Flying High

McKeown and Big Red. (Bruce Branum/ The Standard

McKeown and Big Red. (Bruce Branum/ The Standard

 

BRUCE BRANUM/THE GREENVILLE STANDARD

For 18-year-old Ashlyn McKeown, a 2016 graduate of Rosewood Academy Homeschool, life is quite busy and full of rewarding experiences.

She just finished playing as an All-Star for Greenville in the Dixie Debs Softball World Series and now will be playing for the Saints at Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College where she is beginning her freshman year.

As good as she is in softball; her true passion and love are horses. She has been riding horses since the age of two.

Her mother, Dana Casey Jones said, “Even at an early age, she treated her dogs like horses, harnessing them with halters and leading them around.”

Over time she began to develop an interest in show jumping. At age 11 she got her first jumping horse and has never looked back, “Even when she fell off her horse twice during her first jumping lesson,” said Dana.

“Big Red,” as he is proudly called, is Ashlyn’s second jumper. He is a nine-year-old thoroughbred that was gifted to her by Kenneth and Myrtis Cotton.

The Cottons bred and trained racing thoroughbreds for 46 years in the small community of Wing and their last foal to race was Big Red.

Dana said, Kenneth’s health was in decline and because of the special relationship Ashyln and her stepfather Brian Jones developed with the Cottons while providing farrier services, horse care and training they wanted Ashlyn to pick one of their horses that had been put to pasture. At the time, Big Red was four and one half-years-old and had been out of racing for one year.

Dana said, Big Red was not Ashlyn’s first choice, “but he won her heart as she watched him glide across the pasture with a grace and spirit that stood him apart; he really turned out to be a diamond in the rough.”

Ashlyn brought Big Red home to Georgiana and started working with him. First came jumps of only 18 inches, and then came increasingly higher jumps and now he clears four feet with ease. At 17.1 hands high, “Big Red might be considered a little small according to Grand Prix standards,” said Ashlyn, “but he has immense heart and talent.”

Performing his training mostly by herself, Big Red has been appraised at $35,000.

Through a brochure Brian found Joseph Jernigan, a horse trainer and professional rider who owns Willow Creek Stables near Andalusia. Jernigan who has apprenticed with world renowned Olympic riders in Germany has been schooling Ashlyn for seven years. He also has a farrier service, starts horses for the track and breaks horses for a variety of disciplines. His passion though is the same as Ashlyn’s, show jumping. He and Ashlyn have even competed against each other in the jumper ring. Both Ashyln and Dana spoke highly of Jernigan and considered him to be instrumental in the success of team Ashlyn and Big Red.

Ashlyn has been attending competitions for six years and hopes to compete in Grand Prix events, which are Olympic level shows. She also plans to attend Auburn University and earn an Equine Science Degree. She will continue to show and train Big Red, but eventually and remorsefully she plans to sell him and buy a “warmblood” horse.

Ashlyn said, “Warmbloods are built a little stockier and can handle the rigors of jumping higher for longer.” Dana spoke proudly of Ashlyn and said she believes with all her heart that being involved with horses and jumping has given Ashlyn confidence and taught her the values of perseverance, responsibility and of the rewards hard work can bring.

Ashlyn is a Butler County native with family ties to Georgiana and Greenville. Tommy and Florence Casey of Georgiana are her maternal grandparents. Her paternal grandparents are the late Harold and Kay McKeown of the Pigeon Creek community. Ashlyn’s father is Andy McKeown and her stepmother is Karen Skipper McKeown. Andy is a local business owner, pastor and retired paramedic with the Greenville Fire Department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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