Eventing Nation: Saving Pegasus’ Wings

Jenni Autry talks to Laine Ashker about her decision not to compete her four-star veteran, Anthony Patch, at Rolex this year.

Top photo: Lainey Ashker and Anythony Patch finished fifth at the Fair Hill CCI3* last year. Photo by Eclipse Photography.

From Jenni: Laine Ashker mentioned in her last blog for EN that she would not be competing her beloved Anthony Patch at Rolex this year. Today she talks more about why she made that decision and discusses her plans for the rest of the year with Al. In light of EN’s recent discussion on horsemanship, I’m giving two thumbs up to Laine for making the right decision for the sake of her horse. Take it away, Laine!

From Laine:

This time of year is always an exciting one! We often find ourselves anxiously waiting for Rolex to release the order of draw and checking the local tack store’s latest issue of The Chronicle of the Horse to see what beans the legendary Jimmy Wofford has spilled about our nation’s most formidable event horses and riders. Hotel arrangements and travel plans are being finalized, and Facebook is suddenly flooded with Rolex posts as users proudly display which horse and rider pair(s) for whom they are rooting! Ah yes, my friends, our nation’s most prestigious three day event, The Rolex CCI****, is soon to be upon us.

For quite some time now I have been used to the feelings this “exciting” or rather “nerve-wracking” time yields. For it is always certain that the last two weeks leading up to the biggest event of your life will be nothing short of exciting in every sense of the word. Every lump and bump on your horse that seemed minuscule in the winter now suddenly appears to be the end of the world, not to mention the inescapable feeling of being choked for time, because random problems in your partnership have now suddenly surfaced overnight. Oh how I remember the variety of emotions these two weeks bring, and I know exactly what my dear friends who are competing this year are going through, as I breathe a long, slow, deep sigh of relief.

Anthony Patch at Rolex in 2011. Photo by Allie Conrad.

However, I would not trade that feeling for the world, and although I am beyond elated to watch my fellow competitors shine throughout the winter season, I cannot help but feel slightly left behind in the dust. My decision to not run Al at Rolex was a difficult one. How I wish I could stress about my order of draw and spend ample time wondering what day I do dressage and whether I go cross country before or after the lunch break. But as the old adage goes, “You can’t put old heads on young shoulders,” and I am now, at the ripe old age of 29, fully capable of understanding just exactly what it means.

Al is 14 years old this year. I have had the pleasure of owning him since he was a gangly 4-year-old my mother purchased for me from Paul and Lauren Tjaden. After having accrued over five two-stars, seven three-stars, three four-stars and 526 career points, we have arrived at this moment. Point simple: time to savor a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Now I know that my career won’t end when Al’s does, and I am aware that there are other probably more talented horses in the world, but never have I experienced a feeling of limitless boundaries until I sit on Al. He, quite frankly, is my Pegasus. He makes me feel like I am a champion and that there is no dressage test or jump course that we couldn’t tackle. It is us against the world, and we’re the favorites to win. That, my friends, is called a partnership.

Al hams it up for the camera in Ocala earlier this season. Photo by Laine Ashker.

Being that Al is slightly “long in the tooth,” my new plan will be quality, not quantity. I will run him less, but rest assured that when we compete, we’re going for gold. My dream would be to have him for the World Equestrian Games next year in Normandy, and being that David O’Connor is sending a large U.S. contingent to Pau this fall in order to get a sense of the course designer Pierre Michelet’s work, my focus is strictly on how to book our ticket on that plane. To prep, for Pau I hope to take Al to a summer CIC*** either in Montana or Michigan and perhaps make a trip to Texas to one-up our performance from last year’s AECs.

Who knows where this year will take us? What is certain for now is that Anthony Patch is back in action, healthier and sounder than ever (touch wood for my anxious Rolex friends) and ready to show off his effortless extended trot in a dressage ring near you. Until next time guys, sit back, take a deep breath and stare longingly at your watches. The countdown to Rolex has begun. I may be biased, but I have a good feeling that the infamous red and yellow silks are going to be quite a standout as you watch them gallop by three times on Saturday.



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