Ashley Godwin was born with an innate love of horses.

“I don’t know where this passion came from because I didn’t come from a horse family,” explains Ashley Godwin. “After dreaming and pleading, my parents finally bought me my first horse in 1985 for $800 for my tenth birthday. His name was Sultan and was green as grass. I couldn’t take riding lessons at that time, so I read and studied everything I could about riding and horse showing. I was basically self-taught. I later got a job at a show barn near my home in Fairburn, Ga. when I was 11 years old and worked for Claire Boyd off and on until I was 21. I learned a wealth of information from Claire! I showed Sultan in the Large Pony Division at hunter jumper shows all around the Atlanta area for years.”

Godwin’s father worked a second job delivering pizza to support her horse-riding dreams.

“He even borrowed $1600 from the bank to buy my next horse, Kaiser Fritz, who was barely broke to ride. He was a Secretariat grandson and a jumping machine! I showed him for years in the bigger jumper divisions at shows all around Atlanta. During this time, I was also galloping racehorses at a farm in exchange for riding lessons from the farm owner who not only trained racehorses, but he had spent his whole life on the hunter jumper horse show circuit. My love and appreciation for Thoroughbreds grew from then on. My dad and I loved horse racing so much so that we never missed a Triple Crown race on television,” adds Godwin.

Godwin was fortunate to be a part of something most horse crazy girls could only dream of: riding as a stunt double for a Disney Movie about horses.

“In the summer of 1997, a good friend of mine who owned a horse trailer dealership in Atlanta called and said a casting director had called them from the yellow pages to see if they knew anyone who was about five feet tall and around 100 pounds who could be a riding/stunt double in a movie they were filming. Oddly enough, I was recovering from food poisoning and had lost ten pounds in a week, making me the perfect size,” Godwin says. “I went for the audition and rode for the director, Simon Wincer, and was offered the part. Simon is well known for directing movies such as Bluegrass, Pharlap, The Man From Snowy River and Operation Dumbo Drop. He was a great guy and loved horse racing! The only catch was I had to shave my head to match the 14-year-old boy, Lucas Black, that I would be doubling for. I agreed to do it and it was an experience of a lifetime! Anytime you saw Lucas riding gaits past a walk, that was me. My favorite scene was the racing scene which we filmed at the Conyers International Horse Park on the racetrack where the 1996 Olympics were held. We filmed for about 8 weeks and the movie aired on the Wonderful World of Disney in December of 1997.”

In 2003, Godwin and her father moved to North Georgia and started Rivermont Farm together. They offered boarding, lessons, training and monthly hunter jumper shows for many years. In 2011, Godwin and her father considered fulfilling their long-time dream of relocating their farm to The Horse Capital of The World.

However, due to the housing market at the time, it took many years for Rivermont Farm to sell.

“Sadly, before we could sell the farm, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away in early 2013. I had lost my best friend and business partner. But I was still determined to keep our dream alive, so I kept with the business of the farm and the dream of moving to Ocala,” Godwin adds.

A month after her father passed, Godwin met her now husband Dr. Vince Mirarchi thought a mutual friend.

“Vince had never been on a farm and had never been around horses,” Godwin explained. “He was a former U.S. Army Flight Surgeon that was practicing in Alabama at the time. He was originally from Southern California, so let’s just say he was more familiar with the surf than the turf!”

However, Mirarchi’s grandfather happened to be an avid horseplayer who would occasionally take him to nearby Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos racecourses. Like Godwin, Vince would keep up with Triple Crown races over the years.

“I told Vince about a California-bred horse that was trained at Los Alamitos and a favorite for the Kentucky Derby. California Chrome caught his interest and Vince became an avid racing fan from then on!” Godwin adds.

Then, Godwin finally had the chance to make her Ocala dreams a reality.

“The farm finally sold in 2017, and we moved and continued Rivermont Farm in Ocala.”

While Godwin and Mirarchi didn’t necessarily have a particular plan to be in the horse racing business like they are today, they did so despite a tragic circumstance that could have been the end of their racehorse story before it even began.

