By Dani Moritz-Long
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
While working and living together can often be a recipe for disaster, that isn’t the case for equestrian power couple Ken and Emily Smith. The owners and trainers of Ashland Farms, which is based in Wellington, Florida, during the winters and Lexington, Kentucky, in the summers, got married in 1992, have two children and have been working together for more than a decade. Together, they successfully sell top horses and coach clients to national titles at prestigious events around the country.
Not surprisingly, horses are what initially brought the two, who met at a horse show in Cleveland, Ohio, together. With veterinarian Scott Traphagen for a father, Emily grew up with a passion for animals and started showing ponies at an early age. Likewise, Ken was influenced by the equestrian career of his father, John Smith. He started riding when he was young and was shaped by professionals like his dad as well as Howard Lewis and Don Stewart.
Emily and Ken also passed their equestrian skill and passion on to their two children, Alexandra and Spencer. Today, Spencer is a professional show jumper, while Alexandra, 14, is showing in the junior jumper divisions.
“We love that we can spend so much time together and that we can travel to such nice places,” Ken commented about his family’s joint equestrian adventures.
Emily added, “We love traveling to Europe and all over the U.S. to beautiful horse shows in great towns.”
All in the Family
With the entire family completely bitten by the horse bug, Ken and Emily say working together comes quite naturally. While they certainly do face challenges — like anyone who marries business with family would — their similarities keep them on track. “We really think alike,” Ken said. “Plus, we both really like the horse business.”
Emily added, “It can be difficult to go into business together as a couple; however, the positive definitely outweighs the negative. If each person develops their role to what they do best, they will thrive. Listen to each other. You won’t always agree, but you’re on the same team.”
In their team, Ken rides, teaches, tries to keep up with email and ends his day with one of his favorite quiet-time activities: dragging and watering his ring. Emily, on the other hand, is generally focused on showing clients’ horses, finding new prospects and communicating with Ashland Farms’ students and their parents.
Looking back on their career together, the duo says their most proud joint professional accomplishment was coaching their son, Spencer, to win the 2014 Pessoa/USEF Medal Final — which served as the perfect culmination of his junior career. The duo has also led countless riders and horses to successes at prestigious shows across the country and world, from the Winter Equestrian Festival to Devon and everything in between.
But Ken and Emily don’t take all the credit. “We are very fortunate to have a very good and loyal staff,” Ken said. “In this business, it really takes a team to have success.”
In addition to thinking similarly, Ken and Emily also share similar riding and training philosophies — which further contributes to their success.
Ken describes his training philosophy as, “keeping it simple, working hard and never giving up,” and Emily’s guiding principles very much align with Ken’s mantra.
“My philosophy is that with extreme hard work, dedication, physical fitness and an exceptional team around you, a rider can accomplish their ultimate goals,” Emily said, adding that having an effective and supportive team and the right horse are also paramount to success.
“I believe my understanding of how a student feels, their worries and concerns, enable me to relate to them,” she continued. “I have an optimistic attitude, and I believe in people. I think having a trainer that really believes in you makes you believe in yourself. Not only as a student do you want to succeed for yourself, but also for your trainer, your horse and your team.”
Words of Wisdom
For those looking to embark on their own business as a couple, Ken and Emily have some simple and sage advice.
Ken highlights the importance of aligned thinking and teamwork. “It’s hard work and you have to stick together on the decision-making process,” he said. “Try to work together as a team.”
The couple also says balance — much like with riding — is paramount to sustaining a positive relationship. “My advice is to have outside interests as well, but it’s so helpful and encouraging to be able to discuss the highs and lows of the day and the excitement you both share with a new horse or the success of a student,” Emily said.
“But,” Ken warned, “try not to take your business problems home with you at night.” There’s a fine line between chatting about the perfect prospect and stressing about the next week’s work schedule.
For more information, visit ashlandfarmsfl.com
Photos by Shawna Simmons, SAS Equine Photography, www.shawnasimmons.com