When Ashleigh Dove entered high school at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, she discovered the upper classmen were going foxhunting and wanted to give it a try. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she finally got the chance, and the experience set her on the path of a lifelong passion.
“I’m pretty sure I cried when they said they would let me go. I don’t know why. I was just ecstatic,” Ashleigh said.
Her first day in the field with the Middleburg Hunt was rainy and cold. Laurie Feickert, Riding Instructor at Foxcroft, thought Ashleigh might be disappointed. She was wrong.
“I fell in love. I loved every second of it. Pretty much from that point on I was hooked.”
Ashleigh went out on one of the experienced school horses a few more times that year, but the opportunities were limited due to bad weather. Her junior year she picked up where she left off as soon as the season started.
“I love the riding component, obviously. That’s my passion in life,” said Ashleigh, who started riding at age 7 and grew up showing hunters. “I love just being part of the hunt and the chase. I love the hounds. I love to watch them work; I think it’s fascinating.”
While Ashleigh does not consider herself an adrenaline junkie, she admits that the rush she gets from hunting is addicting. “Nothing gets my heart pumping like when the hounds are in full cry.”
Last fall Ashleigh started college at Sweet Briar, but she couldn’t quite let go of the call of the hounds. She traveled home every weekend to hunt with Middleburg.
“It keeps me going, you know? It’s always something to look forward to,” she said. “I drive home even though I have tons of school work and commitments because it’s important for me to continue. It’s fun, but it’s also a big stress reliever. It gets me through the week.”
Now 19, Ashleigh is taking steps towards taking a more active role in the hunt. During her senior year of high school, Ashleigh interned at the Middleburg kennels, an experience that encouraged her goal to become a staff member one day. This summer she we will be continuing her education at the MFHA Whipper-in Seminar.
Ashleigh has proven she has no interest in slowing down her hunting even though several years of school loom. Before she headed off to college, Ashleigh connected with Carey Shefte, an Honorary Whipper-in at Middleburg, and has been hunting her horses ever since.
“That’s been a huge blessing,” Ashleigh said. “She’s been so generous to let me borrow her horses.”
She’s been working with one of the younger, greener horses this year. Having initially learned to hunt on a school horse that took care of her when she was inexperienced, Ashleigh finds the opportunity to show a young horse the ropes extremely rewarding.
“I’m so grateful and lucky to have met Carey. She’s one of the most kind, generous people I’ve ever met in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to hunt without her.”
She is also grateful for her family, who has supported her equestrian dreams since she was small. “I’m the only one in my family that hunts or rides. My family is the most supportive family I could ever hope and dream for.”