridden a thousand times, anything can happen!
Think about this- do you have a passion for riding? Do you have a passion for life? …Why not wear a helmet!? Let that be the question!
Now I never ride without one!”
Special note of gratitude: “I am beyond thankful for the support I received when I had my accident and during recovery. From family, friends and companies as they all rallied together and held benefits for me, I am thankful to all those who pushed me forward and stood beside me every step of the way. A special thanks goes out to Bill Superneau who not only worked with my mare Bebe for an entire winter but also gave me lessons and taught me so much to get me back in the saddle, SAFELY. Special thanks to Dale Garvey who stepped up and ran his own business, the farm and took care of his kids while taking care of me. I would have quit and gave up without the support of my family, friends and equine athletes to encourage and push me to keep going!”