"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
Ashley Johnson was first put on a horse at the age of two and joined the United States Pony Club at the age of nine. It was in Pony Club that Ashley competed in her first horse trials. When she was seventeen, as a member of Amwell Valley Hounds Pony Club, she passed her ‘A’ rating. Pony Club is an international youth organization created to promote horsemanship. There are a series of ratings beginning with the ‘D’ level and progressing through the ‘A’ level. The ‘A’ rating is considered to be a professional level rating and less than one percent of Pony Clubbers each year in the U.S. obtain it. Ashley still enjoys teaching lessons and clinics for local pony clubs.
Ashley grew up in Pennington, New Jersey, during the school year and on the coast of Maine during the summer. In 1994 she graduated from Hopewell Valley Central High School. She was a member of the National Honor Society and Student Council, and she spent three years as a starter on the varsity girls basketball team. After high school she attended Rutgers University, where in 1998 she graduated with highest honors from the Rutgers College General Honors Program with majors in English and theater and a minor in art history. At Rutgers she was an eight-time Dean’s List recipient and was also elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society as a junior. In her senior year she was a national semi-finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.
During Ashley’s formative years she also pursued other interests such as travel and language, fine and dimensional arts, wilderness camping, sailing, kayaking, and other athletic endeavors. When she was nineteen she spent a summer living and working in Paris and studying French at the Sorbonne. During her travels, Ashley has visited twenty-three different countries and five different continents, including Africa and South America. Since her teenage years, running has also been one of Ashley’s primary hobbies. When she was twenty-three she completed the San Francisco Marathon and in July of 2008 she competed in the Philadelphia SheRox Triathlon. She now regularly competes in Obstacle Course Races in Florida. She is a graduate of the Baja, Mexico, sea kayaking course offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School and she worked for a summer in Whittier, Alaska as a sea kayak guide. Ashley has also visited all 50 of the United States.
Ashley began competing at the United States Eventing Association’s advanced level in 2001. From 2001 to 2021 she was ranked consistently in the top 100 event riders in the United States, making her a long-listed athlete for the U.S. Equestrian Team. In 2002 she was chosen to participate in the USET Developing Riders program. In 2007 and 2008 on ESB Irish Doctrine and in 2011 and 2012 on Jet she qualified to compete at the five star level. In 2014 she had a top 25 finish on Tactical Maneuver at the Fair Hill International CCI4* fall eventing championship, and in 2015 a top 15 finish at Jersey Fresh CCI4*. In 2016 and 2018 Ashley and Tactical Maneuver completed the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* with clear cross country rounds and in 2017 the pair finished 26th at the Fair Hill International CCI4*. Ashley also holds a USDF Bronze Medal and competes in straight jumpers through 1.35m, primarily with her CCI4* eventing mare FireFly. Ashley was a Founding Member on the Rider Advisory Board of the Eventing Riders Association of North America as well as serving for two years as their Junior Coordinator. In 2009 she became certified as an ECP Level IV instructor through the U.S. Eventing Association’s Eventing Coach’s Program. In 2016 Ashley became the inaugural coach of the University of Florida Eventing Team — a position which she held for seven years. Currently, she is the Area III Young Rider Coach. In 2021 Ashley received a Master of Liberal Arts degree in psychology, with a focus on performance psychology, through the Harvard University Extension School. In 2023 she received a Master of Science in human performance through the University of Florida and is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Florida focusing on leadership studies. In 2021 Ashley became a licensed eventing judge and technical delegate and is now certified at the ‘R’ level.
Ashley is based out of her own Totem Hill Farm in Ocala, FL.
Choosing My Career
Although while I was growing up I had a broad range of interests and was relatively good at a number of different things that could have turned into career paths, my passion for horses was constant throughout. It was the one thing that I always tried to balance into the equation. I loved the one-on-one relationship I had with my horses. Learning how to train them and trying to perform as a team at our best in competition, even when I was traveling and taking heavy course loads, was always something that I came back to. As I became more skilled I loved the horsemanship knowledge involved in creating a program for each horse that would allow them to grow and flourish. To me, each horse would start like a raw block of marble and it became my job to refine and chisel the marble, taking each horse to his highest athletic and mental potential.
When I was just out of college I took a job working for Christie’s Auction House in New York City, thinking that I would earn a living in the big city and ride as a hobby. I worked in the Modern Art department and was exposed daily to the works of masters such as Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp. One day I was in the warehouse on an assignment to make sure that none of the pieces in a certain section were misfiled. The warehouse is where the actual artwork is stored before auctions and until it is returned to its old owners or shipped to its new ones.
As an art history minor in college I was very familiar with the major works of most of the artists I dealt with at Christie’s on a day-to-day basis. On that particular day I found one small painting that changed my life. All of the paintings wear numeric tags in the warehouse, and this painting had been filed into the wrong section for its tag. I pulled it out and immediately recognized the style. It was a Picasso. I don’t know what painting it was, it was one of his lesser-known works, but its vibrancy and depth captivated me, as did the realization that I was holding it in my hand, not looking at it in a photograph or a few feet away on a museum wall. I could feel his genius through my fingertips, and I thought about how not just his famous works, but probably most of his works, were touched by that genius. It was this moment that made me consider for the first time becoming a professional rider. When I held the Picasso in my hand, it was the beginning of the realization that horses were my own type of art, and that I wanted to live a life involved directly in that creative process.