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West Ranch's Ashlyn Matheus: Riding high

Posted: May 20, 2013 9:35 p.m.
Updated: May 20, 2013 9:35 p.m.

West Ranch High student and 17-year-old Ashlyn Matheus stands with her horses Perfect Summer Day and Einstein, with whom she competes in equestrian competitions. Next year, Matheus will compete at Texas Christian University.

Photo courtesy of Maxine Evans Photography

West Ranch High Student Ashlyn Matheus still can’t run — but she can certainly ride.

Since she was 9, Matheus has been competing in what is called hunt seat equestrian riding, a forward seat riding style that is a form of English riding.

Time, money and, often, a typical childhood, have been parted with by Matheus and her family for years in order to advance her dreams of competing collegiately.

But those dreams nearly came crashing down around her two years ago.

Matheus was competing in a hunter derby event when her foot got caught in the stirrups and crushed her talus bone, which helps support the lower part of the ankle joint.

“It was really difficult because of the way my cast was set up,” Matheus says. “And my injury, I was so prone to infection, I couldn’t even go to the barn to see my horse and I normally see my horse every day. Mentally, for a while, we really gave up hope. It really seemed like no way any coach would ever recruit me.”

To this day, Matheus still can’t run — though she says if push came to shove she thinks she could make it a short distance before limping away in pain.

Fortunately, she was never a big fan of running anyway.

“I fall. I like to fall,” Matheus jokes. “I run and I fall, so no, running was never my thing and anything that included any kind of running. I tried gymnastics, but I would fall off the beam. And I tried dancing and I’d just fall.”

So she got into horse riding — not horse racing, she points out.

“The most typical question I ever get is ‘You do the racing?’ No I don’t,” she says. “It’s nothing like that, for the most part.

“We mostly do jumping and it’s a very traditional sport. The Western team is what you think of when you think of your rodeo — big saddles and belt big buckles. I just kind of started hunt seat and I never had a desire to switch over to Western. I love my sport so much, why change it? There’s none of that speed aspect to it — speed isn’t my thing. I like that our sport is very much judged on perfection and I consider myself a little bit of a perfectionist.”

The journey started when she was 8 years old and received an offer of free riding lessons from a neighbor.

“I didn’t use them until I was 9 and I got hooked ever since,” she says.

That’s when she began training with Carolyn Culligan, a trainer at Old Canyon Farm in Canyon Country — and to this day Matheus still has a horse, Perfect Summer Day, with Culligan.

“She was very much a novice, didn’t have any experience,” Culligan says. “She was always so determined to be a great rider even when she was barely learning the basics. I felt she knew she had a passion for riding and she was going to be a terrific rider and she was very brave, even as a small child.”

Matheus also has another horse, Einstein, who is her primary competition horse.

“It’s neat. It’s rewarding. They’re kind of my babies, especially my mare (Perfect Summer Day). I’ve had her for almost seven or eight years,” Matheus says. “It’s hard. You don’t have a lot of time to go do anything else. I kind of feel like a soccer mom, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.”

It’s also been very expensive.

“It’s a very elitist sport so it’s been very hard,” says her mother, Angela. “We’ve sacrificed a lot so she can ride, but it’s kept her focused.”

And Ashlyn is forever grateful for the opportunity.

“(My family has) given up more than I could ever imagine giving up for a kid,” she says. “It’s not your typical soccer, go buy your gear, go buy your cleats and pay us $100 every month or so. You have an entire horse to feed. It’s like a second child to feed but more expensive and more demanding. Every one in my family has done everything they possibly could and I’ll never be able to thank them for it.”

The William S. Hart High School Union District has also been extremely supportive of Matheus, allowing her to adapt her schedule to a very vigorous competition season.

She’s competing regularly almost year round, with the exception of December and January, she says.

Weekend competitions have meant missing many Thursdays and Fridays throughout the school year.

“I study really hard. I make sure because I miss so much it’s only fair to my teachers that I know every single assignment has to be turned in,” Matheus says. “It’s not their responsibility to keep tabs on me.”

She’s done an excellent job so far.

The 17-year-old is a member of the National Honors Society and has a GPA above 4.0.

But it wasn’t her academics she hoped would determine where she went to college — it was equestrian, and after her foot injury, things were looking bleak.

She attended summer camps at various colleges around the country, but was often met with rejection by coaches who didn’t want a girl who couldn’t run.

“You would talk to coaches and they’d kind of stop talking to you and you never really found out why,” she says. “That was part of my problem. I went to Illinois (for an Elite Athletes Program) and all these greats. They were all talking about (being recruited) and I hadn’t even gone on an official visit.”

As if it were fate, things changed for Matheus on that October 2012 night.

She received a phone call from Texas Christian University coaches inviting her for an official visit, which she took in January — and has recently accepted a partial athletic scholarship.

She got herself on TCU’s radar by visiting the school simply because it happened to be on the way from Kansas to Baylor — two universities she was interested in attending.

“We walked on campus and it was like home,” she says. “Everything worked out perfectly.”


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