Isle of Wight County, Va. - For Ashley, finding the ability to trust hasn’t come easy.
“I could trust this horse with my life,” Ashley says.
It’s a life, just a few years ago, she never imagined could exist.
“It was all just me doing whatever I could to tune it out,” she says. “It was me just trying to forget.”
For seven years, Ashley lived at the mercy of her then adoptive father, Christopher Meyers. With her mom out of the picture, she was isolated at home from her half brother and sister. Meanwhile Meyers starved, abused, manipulated and raped Ashley.
“I was just always told that it was my fault and that it wasn't going to change,” she says.
Before her 18th birthday, she confided in a guidance counselor. Meyers was arrested and convicted and Ashley was finally free from his control.
However, her road to recovery was just beginning.
“There were quite a few months where I didn't want to be happy because I didn't think I could be,” Ashley says.
However, Steve Edwards made her happiness his mission. Steve runs a farm, Mill Swamp Indian Horses, out of Smithfield. In his day job though, he’s Isle of Wight’s Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney and represented Ashley in court.
As a prosecutor, he’s fought for child sexual abuse victims for more than 15 years, but what Ashley endured, he says, was the worst case he’s ever seen.
“I felt a special responsibility to make sure that she got through this process right,” he says.
For Ashley, horses gave her an outlet to run away from her past -- an outlet Edwards uses to help his young clients heal.
“There is something, there is something psychologically different about the connection that you can make with a horse,” Edwards says.
“I just thought, well if I can open up with a horse, I can open up with someone else that isn't going to hurt me,” Ashley says. “I feel like this is the best way to combat, I guess combat my childhood.”
In 2012, Ashley’s childhood of abuse was finally over. Christopher Meyers was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
“I am no longer controlled by that family,” Ashley says. “I have my own control.”
Ashley Meyers wanted a fresh start. She wanted a new last name.
And again it was a mission Steve Edwards took on.
“I couldn't say anything because I was crying by the time he said ‘Oh, I don't know maybe you can change your name to Edwards, and I instantly felt that that is what I’m missing,” she says. “I've been missing a father, an actual, actual father and I got one.”
Officially Ashley Edwards, Steve is now in the process of adopting her.
“All things considered the most impressive kid that I’ve ever met,” he says.
With a new family, new name and newfound trust, Ashley is riding into a new chapter.
She now wants to lead other victims from their pain.
“I want to show other people that power. I want to show other people that they can be strong like I am.”