“We owned one Thoroughbred mare that I had raised from a baby, and she was my show horse at the time. Her name was Buck The Attitude, aka Penny. She was a beautiful Storm Cat granddaughter who we bred to the Florida stallion Chitu in 2016. The plan was to hopefully race the baby, and once it retired, he would go on to be my next show horse. However, in late 2017, Penny became very sick, and we did everything we could to save her and the foal. Despite all the efforts of our tremendous veterinarians Penny, along with her unborn foal, lost the battle and died on Christmas Eve 2017,” recalls Godwin.

“We were devastated that our beloved mare was gone. It felt like everything ended on that Christmas Eve. But we didn’t want it to end like that. Several weeks later in an effort to ease our pain, we went to the Ocala Breeders’ Winter Mixed Sale and purchased two broodmares, an A.P. Indy daughter named Nacho Polo who was in foal at the time, and a Storm Cat daughter named Ballyhoo Kat who had a new baby by her side. We ended up racing that baby, and all of this ultimately led us to where we are today with our racing and breeding operation,” says Godwin.

Today, Rivermont Farm is 20 acres of heaven in the Fellowship area of Ocala. They raise not only Thoroughbreds on their farm, but Jack Russell Terriers and Pembroke Corgis.

“We own eight broodmares and five really nice yearlings that will head to the October OBS sale which are all sired by Florida stallions and of course all registered Florida-breds. I haven’t had any employees up to this point as I do everything from foaling out my mares, stall duty, mowing grass, you name it! Vince works as a physician, but when he’s off, he is a great carpenter and has finished our barn to perfection. We make a great team!” adds Godwin. “Most recently we are super excited about Loco Abarrio. His dam is our mare Ballyhoo Moon who we purchased for a mere $3,500 at Fasig Tipton because we owned her mom Ballyhoo Kat and her half-sister Faith’s a Bluebird. We bred her to Valiant Minister and that produced Loco Abarrio, who at only four is blacktype stakes placed with his recent third in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes and he has earned $234,000 so far.”

As much as Godwin loves every horse born at Rivermont, it is Mighty Miracle who remains the most special to date.

“Mighty Miracle’s dam was boarding at Rivermont and was given to me just a few weeks before she was due to foal. We still aren’t sure what happened or why, but she became severely neurological and went down in the stall for days. I never left her side, and thankfully, I was there when delivery began. When she finally did start to deliver, Miracle was a red bag delivery. His mom never even lifted her head after he was born so he never got to know her, which was so heartbreaking, but thankfully he made it,” Godwin recalls.

“I slept on a cot with him in the stall for a few days and bottle fed him until a nurse mare could be located. However, he had already imprinted on people, and to this day I think he would rather be with people than horses! He’s had so many challenges in his life – he’s had two colic surgeries, both times he had a small intestinal vovulus, he got pneumonia after the second surgery, and has had two chips taken from his knee. Despite all of that he still made it to the races! He lived with our trainer Kathy Ritvo for a long time, who I have no doubt loves him as much as we do. He came in third at Gulfstream in a Maiden Optional Claiming. However, in January, we decided it was time to retire him and bring him home. Today he’s living his best life back in the stall he was born in and spending his days in a big green pasture.”

Godwin hopes to start riding Mighty Miracle after he enjoys some time off just being a horse.

“He’s been such an inspiration to people, and even though he never won a race, I feel like he won the biggest race of all – he won the race of life! He has taught me so much and will always be one of my all-time favorite horses. He has so many Facebook fans and some have already visited the farm just so they could meet him in person. He really does have a great story!” Godwin adds.

With her years of riding OTTB’s prior to becoming involved with Thoroughbreds on the track, it’s no surprise she has a passion for Thoroughbred retirement.

“One favorite memories is taking a mare I got off the track in New Orleans to the [Retired Racehorse Project] Thoroughbred Makeover in 2016 and showing her in the hunters and jumpers. Her name was Lilies for Claire, and we finished eighth out of about 100 entries in our division. We were Champions in the jumpers for two years in a row at the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo as well,” Godwin says.

“Lilies for Claire is a great example of how a retired racehorse can go on to do great things after the racetrack! I also sold a retired racehorse named Wild Lil’ Kitten to friends in North Georgia who took him to the Makeover and finished second in the Dressage that year out of over 160-plus entries. It’s a huge passion of mine to help find great homes for these horses once their career is over at the track,” Godwin adds.

Return to the March 19 issue of Wire to Wire