Equestrian Aid Foundation The Carolinas Equestrian 01 A lifelong horsewoman with a can-do spirit and a disarming smile, Ashlyn Bell was well known as a horse show announcer and ingate starter throughout the Carolinas. Then, on a brisk winter day in 2013, her life was derailed in an unassuming instant. A fall from a horse left her with two collapsed lungs and the majority of her ribs and vertebrae shattered. It took a team of surgeons and physical therapists the course of a year to piece her back together. For most of this time, she was unable to work, let alone care for herself or her one-year old son.

Determined, yet overwhelmed, Ashlyn knew she needed help beyond what her family could provide. Support came in the form of a grant from the Equestrian Aid Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists critically ill and injured horsemen facing financial crisis, giving them the resources to recover and return to the work they love.

“As a single mom with no insurance and no income, I didn’t know how I was going to make it work,” said Bell. “The Equestrian Aid Foundation took the burden off me and I was able to heal and come out of a very dark place.”

Bell added that it wasn’t just the monetary help that facilitated her return to self-sufficiency, but also the community support. This strong sense of solidarity among equestrians has been at the foundation’s core since its inception in 1996. Initially incorporated as the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, the group’s initial mission was to assist equestrians living with HIV and AIDS. R. Scot Evans—who along with Robert Dover, Robert Ross, Kim Tudor and Mason Phelps, Jr., founded EAF—describes their effort as grassroots from the start.

Equestrian Aid Foundation The Carolinas Equestrian 03 “The AIDS pandemic hit the equestrian community hard, and we were simply a group of friends who acted to help our fellow horsemen,” said Evans. “We found we weren’t alone in our desire to help. The equestrian community rallied around the cause, and the depth of financial and moral support we were able to provide was remarkable.”

The Equestrian Aid Foundation’s early efforts to fundraise and deliver grant support to horsemen in crisis were so successful that, in 2006, the foundation broadened its mission, opening its doors to equestrians suffering from catastrophic illness or injury of any kind. Grant recipients from all corners of the equestrian community and from all disciplines and occupations were eligible to apply.

Equestrian Aid Foundation The Carolinas Equestrian 02 Eventing legend Kim Meier was among the first grant recipients under EAF’s broader criteria. In 2007 as she trained for Rolex, a freak accident changed her life forever. On the way to a vertical, her horse stepped on his bell boot and stumbled, sending Kim headlong into the obstacle. Its top rail fell squarely on the back of her neck. Despite extensive rehabilitation and her fierce determination to recover, the accident left Kim paralyzed from the shoulders down—unable to ride, stand or even walk again.

While Kim’s daughter and friends rallied to assist with Kim’s care, EAF provided financial assistance to help with basic living expenses. "It's great how the Equestrian Aid Foundation jumped right in to help from the very beginning right after I got hurt," Kim said. While day-to-day life has become a struggle for her, Kim remains active and earns income in the equestrian community by judging unrated horse shows when she can and giving lessons and occasional clinics.

Just as Kim’s accident forced her to reinvent herself as a horsewoman, EAF strives to reinvent itself to remain responsive to the needs of the equestrian community. In light of the devastation natural disaster has wreaked on horsemen across America in recent years, the foundation has recently opened an Emergency Relief Fund. While donations cannot be earmarked for specific individuals, the fund enables members of the equestrian community to make tax-deductible donations that will be distributed wholly within the equestrian communities of areas in crisis.

Equestrian Aid Foundation The Carolinas Equestrian 04 For those who make their living in the equestrian industry, catastrophic accidents, illnesses and events inevitably equate to loss—of a job, of income, and perhaps of an entire lifestyle. For all equestrians, such circumstances also threaten their ability to remain involved with the animals they love. While the Equestrian Aid Foundation cannot entirely mitigate these losses, it does endeavor to give its grant recipients the tools to recover and thrive in the face of adversity.

In 2018, the foundation hit the $3 million mark in funds given to horsemen in crisis. Charlotte-based amateur hunter rider Missy Luczak-Smith has been an active member of EAF’s board of directors for over a decade and has seen firsthand the ways the foundation’s mission strengthens the equestrian community. “So much of what happens in the barn aisle, at horse shows and beyond is a collective effort,” said Luczak- Smith. “Horsemen are genuine in their desire to help each other. Supporting the Equestrian Aid Foundation is a really powerful way that we can give each other a leg up.”

Photographs provided by the Equestrian Aid Foundation

The Equestrian Aid Foundation is a Florida-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that assists horsemen throughout the United States in times of medical or other unforeseen crisis. To do this, we rely on donations from members of the equestrian community. Learn more about our grant criteria, apply for help, or make a tax-deductible donation at EquestrianAidFoundation.org.