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How Horses Gave Me Self-Confidence as a Person With a Limb Difference

I was born without the lower part of my right arm. Although I’m 21 now and seem like a strong individual, I grew up with a lot of struggles. But let me tell you how riding horses helped my self-confidence.

Ashley Sherman riding a horse

I’m from Orlando, Florida, and grew up on a farm with at least 12 horses at all times. My mom, Susan Sherman, has been training horses for about 40 years, and my twin sister and I were born into the industry.

When I was born, my parents wondered how I would get through life being different and not having another arm (as most parents would do). The first time I tried to crawl, my mom cried and cried and wanted nothing more than to help me figure it out, but she let me do it on my own. I needed to figure that out.

I grew up always hiding my arm in my sleeve or behind my back because I was afraid of being judged and being different from all the other kids at school. But there was always one individual I could always count on to love me despite my difference — my horse.

I had a few horses growing up, but I got my first real horse at 6. And he has a disability just like me. Pepper only has one front tooth and a breathing problem that sometimes makes it hard for him to work. But he tries so hard to make me happy. Anytime I had a bad day at school where kids made fun of me, I knew I could come home and have a better day with him.

With my mother’s guidance and support, I started competing in the western events where you only need one hand to hold the reins. Although we did really well there, I felt like I wanted to do so much more. Many people, including trainers, told me it would be too hard for me to try English style because I had to hold both reins.

But then my neighbor came up with a device that changed the rest of my riding career. I owe a lot to him for coming up with such an incredible tool. He created a leather strap that attached to the right rein. It looked like the end of a dog leash, and it gave me control on the right side. I later used Velcro to help keep it on better, but after starting to use the tool, the rest was history.

Since then I have moved up to a bigger horse named Lujen and have gone on to compete at a state and regional level competitions in English events. We have done everything to jumping, dressage, reining, western and English pleasure and much more. Nothing has ever stopped us, and I have my horses to thank. They taught me everything: respect, responsibility, patience, hard work, good sportsmanship and, most importantly, unconditional love.

I think having a bond with a horse is wonderful for anyone with any sort of disability. Horses bring out the best in everyone and creating a bond with such a magnificent animal is something I’d never trade for the world. The advice I’d give to any parent would be to get your child involved with horses.

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