BY TYLER BUI
Ashwood Farm prides itself on a variety of unique aspects. From their family-based staff to their impeccable horse care, Mary Ann Thomas and her two daughters, Abby and Emmalee Funk, have developed a boutique business that offers a comprehensive approach to riding, competing, and becoming a horse person.
Mary Ann was drawn to horses before she could even talk. After years of asking her parents for a horse as a child, her family ended up buying their neighbor’s western horse, who had been living in a pasture.
“I’m still alive, which is a miracle after that situation. We put that horse at a boarding stable and went at it,” says Thomas. “Eventually, I switched from riding Western to English and began riding with Sandy Longan in Kansas City.”
After Sandy decided to scale back her business, Thomas made the move to train in with Orlando ‘Orley’ Dehoyos, who was based out of Houston.
“He was just brilliant—standing next to the jump, he could say two words and always put you in the right place and give you all the confidence,” says Thomas. “So with my teaching, as a young professional, I was always [striving] to be able to stand next to the jump and be efficient with my words. I’m finally figuring out how to do that—I can know where the jump is in the schooling area behind me, watch the rider approach the jump without it in my vision and know whether they’re going to be there right.”
Ashwood Farm primarily focused on sales in recent years with the exception of the Brown family.
“When I was riding with Orley, one of my favorite barn mates was Mary Kathryn Brown, Campbell Brown’s mother,” says Thomas. “She quit riding for 30 years and came back, and we got together and that’s how I began working with the Browns. My time at Orley’s influenced my whole career, and I feel really blessed to have been able to work with him.”
As a young professional, Thomas went through different phases, focusing heavily on customers and showing, showing more locally, and focusing mostly on sales.
“I did a variety—there were years where I would have a lot of customers, and we would go to shows all over, and there were years where we did more local shows, and when Abby was a junior rider, I really didn’t do any customers,” says Thomas. “I really wanted to focus on her junior career. As a mom, I just wanted to focus on Abby, and I did sales on the side.”
With Thomas gaining extensive selling experience during Abby’s junior years, both she and her daughter have developed a keen eye when it comes to pairing a rider with the right horse.
“I learned so much about what kind of a rider can ride what kind of a horse. There’s definitely tastes in riding and suitability,” says Thomas. “I started being able to really see that, and I think that’s one of my biggest strengths, being able to match a horse and rider.”
For the past four years, Campbell Brown has been Ashwood Farm’s only client. Brown came to Ashwood Farm as a short stirrup rider and had a successful pony career before moving up to horses.
“Campbell loves riding a big horse. We always thought she would do the hunters and the equitation, but then we got a jumper to get experience on, and she wanted to be more competitive in the jumpers,” says Thomas. “This circuit, we have bought her first junior jumpers to move up on, and that’s the direction she’s going. Campbell works with Andre Dignelli in the equitation, and I love partnering with Heritage. It’s a wonderful learning experience for me, Abby, and Campbell.”
While Ashwood Farm is most known for the hunters, both Thomas and Funk enjoy and have the ability to train for the jumper ring as well. During WEF 2022, both Brown and Funk picked up multiple tricolors. Brown was circuit champion in the Children’s Jumper High- 14 & Under on Lillesky, and reserve circuit champion in the Junior Jumper-Low on Diamond. Funk was reserve circuit champion in the 1.30m Jumper on Indira.
Thomas has decided to open Ashwood Farm to new clients. Between Thomas and Abby, they will be able to divide and conquer—and with their team and organization, the farm is more than ready to welcome in some new faces. Thomas has a passion for the ponies, and hopes to have a young pony rider she can bring up, but she loves all three rings equally.
“I love all aspects of the horse show; I could be doing the jumpers, hunters, ponies, anything,” says Thomas. “I’m certainly not afraid to reach out when there’s specialization needed when it comes to the equitation and the Grand Prixs. We spend May through October based in Lexington, KY and November through April in Wellington. We are very excited to be based in Southfields for our 2023 winter season.
Ashwood Farm has always been a boutique business, and Thomas would like it to remain that in order to give her students and horses the best possible experience and care, but allow it to expand some.
“I think horses teach kids about life rather than just horse showing. I think that parents’ biggest goal is to raise a great human, and they want to use sports and horses specifically as a way to help that development. That’s my overall philosophy,” says Thomas. “I’m very competitive, but I’m not going to do that at all costs. You have to have realistic expectations; it’s a sport and it’s an art form, so it’s free flowing. You have to be in it for the horses, learning experience, and the life lessons you will learn, as well as the riding. We have Campbell and her horses in a great place. Now, we want to invite some new students to our program to set and achieve their goals. #setyourintentions”