Ashleigh was born on the 4th December 1995 by emergency caesarean section, and although she was on the special baby care unit for the first few days it wasn't actually discovered that Ashleigh had sustained a disability until she was ten months old when her parents noticed that only the left side of her body was flapping in the excitement of having an ice cream, until then they had just assumed that she was left handed. In fact Ashleigh had a form of Cerebral Palsy, right sided hemiplegia, which affects the whole of the right side of her body with reduced function and because it is a neurological condition affects other functions such as her spatial awareness.
Her childhood years consisted of plastic leg splints, arm splints and special boots, alongside the hospital appointments and physiotherapy, which she hated! Ashleigh was a head strong child who just wanted to be the same as all the other kids, she spent weeks covered in bruises from falling off her bike night after night, determined that she would learn to ride it without the stabilisers like her younger siblings.
Aged seven her physiotherapist was desperate to find a way to engage Ashleigh in doing her exercises and suggested that horse riding may benefit her, so she began having riding lessons at her local riding stables and has been hooked ever since. The instructor however had no experience of disabled riders and told Ashleigh that she would never be able to ride properly because her right hand could not hold the rein, so there way no hope of ever having any control. The negative feedback however was very useful because Ashleigh will go out of her way to prove that she CAN do something and prove doubters wrong.
After a lot of research her parents discovered Clive Milkins at South Bucks RDA, he trained Paralympic medallist Sophie Christianson, Clive was a revolation, he showed them a bar rein that Ashleigh needed and gave lots of advice, over the years, Ashleigh has regularly travelled to train with Clive, and still uses him as her mentor to this day, as do a lot of Para riders, most will have passed through Clive's hands at some point.
In 2009 Ashleigh got her first horse, Desert Red Storm, with whom she competed at her first International competition, they were crowned grade 2 National Champions in 2009 and secured a place on the Regional Foundation Squad aged just 13. the following year she gained a place on the Excel Talent Programme and in the December they had reached criteria to attend the selection trials for the World class Programme. Unfortunately though Red had to be retired due to arthritis so they missed out on selection.
Eventually Ashleigh's next horse, Polly was found after an exhausting search. Within 2 weeks of having Polly they were competing in the Para Talent Spotting competition which they won. That year saw them compete Internationally where they won the junior section. 2012 was not only the year London hosted the Paralympic games, it was also the year the World Class Programme were re selecting, they do so on a 2 year cycle. Ashleigh and Polly had the scores to go to selection trials yet again in the December. Its a gruelling process consisting of a ridden section in front of the selectors and an Interview with a panel of 3 which is video recorded too...a big thing at the age of 16.
January 2013 started with Ashleigh gaining a place on the World Class Programme and in the February a new horse seemed to have found Ashleigh without even looking. Bongo Bong was purchased as Ashleigh next ride, but things gradually unravelled that year, Ashleigh and Bongo were not forming a partnership at all and Ashleigh's brain could not cope riding two horses at the same time. The confusion in Ashleigh's brain at having to ride both horses so differently had a negative effect on Polly and by the Summer it was all going horribly wrong. Polly was not putting in her usual performances and her scores had dropped significantly, and in the meantime Bongo was sent off for selling. The week before Christmas Polly received a kick to her knee, which although superficial, was in a nasty place and had to be treated with caution due to the risk of infection to the joint, so Polly finished the year on box rest and bute.
At the end of January 2014, Polly was ready to come back into work, and after several weeks off Ashleigh and her trainer got back on board as though she had been ridden only the day before...she was such a good girl. The following night though, as Ashleigh got on Polly reared vertically out of the blue, dropping Ashleigh on her back and luckily she escaped with only a broken wrist. After investigation it was discovered that Polly had severe Ulcers and a couple of other small issues which were cleared, unfortunately Polly did the same thing with the able bodied rider and her parents took the decision to not allow Ashleigh to ride Polly again.
So 2014 was another selection year for World Class and Ashleigh had a horse that she was not allowed to ride , and couldn't be sold and Bongo still hadn't found a new owner, so there was no money to buy a new horse. In desperation Ashleigh got back on Bongo in May, he had been working really well with the trainer he was based and appeared to have turned over a new leaf. Jess helped Ashleigh find his controls and two weeks later they did one qualifying competition, achieving a good score so the Selectors allowed Ashleigh to attend the International competition the following month. Because she had missed so much competition they had this one chance to get the score they needed at International level to meet criteria for World Class and then needed one other before the end of the season froma BD competition.
Wow what a debut International competition, they won the 1*, achieved the highest score across all grades in the competition, won the freestyle and the Jane Goldsmith Award and training bursary for the highest placed young rider.
They also smashed to 70% barrier which was not only way in excess of the score needed but saw her 1% behind Natasha Baker, everyone was thrilled.
December 2014 was selection trials and despite starting the year thinking it was not going to be possible to achieve, they were delighted to bere selected for a second cycle on the World Class Podium Potential Programme.
2015 started well but World Class had stipulated that Ashleigh needed a new horse, Bongo hasn't always been the easiest of rides and the partnership with Ashleigh's young trainer was beginning to break down. Ashleigh went to the National open Championships at Hickstead that summer with Jess, which was her first time away without her Mum, and they achieved respectable scores amongst the countries most senior riders.
Upon their return Ashleigh took the decision to start a new chapter in her story and joined Leonie Smith at Daneswood Dressage, Leonie now trains both Ashleigh and Bongo, stripping their work back to basics and rebuilding upon more solid foundations. Leonie was thrown in at the deep end after just one month together it was time for the International Competition. After winning the 1* last year they upped their game again won the 2* International competition at Bishop Burton, and were Reserve Summer Champions.
Unfortunately Bongo was euthanized at the end of the summer of 2016 RIP.
However with the arrival of a loan horse 'Prince' in May 2016, it seems that the story is set to continue. Prince is an 11 year old Friesian gelding, owned by Mandy Wright, who has very kindly given Ashleigh the ride. They have spent the Summer forging a partnership together under Leonie's watchful eye, and have already qualified for the 2017 Winter Championships with some very good scores.