Name: Ashley Farrington
Occupation: History and integrated humanities high school teacher
Growing up, Ashley Farrington was very close to her younger sister, Jessie Hazelwood. At times they were best friends, and at times each other’s worst enemies, but they had each other’s backs and enjoyed riding together.
“I’ve always been a big rule follower, and she was the life of the party,” said Farrington. “She would say, ‘Oh Ash, live a little!’ I kept her grounded, and she helped me lighten up a little bit.”
Sometimes it was hard to compete against each other in the hunters and jumpers because both girls were so competitive, but having an 18-month age difference helped since they usually rode in different divisions. While Hazelwood had a carefree spirit, she took her riding very seriously and got nervous when competing. Meanwhile, Farrington was also serious, but she was able to help her sister relax in the ring.
But all that came to an abrupt end when Hazelwood died in a car accident when she was a junior in high school.
A Connection To Jessie
Farrington and Hazelwood grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, training with Kim Burnette-Mitchell and Dennis Mitchell at Kimberden Equine. They rode on the A circuit and traveled to Ocala, Florida, to compete in the winter.
After Hazelwood died, Farrington took on her horses and continued competing them, finding sanctuary in the barn. “I think riding became even more significant to me then because it was something we had always done together. It was a connection to her,” said Farrington. “There are so many places that I still go to today that bring back so many fond memories of us riding together like Brownland [Tennessee] and Franklin [Tennessee]. It always felt like she was there with me when I was showing. If anything, that was the first place I wanted to go and to be, at the barn. It was very healing for me to be with her horses and be at the place that she loved being at the most. That was what she had always wanted to do in life, to be a professional.”
After graduating from Furman University (South Carolina), Farrington started Paige Farms in Knoxville, in honor of Hazelwood, whose middle name was Paige.
Farrington taught lessons and competed regularly for nearly six years, but the business became financially difficult to sustain.
“It was always a super sweet connection to her, but as everybody knows, it’s super hard to make money off a lesson farm,” Farrington said. “I reached a lot of my own riding goals; in 2011 I got to ride in the HITS Hunter Prix Finals in Saugerties [New York] and qualified for indoors and showed at Washington International [District of Columbia] with my horses Sleeper and Sammy. I got to do a bunch of really cool things and from there moved on to train with Sharn Wordley and learned a lot from him.”
The Next Chapter
In 2016, Ashley and her husband, Jeff Farrington, were ready to start a family, so she sold the farm.
“That put a little hitch in my riding career for a while, and with the farm just not making money, it became a prudent thing to sell it, which was a super difficult decision to make,” Ashley said. “It kind of felt like losing a piece of my sister again because it was something I felt like I was doing to carry on her memory.”
She finished her master’s degree at Pittsburgh State (Pennsylvania) and became a high school teacher in Knoxville.
She and Jeff had their son Jase, 6, and daughter Adalyn, 3, but horses were always in the back of Ashley’s mind.
“I just thought, you know, I don’t have to go show every weekend; I don’t have to have my own horse anymore,” she said. “I just need to get over myself, and I can go take a lesson on a lesson horse. I’m not too good for that. Nobody’s too good for that!”
A Fresh Perspective
After about two years without horses in her life, Ashley contacted Brandon and Jocelyn Gibson of Select Sport Horses, who’d bought her old farm, and they gave her lessons on their horses before finding her a horse to lease.
“I just kind of found myself again in being able to renew what I’m passionate about,” said Ashley. “I think one of the super important parts of getting back into it and no longer being a professional and becoming an amateur again is that you have to find a place where you super love doing it.
“Brandon and Jocelyn really provided that for me,” Ashley continued. “They have this awesome group of adult amateur riders, and we just love hanging out together and competing together. We end up competing against each other a lot, but everyone loves each other so much that when one of us wins, it’s like we all win, which is an irreplaceable experience to have. I don’t think I’ve ever had a barn family that has been as fun and as special to me as this group has become to me in the past couple of years.”
She’s now leasing Elizabeth Chaney’s Cavanta, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Indoctro—Gavanta) whom she competes in the .80- and .90-meter jumpers and pre-adult hunters.
“I was very nervous my first time back in the show ring this past year because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself,” admitted Ashley. “But at the same time, I had a friend who was like, ‘You know what? You can go in and say, I’m an amateur now. I have babies. I’m just chilling as the old lady in the ring!’ That was reassuring.
“I can bond with my horse more because I am in it just for fun, and I don’t have to put quite as much pressure on myself,” Ashley continued. “In not riding in those two years, I definitely do not take a single thing for granted. There was a time when I didn’t know if I was ever going to get to do it again, so looking at it from that perspective and coming back into it makes me so grateful every time I’m on a horse, every single horse show I get to do, all the moments I get to spend at the barn.”
What’s even more special is that Adalyn is now taking lessons, so Ashley can share her passion with her daughter.
“Growing up riding with my sister, I always had a riding companion, so I’ve always dreamed of the day when I might have a little girl to ride with me too, ” said Ashley. “Now she gets to do that, and it’s super fun.”
Cavanta’s owner is in graduate school, so Ashley isn’t sure how long her lease will continue, but she’s enjoying the ride.
“She is the sweetest redheaded mare I’ve ever had in my entire life,” said Ashley. “Not nearly as sassy as other redheaded mares. She has been so super for me to get my confidence back on.”
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