There was never a question that trainer Ashley Brown would follow in the footsteps of her grandfather and her father, and become involved in the harness racing industry. She has been around horses all her life, and developed her love and passion for them from an early age.
“My grandfather, Robert Brown, who most people knew as Brownie, had racehorses when we were growing up, along with my Dad. So any chance that my brother (driver Brady Brown) and I got, we were at the fairgrounds. My grandfather was a policeman for the longest time, same with my Dad, and working with the horses was what he did after he retired.”
Ashley watched and learned everything she could from her grandfather and her Dad, as well as some close family friends. “My brother and I and the Johnston boys (Aaron and Shawn), we all hung out at the fairgrounds with Steve and Kathy Schoeffel too, who were like a second mom and dad to us. They had a lot of influence on both of us in the sport.”
“Anything we learned came from my dad and grandfather, and the Schoeffels,” she said.
When it came time for her to start working in the industry, her grandfather gave her one stipulation. “He was very adamant that I get an education first,” she said, “just because, and I know we’re spotlighting Women’s History Month, I guess it was a little different for women back then in the sport. So he said it more than once, and I’ll never forget it, ‘I don’t care if you want to monkey around with the horses, but you WILL get an education!’, so I did. I went to nursing school, and I’m a registered nurse, and I do that part-time, along with training horses!”
She has a stable with her significant other, driver Chris Shaw. “About a year and a half ago, he was in an accident, and his arm is still not completely ready to work yet, but between home; we have a 6-year-old daughter, Alexa; and the barn, and part-time nursing, somehow we make it all work.”
“We have a lot of people that help us, too, especially with Chris not being able to drive and do everything he needs to do, we really appreciate the help we have now. We make it work. The first full year Chris was out, he really couldn’t help us because he had multiple surgeries, so Jeremy Indof really stepped up and helped me. He drove while I stayed in the barn and worked, and then Hugh O’Neill came over from Scotland, and he now rides for us. When I’m at work at the hospital, Tina Barnard does everything at the barn, taking care of the horses and everything else.”
Chris has stepped into more of a management role in their barn now, and that works well for both of them. “He is now overseeing everything, especially when I’m work, and I don’t have to worry about anything. Our highest number of horses was this year, 13 horses, and it was a little difficult with just the few people we have, but we make it work.”
Ashley and Chris have always supported each other, and have each other’s backs no matter the circumstance. Now that the dynamic has changed a bit and his career is temporarily on the back burner as he recuperates, he fully supports and stands behind her in her career.
“It has definitely changed, and it’s very hard for me to see him on the sidelines,” she said emotionally. “It won’t be forever. He pushes me now, and he will tell anyone, and same with my brother, he says ‘she can rig a horse and train a horse just as good as anybody else can’. So he pushes me to do these things, and now that he can’t do it, he kind of leans on me to do those things that he wishes he could do. So I do the best that I can do.”
Last year, Ashley proved she can ‘do it all’, when they bought a cheaper yearling colt to add to their barn of broodmares. “We didn’t have any yearlings, and we had lost one foal, and we didn’t have any for the PA Fairs, so we bought one, and I actually trained that colt down myself, and I got him qualified myself! That was my first-ever qualifying drive. Chris was really ‘beaming’ when that happened because he couldn’t do it, and he made sure I did!”
With PA Fair season just a few months away, Ashley is looking forward to racing some of her favorites. “Definitely Keystone Stevie. We call her ‘Old Granny’, and we’ve had her since she was a three-year-old. She’s done a lot for us; always made money, always took care of us, and when you need it, she’s there.”
“Another one of our favorites is ‘Who Made Who’, and that’s actually our daughter’s horse. She’s our first homebred. She was pretty big last year, won a lot of races and got her name out there. I had a lot of people asking me if she was for sale,” she laughed. “Absolutely not! I feel like maybe she kind of knew that we needed her when we got her, and she went from being just a horse to a pretty good horse in a short amount of time. We will probably never be able to thank her for that. Roger Hammer has her broodmare Sheema Star, and without him, we would never have her.”
“And we have a nice one we are training for someone named Smokin’ Joe Hanover. He got him as a maiden and he didn’t show much, but he has stepped up to be a very nice horse.”
Two yearlings have Ashley very excited as well, out of their mares and homebreds, and a full sister to Who Made Who, named Winnie Werewolf by Ashley’s daughter.
Ashley is raising her daughter to be strong and compassionate, and with that, Alexa developed a love for horses, and has already shown an interest in following in the footsteps of her parents.
She is truly a great representation of balancing family and career, and her passion shines through with everything she does. Working hard is what got her to this point in her success, and her motivation is such an inspiration to women looking to break into the industry. She reminds everyone that starting from the ground up is the key.
“Growing up, we did everything. You start with the basics, cleaning stalls, and being familiar with the horse itself. And I don’t think I can thank my grandfather and the Schoeffels enough. Working for someone that’s been in the business a long time, I think, is one of the best things you can do. You have to be open-minded, you have to want to learn, always want to ask questions. Especially being a woman, sometimes men don’t think women can get certain jobs done, but we can do just as good a job at certain things as they can! Being a woman, you have to be bold in this business, you have to be assertive, and don’t be afraid to stand out!”
“I love it,” she adds. “I would never change the way we grew up. I love having horses and racing them. I live and breathe it. And if the times get tough, you just have to learn to roll with it.”
Photo Credit to Chris Gooden
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