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Ashley Harrell adeptly navigates travel and wellness with rheumatoid arthritis

A woman smiling broadly and standing to the left with her body angled slightly towards the camera. She has long brown hair, is wearing a dark blue t-shirt with a logo on the left side, and appears to be enjoying a moment with a horse. The horse, positioned on her right, has a sandy blonde coat and is wearing a blue halter. The background suggests an equestrian setting, possibly an arena, with trees and a fence visible in the distance.
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Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at just twelve years old, Ashley Harrell’s health condition led her to discover new pathways to stay connected with her love of horses. As a former competitive rider turned equine-assisted healing practitioner, the former Delaware native now calls the British Virgin Islands home, working at the all-inclusive Aerial BVI Resort, a sanctuary for those seeking solace through the therapeutic power of equines, serenity and well-being. 

For Ashley, the Aerial BVI Resort is a place where her experiences with RA and love for horses merge to foster healing. Despite its limited accessibility, with only four of its thirteen rooms fully accessible, the resort’s commitment to inclusivity shines through. Staff go above and beyond to accommodate guests with mobility challenges, ensuring everyone can experience the tranquility and beauty of the resort. The resort’s wellness ethos extends beyond equine healing. With offerings like red light therapy, cold water plunges and massage services, it is a luxurious haven for holistic well-being. This commitment to wellness resonates deeply with Ashley.

 

An aerial view of a lush, green peninsula jutting into clear blue waters. Several upscale buildings with thatched roofs are scattered along the ridge, enjoying expansive views of the surrounding sea. The coastline features a mix of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, providing a natural boundary for this secluded retreat. To the left, a calm bay with boats anchored near the shore is visible, while the right side showcases the open ocean, hinting at a vibrant marine ecosystem below the surface.

Equine-assisted healing is at the heart of her work at the resort, where horses are more than just animals; they are partners in the healing process. This is beneficial for a wide range of individuals including trauma survivors, veterans, first responders and those experiencing mental or emotional challenges. Ashley’s approach, rooted in her personal journey with RA and deep connection with horses, brings a unique empathy and understanding to her sessions, making them profoundly impactful.

A woman in a purple tank top and black leggings is kneeling and affectionately touching foreheads with a white horse. She has her hand gently placed on the horse's side, creating a moment of connection between human and animal. The horse, which has a light mane and is wearing a halter, stands inside a fenced area with natural sunlight illuminating the scene.

Travel also plays a significant role in Ashley’s life, offering her a window to the world’s wonders and the challenge of navigating them with RA. Accessibility is a key theme in her travel narrative. Destinations are chosen for their accessibility and the feasibility of activities that do not exacerbate her condition. She speaks candidly about the meticulous planning required to ensure she can still indulge her love for exploration and nature without compromising her health—from assessing the accessibility of natural wonders in Iceland to ensuring rest days are woven into her itineraries.

“I’ve always loved to travel,” Ashley said, “and my husband and I have now decided to do at least two trips per year. I love nature, hiking and walking, but I have to keep in mind that I’ll have to deal with chronic pain and fatigue so I usually build in a rest day or something-that-is-easier day. It takes my body a little bit longer to recharge than my husband’s but he is very understanding.”

A couple holding hands and smiling as they walk down a cobblestone street. The man is on the left, wearing a teal printed shirt and beige shorts. The woman is on the right, wearing a strapless teal dress. The street is lined with colorful buildings and a lantern is visible in the background. They appear happy and relaxed, enjoying their stroll.

Ashley admits that living in the Caribbean has resulted in less frequent chronic pain. When it rains, she’s a little sore, but “I’m not dealing with big temperature fluctuations or cold days, so being in a warm tropical climate has absolutely helped me.” This does not mean that she stays away from cold temperatures altogether. She visited Iceland recently and shared the trip on her blog, Rheum2Roam. See her 5 Day Accessible Iceland Itinerary. She advises that one should be in tune with their body’s needs and know that sometimes you may want to try something and that’s okay, as long as you’re aware that you’ll need to rest fully the next day.

“I had to learn to listen to my body. Surrounding myself with a great support structure helped. Friends who understand that I might cancel the last minute, a very wonderful husband who has learned about me dealing with chronic pain and fatigue. . . Now I’m in a place where I have a really beautiful purpose. I still get to be around horses although I’m not usually on them anymore, but working with them to help other people heal has been incredibly fulfilling.”

The resort’s ethos of intentional living and wellness mirrors Ashley’s approach to life: mindful, purposeful and always in tune with the natural world. This, to her, this is luxury. Intentionally created spaces, upscale, coastal cottage-style living, being kissed daily by the warm Caribbean sunshine and caressed by its soothing cool breeze—this is luxury and this is paradise!

“When I think of luxury, of course, The Aerial comes first to mind. We are a beautiful high-end wellness resort, but it also feels very homey, comfortable and intentional. I love intentionally created spaces that reflect the culture they’re in and here it’s about wellness.” 

Ashley believes that with keen self-awareness and strategic planning, the world is still very much open to exploration, regardless of physical limitations. 

Learn more at her blog, Rheum2Roam or at the Aerial BVI resort

Two women enjoying a sunny day horseback riding on a tropical beach. The woman in the foreground is on a large black horse with prominent fluffy fetlocks, smiling towards the camera. She's wearing a cap, a light-colored tank top, and shorts. The second woman, in the background, is riding a smaller brown horse and is also smiling, dressed in a pink top and dark pants. They are riding on sandy ground, with lush green hills, palm trees, and a traditional thatched-roof structure in the background, under a bright blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds.
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