Ashley grew up loving horses and riding a particular breed of horse: Arabians. When she started thinking about pursuing a college degree, she knew she wanted to weave her love for horses into her education and set her sights on becoming an equine chiropractor. Colorado State University has one of the most expansive and respected equine sciences programs in the country, so the University felt like a natural fit to make her career ambitions a reality.
As she moved through the course selections in her major, she excitedly waited to enroll in The Right Horse class—a semester-long program where students develop their training skills by working with adoptable horses from several Colorado-based partners of the ASPCA’s equine adoption program, The Right Horse Initiative. At the end of the semester, the newly trained horses participate in a showcase and are made available to interested adopters.
Prior to enrolling in the class, Ashley had an interest in equine behavior and training, but she had no idea how the semester would change both her career trajectory and her personal life.
Someone to Face the Day With
At the beginning of the semester, horses from several Colorado-based Adoption Partners come to the University to participate in the program. The first few weeks of the class is spent rotating the students and horses to best match them for the semester.
“In the class, you work with each individual horse. You get to learn which horse will work best with you, and which horse fits your personality. I appreciated that they took time to match us,” remembers Ashley of the process. “In the initial weeks, we did the Basic Behaviors Profile to assess things like if we could pick up their feet, medicate them orally and lead them, for example.”
Having grown up riding Arabian horses, Ashley hoped she’d match with an Arabian. Instead, she was surprised to learn she’d be working with a beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse from the Dumb Friends League’s Harmony Equine Center. Ashley’s initial impression of her horse—whom she renamed Phoebe, since her personality reminded her of the iconic character from the 90s sitcom Friends—was that she was adorable despite being reserved around people.
“When I first met her, she was very standoffish. My first initial thought was that she’d take a lot of time to help,” Ashley recalls.
Phoebe, like most of the horses participating in the program, had only a partially known history. Ashley’s initial assessment revealed that Phoebe hadn’t been trained to be ridden, putting them behind many of the other horses participating in the class. The course, however, doesn’t evaluate the students based on any particular milestone. Instead, the class focuses on the training process and helping each student learn how to meet their individual horse’s needs.
I’ll Be There for You
As Ashley worked with Phoebe, she delighted in seeing the horse slowly open up and reveal her charming personality.
“My confidence really boosted her confidence, and the fact she relied on me really helped my confidence,” Ashley says of their early days working together. “She was the sweetest horse ever. I couldn’t help but have compassion for her, because I didn’t know what her life had previously been like.”
Despite being behind some of the other participating horses in terms of training skills, Ashley and Phoebe hit their stride together and quickly progressed. Ashley soon found herself introducing Phoebe to a saddle and rider, all the while watching Phoebe’s personality and confidence transform.
“It was super rewarding to work with Phoebe. It was super cool to see her progress,” Ashley says.
As Phoebe quickly progressed in her training, Ashley realized she’d now caught up with many of the other horses in the class. She started introducing more advanced skills to Phoebe’s routine, and realized the clever horse thrived on consistency. As she learned more about Phoebe’s personality, she was able to tailor their training sessions to her interests and aptitudes.
“With Phoebe, I knew her breed was typically really great on the trail. With that perspective, I realized she loved being out of the arena. So, I spent a lot of time outside on the trail and riding around the equine center. I really appreciated that the program let us do what’s best for the horse and build a plan for what they needed.”
‘Cause You’re There for Me, Too
Throughout the training process, Ashley began to fall in love with the spunky little horse who’d come to trust and rely on her. The class culminated in a showcase, and Ashley was proud of the work she and Phoebe had done together.
As the semester came to a close, several people expressed interest in adopting Phoebe. Ashley was excited about the prospect of her bringing joy to a new family, but couldn’t shake the feeling that Phoebe had already found her home.
Ashley’s fiancé had back problems, and the couple had been looking to find a new horse that he’d be able to ride comfortably. Phoebe is a gaited horse, meaning she can naturally perform an additional four-beat gaits that most other horses cannot. Gaited horses are adored for their smooth ride, making them the perfect fit for riders with back or joint pain. Ashley talked to friends and family and realized that Phoebe was the horse they’d already been looking for.
“I fell in love with her the moment she started gaining confidence. She started showing me how smart and brave she was. I realized how much life and curiosity she had,” Ashley enthuses. “Through those little moments, I decided to adopt Phoebe.”
Now, Phoebe lives in a 30-acre pasture with 12 other horses. Phoebe patiently carries Ashley’s fiancé on rides, and Ashley has continued training her. That is, when she’s not in school.
The semester with Phoebe marked Ashley’s last one in her undergraduate work and opened a door to a new career pathway. While she’d once thought she wanted to pursue a career in equine rehabilitation and chiropractic work, Ashley learned she truly loved studying and learning about equine behavior and accepted a position as a Master’s student under Colorado State University’s Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal welfare researcher and advocate.
The lessons she learned with Phoebe and the passion she felt in discovering Phoebe’s aptitude and joy for trail riding now shape her perspective and curiosity around equine behavior. It’s not well-researched why different horses excel and enjoy different disciplines and styles of riding. Ashley is curious about the psychology behind equine behavior, and she hopes to eventually tie it into working with horses used in equine-assisted therapies or horses in transition.
One thing she now knows is that she’s an advocate for equine adoption after finding her #RightHorse in Phoebe.
Feeling inspired and ready to adopt a horse of your own? Visit myrighthorse.org to browse hundreds of adoptable horses nationwide by breed, sex or discipline.