Riding a horse in parade is a dream come true

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Twenty-five-year-old Ashley Moorman has had a dream to ride a horse in the Fiesta Day Parade since she was 9 years old. On Saturday, May, 23, that dream came true when she rode “Sassy,” a 16-year-old sorrel registered American Quarter Horse in the 42nd annual Fiesta Day Parade.

Ashley’s love for horses began when she attended Horse Camp at the Canyon Lake Equestrian Center at the age of 9. She attended horse camp every year until she reached the maximum age limit for enrollment. Even though she was no longer allowed to attend Horse Camp, and didn’t have a horse of her own, Ashley would still continue to visit the Equestrian Center every day.

“I would go seven days a week and spend the entire day at the barn with the horses,” says Ashley. “I would spend hours going from stall to stall petting and talking with each horse.”

Eventually, some of the horse owners gave Ashley permission to feed their horses and turn them out in the arena. She was never allowed to ride their horses, though; mainly because many of them were not safe enough for her to ride. Some of them were jumpers and Ashley did not have the experience to ride jumpers. Others were sick, not professionally trained or not gentle enough.

Now that she is older and has other commitments, Ashley isn’t able to spend as much time with the horses as she’d like. “I try to go to the Equestrian Center and visit the horses at least once a day for an hour or two,” says Ashley. Her favorite horses at the barn are Chloe (“because she’s like a big puppy dog”), Lizzie, Dar and Sassy.

Through the course of spending so much time at the Equestrian Center, Ashley has come to know many of the horse owners. One of those owners, Sharon Whelan, has taken a liking to Ashley. At first, Sharon gave Ashley permission to feed her horses during Ashley’s visits to the Equestrian Center.

After seeing Ashley’s love and gentle ways with horses, Sharon began taking Ashley to horse shows with her. Eventually, Sharon allowed Ashley to ride her horses, Jake and Captain, but only when she was present because Jake and Captain were not professionally trained horses.

About a year ago, Sharon purchased Sassy, a professionally trained horse. Recently, Sharon signed off Ashley on Sassy, allowing her to ride Sassy whenever she wants, even when Sharon is not present.

In the 2014 Fiesta Day Parade, Ashley walked alongside the horses, tossing out candy to the crowd. This year, Sharon helped to make Ashley’s dream come true when she allowed her to ride Sassy in the 2015 Fiesta Day Parade. As for Sharon, well, she volunteered for poop duty and rode in a golf cart behind the horses, cleaning up their mess.

Both Ashley and Sassy were nervous the morning of the parade. Ashley says, “I had butterflies in my stomach, and Sassy was a little anxious while we were waiting at the staging area. Once the parade started, my butterflies went away and Sassy calmed down and handled it like a pro.”

Riding a horse in the Fiesta Day Parade is not as easy as one might think. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with it. Not only do you have to keep control of the horse but you also have to keep it from being spooked, and make sure the kids collecting candy in the streets stay at a safe distance.

Ashley says, “Riding Sassy in the parade was the best experience of my life.” Ashley’s parents, sister and friends were there to cheer her on. Her grandmother came from Los Angeles just to watch her in the parade.

It was a proud moment for both Ashley and her family. Sharon is also very proud of Ashley. “I think Ashley was more nervous than the horse, but she did everything I told her to do. She handled herself like a pro,” says Sharon.

Sharon believes that Ashley deserves a horse of her own. “She’s spent years at the barn, taking care of other people’s horses, loving them, feeding them, making sure they have water and turning them out in the arena. She deserves a horse of her own to love and care for. I would give her Sassy if I could but Sassy was a gift to my granddaughter, so I could never give her away or sell her,” says Sharon.

After the parade, Ashley received a text from Sharon. “She said I handled it like a pro and that I can ride Sassy in the parade again next year and every year after that,” says Ashley. As one can imagine, Ashley is super excited and already looking forward to Fiesta Day 2016.

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Donna Ritchie