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Ashton Alexander had a childhood that was anything but conventional.

Growing up in “the horse world” meant homeschooling and long hours at the local barn. She began riding at age 4. Her parents and trainers taught her the value of work — hard work. By 12, she was flying to a horse show by herself, becoming independent and self-sufficient.

The first 18 years of her life were spent in the equestrian community of Ocala, Florida.

Developing into a fierce competitor, Ashton earned a treasure trove of junior equestrian titles from shows on the east and west coasts and states in between. At a young age, she already had attained some of the greatest achievements in the sport.

Her future was set. Or was it?

The equestrian world of junior and professional competition consisted of only individual pursuits. Ashton had never been part of a team. And she very much wanted to be.

Accepting an equestrian scholarship to attend Auburn provided that opportunity, but also meant stepping off her current path toward becoming a professional equestrian.

She never hesitated.

“You learn so many things about yourself and the world when you step outside of your comfort zone,” Ashton said. “I had never been in a real classroom before I came to Auburn, and I almost had a panic attack during that first class. I look back now and can’t believe how far I’ve come and all that I’ve experienced.”

Among her most memorable Auburn experiences is the team’s bid for a sixth national championship in 2019. Ashton recalls the pivotal moment that determined the outcome — a moment she had prepared for her whole life.

“I had hoped that it wouldn’t come down to me,” she said. “And maybe I could’ve accepted not winning my point if it were just about me. But I wasn’t going to let my teammates down. It was my last ride on the team, and I just wasn’t going to let them down.”

She scored the winning point that claimed the NCAA national championship title for Auburn — again. The win also secured another milestone for the team — the first time any equestrian program has completed a full season with no losses.

Among the team’s many followers, John and Kristie Thomas have given generously to Auburn’s equestrian facility upgrades because they believe in the champion spirit, strong work ethic, and bold determination that define Auburn’s equestrian team.

“For us, it starts with Coach Greg Williams and his staff, and their ability to recruit and inspire outstanding student athletes,” said John, president and CEO of Physicians Realty Trust. “They demonstrate their excellence in their ability to practice, study, maintain high GPAs, and earn six national championships.”

Ashton, who earned a degree in entrepreneurship and family business last year, is pursuing a master’s degree in adult education with a minor in sports management. She won’t be stepping back into the professional equestrian world after she graduates, however.

Being on a team and learning about other student athletes created new dreams for her and a love of other sports. She is ready for entirely new challenges, including working in the world of sports marketing for a major athletic franchise.

“I’m not completely abandoning my future as a professional in the equestrian world,” Ashton said. “That world is still there for me. But now I know there are some other things I want to do, too. And then maybe I’ll go back to the horse world and shake things up a bit.”