Para Equestrian Ashleigh Flores-Simmons has been awarded a grant for a week-long training session with Olympian Steffen Peters at Arroyo Del Mar in San Diego, CA. Ashleigh who turns 22-years old this week couldn’t imagine a better a way to celebrate than by working her hardest and soaking up every bit of the experience. “I would sincerely like to thank Steffen Peters for his generosity in providing this amazing opportunity along with everyone else that made it possible!” A Grade II Para-Dressage rider, Ashleigh started her riding career on Arabians and earned Top Ten dressage honors at the Arabian Sport Horse Nationals and as a high score amateur. She competes able-bodied First Level and plans to show Second Level. In June 2013, she competed at her first CPEDI 3 * at the Golden State Dressage Classic earning a WEG qualifying score riding Rita Mason’s Grand Prix Anglo Arabian mare Athena. Through training with Dennis Callin she met fellow para competitor Susan Treabess and now has a sponsored ride on Verite, a 2002 KWPN FEI mare (Contester x Godiva) owned by Dana Williams and trained by Treabess at Winterhaven Dressage.
“I have been riding Verite since August of this year thanks to the involvement and generosity of Susan Treabess, Dana Williams, and Dennis Callin. They were all instrumental in making this partnership a reality.” Along with riding Verite, she also rides and trains her own Arabian mare, Little Toi Boots.
“Ashleigh’s attitude is brilliant,” says Treabess. “She’s got the right attitude to make teams. She not scared of failing and pushes herself as hard as she possibly can. She’s committed and a true competitor.” Treabess describes Verite as a hot horse with a lot of power but is impressed with how Ashleigh has stepped up to learn how to ride this mare.
Treabess accompanied Ashleigh on the 10-hour trek to Arroyo Del Mar and says the invitation to observe a world class program up close is a vital eye opener. “Being in the environment where the quality of training is so high changes your depth perception on the world of dressage, on what you expect of yourself and your training,” she says. She points to their husbandry practices and the way they manage horses as part of the learning curve. “The life of horse is taken into consideration. Beyond feeding and care, Steffen and Shannon believe in cross training, turn out and hacking. The horses enjoy a good lifestyle.”
As a trainer and mentor, Treabess says she’d probably be even more thrilled if Ashleigh makes the 2014 WEG team for Normandy than if she does herself.
Born prematurely and weighing just over two pounds, Ashleigh was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months. “It affects my coordination, flexibility, muscle strength, and gait.” At age 13, she underwent surgery to rotate her femurs and stretch her muscles. She unequivocally credits riding with keeping her mobility.
“Horses are a huge part of my life, I don’t know what I would do without them! I started riding when I was 8-years old and have not stopped.” She began showing at age 13 on the Arabian circuit but quickly fell in love with dressage. “Horses provide me with the opportunity to have a freedom of movement that I do not have on my own. They do not discriminate or care whether you are disabled or able-bodied but instead take you as you are. The bond that is shared between a horse and rider is unlike any other.”
Despite the added difficulty of coordination in a sport that requires accuracy and utmost body control, Flores-Simmons welcomes the physical demands. “It definitely is challenging but that is what makes so much more thrilling when you succeed! It’s also a sport that you can do throughout your life. You never stop learning and perfecting your skills and knowledge as a rider, which is what makes dressage such a great sport.”
Long Distance Networking
Grade IV Para-Equestrian rider, Lise Yervasi loves her rural lifestyle on a beef ranch in Oregon but stresses that distance is a factor in the West for dressage to take root. Access to trainers, clinics and shows often means a very long haul.
Yervasi who has an autoimmune motor neuron disorder that also affects her speech, coordination, and strength has traveled from Oregon to both Florida and Gladstone, NJ to compete at national and international Para-Equestrian shows with her FEI mount Brendan Braveheart.
Having ridden with Steffen Peters, Lise knew how valuable the input and standards from top tier trainers can be for aspiring international riders. Her trainer, Jennifer Schrader Willams of Summervale Premier Dressage in Roy, WA is also coached by Peters, so Yervasi put the training grant in motion. She points to the pony club model, where riders have access to top instructors in each region.
Yervasi also had such a positive experience when Libby Anderson, a long time para-equestrian advocate and former para-dressage judge, and Jules Andersen, a Grand Prix rider and dressage judge, volunteered time for her at their facility Teamwork Dressage in Jupiter, Florida.
“It’s a chance to give one rider lots of time as opposed to a clinic. For in demand instructors like Peters, it’s less disruption in their schedule or travel time away from their home barn and horses,” says Yervasi.
Criteria for the grant was for a rider who could absorb and articulate information to share with other riders at the upcoming 2013 U.S. National Para-Dressage Training Symposium Nov. 20-23, at Somerset Farm in Winters, CA.
In addition, Ashleigh fit the bill as an outstanding and enthusiastic role model. She carries a 3.8 GPA and is pursuing a degree in Animal Science with the possibility of attending veterinary school. She’s also volunteers at Project R.I.D.E, a therapeutic riding program in her home town of Elk Grove, CA.
“When I ride even around the ranch, it gives me a therapeutic benefit more than I ever expected. I want to find ways to pay it forward for other para riders,” says Yervasi. “Ashleigh's greatest obstacle are the finances of travel and competition. Her mother is a single parent who helps Ashleigh as much as she can.”
Inspired by watching how close U.S. riders came to the podium in London, Ashleigh has her sights set firmly on her future path. Brimming with confidence, she embraces this week as another step forward.
“Competing in Para-Dressage gives me the chance to compete at a high caliber despite the added challenges of my disability. Para-Equestrians let their abilities speak. As a Para-Equestrian, I have the opportunity to reach the highest level of my sport by competing at National Championships, the World Equestrian Games and the Paralympics.”
Dressage may be an individual endeavor for the horse and rider alone in the arena but it truly takes a team mindset. Only with the dedication, effort and generous support of so many do we excel.