Many who attend the annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, PA, go for the thrill of watching hunters and jumpers. On one night, the audience had an opportunity to watch a skilled trick rider demonstrate what it takes to ride a horse full-speed around an arena with no hands or legs for control.
Ashley Pletcher didn’t grow up in a horsey family, but received a pony by the name of Sugar when she was eight years old. “She came from the local amusement park, but she could run,” said Ashley. “She didn’t like to leave the barn, so I rode far away from the barn, turned around and ran full-speed back to the stall. I know now that that’s not a good idea.”
As she was growing up, Ashley took lessons and eventually got two horses. “When I was about 11, we went to the Horse Expo in Harrisburg and met Tommie Turvey,” she said. “I learned about the Cook Forest Scenic Trail Ride and received a week-long trail ride and a lesson with Tommie.”
When Tommie came to Pennsylvania, Ashley helped him with his horses. “I did an internship with him, finished high school and then he hired me full-time,” she said.
After working with the Turveys, Ashley started Keystone Equine Entertainment and Training.
Today, Ashley uses Magua and Dakota for trick riding demonstrations and also for training students interested in learning trick riding. The almost-matched pair of pinto geldings had been used by the Turveys in chariot racing, and when the Turveys offered to sell them to Ashley, she jumped at the opportunity.
Ashley describes the ideal horse for trick riding as one that isn’t constantly on edge. “I’m not picky about the breed,” she said. “Pretty much any breed will work. I try certain things to see if the horse is going to cooperate. When you start hanging off the side with your feet up in the air, some horses just don’t put up with that.” Most of all, she is cautious, and works slowly with the basics until the horse is deemed suitable.
Ashley reveals some of the secrets of successful trick riding. “They have to stay on the rail,” she said. “I use a specific pattern, and stop and start at exactly the same place every time. The area where I start is the station, and that’s where I put my feet in the straps or stirrups or make any adjustments. I always turn him to the left, circle around and start at a canter. The tape on one length of the arena is called trick tape, and that shows him how far down to go.”
The venues in which Ashley performs are all different, so consistency is critical. “The pattern is always the same — I’ve already established where we start and end, and I’m always out of the trick at the same place.”
In addition to demonstrations and performances, Ashley teaches at her own facility, and works with students in a variety of disciplines from basic training to jumping and trail riding. She also does specialty training including Roman riding, liberty work and trick riding. Before a student is ready for trick riding, Ashley likes to see a rider with good skills at the walk, trot and canter, and can demonstrate those skills for her. “I only do trick riding training at my facility because we use special equipment and Magua because he’s a very safe horse to start with.”
Although most trick riding students are relatively young, Ashley has worked with some adult students who have put trick riding on their bucket list. “We start at a standstill for confidence, then walk, trot and canter, then a full-out run,” she said. There’s a progression, and everyone moves along at their own pace.”
Visit Ashley Pletcher’s website at www.keystoneequineentertainmentandtraining.com.