Ashley Slade found herself in tears upon hearing that she and her beloved mount Finnley had won the Week Four World Equestrian Center’s Future Prix earlier this month. The young professional has endured many life changes, but one thing remained constant: her passion for the equine industry. JN caught up with Ashley to hear her story up to this career-changing win.
While everyone in her family was extremely athletically inclined, Ashley struggled to find her fit at a young age. “As a kid, my parents signed me up for every sport on the planet, hoping that ‘maybe Ashley will be good at THIS!’ But, literally, I was horrible at everything from tennis to badminton to skiing, and everything in between,” she shared with JN. It wasn’t until Ashley turned seven that she would find where her talents lie, when a family friend took her for a visit to trainer Renee Lenkart’s barn.
“My mom gladly allowed me to go, but she had no clue how that one day would change my life,” Ashley said as she recalled watching Renee give a jumping lesson during their visit. She was immediately hooked. “I started taking two or three lessons a week and owned my first pony within a year.”
Excited to see Ashley found her niche, her parents were tremendously supportive from the get-go. For nearly twenty years, Renee would help Ashley navigate the horse show world. After graduating from Skidmore College with a degree in Finance she imagined her life taking a new direction. With dreams of making it big on Wall Street, she took a job as an Account Executive with an advertising agency in Manhattan. “It quickly became clear to me that I was not at all suited for an office job, that I missed riding terribly, and that I had nowhere near the financial means of buying a horse,” Ashley recounted.
In pursuit of her dreams, Ashley applied for a trainer position at Sleepy Hollow Stables and began building her career in the equine industry. When her husband’s work required the couple leave Ashley’s home in New York five years ago and relocate to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ashley was able to continue her career working for Heather Parish of Spring Meadow Farm.
While she has only owned her mount, Finnley, for two years, the pair are inseparable. She found the now twelve-year-old Belgian Warmblood through Maggie Johnson in Des Moines, Iowa. “I had seen Maggie show him in some Midwest Prixs over the summer and thought he was absolutely adorable. When she told me he was for sale and that I might even be able to afford him, I drove down and tried him. I think I wired the money that night; it was love at first sight!”
Endlessly entertaining and quite quirky, Ashley finds herself in several predicaments thanks to Finnley’s goofy nature. “On one of our late night handwalks last week at WEC, Finnley had snatched a bag of treats from one of the vendors displays! Before I could pry it from his jaws of life, he had eaten all of them. I brought him and $8 back to the store the next morning and made him apologize. I don’t think he got the message, because he promptly snatched another bag from the shelf!” Her love for Finnley is never ending, she describes him as her best buddy and he even has his own organic carrot garden at home for endless treat opportunities.
Their Biggest Win Yet
Their strong relationship pays off in the show ring- the pair has placed in many Prixs including St. Louis, Maffit Lake, and the Minnesota Harvest Show. “I feel most of our accomplishments this past year have been outside of the ring,” Ashley commented. “When we moved to Spring Meadow, Heather’s program was a little different than what we were used to, in that she was very technical and detail oriented.” Their hard work at home, and the fact that Ashley has moved him from a full care barn to one where she performs all of his care, has greatly strengthened their partnership and made them more in tune with one another.
During their inaugural trip to WEC, the pair placed fourth in their first Future Prix the week before. “My two goals for any class I do are to not embarrass myself — like have every jump down — and not to cause any injury to my horse. On course, once I’m over the first three jumps I feel like I have my mojo and can relax a bit.”
The following week the pair would contest the Future Prix again and find their rhythm. “There’s not a better feeling in the world than clicking with your horse in a big class,” she shared. “Over the second-to-last jump, I got jumped really loose and my helmet slipped down on my forehead a bit. I was smiling as I went over the last jump because it was so much fun!”
Upon the announcement of their win, Ashley was moved to tears. “I’ve never won a class like this and I was so happy that I got to do it on Finnley.”
Armed with a goal of riding consistently at the 1.30m-1.35m height for the year, the rambunctious pair is planning to return to WEC for another two weeks in March and are aiming to compete at Equine Events’ Mason City Shows and the Maffit Lake series.
With the help and support of Heather Parish, her good friend Dr. Laura Critchett, the entire Spring Meadow team, and of course to her husband, Kurt, Ashley Slade is ticking off her dreams one box at a time.