The Mighty Logo

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

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

Originally published: August 18, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home