Eventing Nation: Laine Ashker – The reign of the thoroughbred continues

Four-star event rider Laine Ashker BELIEVES in thoroughbreds, and she’s happy to tell us all about it.

Laine Ashker has had a quiet spring season while her top four-star partner Anthony Patch has enjoyed a break from competition. She’ll be back competing Al at Surefire Horse Trials this summer with the hopes of making the team that represents the U.S. at Pau this fall. In the meantime, Laine sent us this wonderful blog talking about her love for Thoroughbreds. Take it away, Laine! – Jenni

Top photo: Laine and her TB youngster Raptor Force. Photo by S.L. Wolff Photography.

From Laine:

It’s been over a month since I have competed at a horse trials, and I am itching to get back into the normal, rather hectic, swing of things. Since my last update, I have moved back to picturesque Virginia at Hillbrook Farm near Richmond, where my horses are happily chomping down on the abundant green grass and clover-covered rolling hills that scatteringly decorate the Old Dominion countryside. Our busy summer schedule of events will start off with Waredaca Horse Trials and will continue through August with venues close in proximity in addition to longer pilgrimages to New York and Michigan state. It will be my first time at Richland Park Horse Trials, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to participate. Lots of excitement, smiles, beeping watches, pats on the neck and (hopefully) celebrations are in store for the summer of 2013.

I was a bit disappointed that I made the decision to stay at home instead of attend Rolex this year as a spectator. With so many people near and dear to me riding the show of their lifetime, in addition to seeing such talented first-timers make child’s play out of the four-star track, I only wish I could have been in attendance to support and cheer everyone along. The excitement in the air was palpable even watching it on the USEF Network, so I whole heartedly believe that being there in person would have been an indescribable feeling of pride and sportsmanship.

Although this year’s Rolex leader board was filled with the usual suspects, there were many first-time horse/rider combinations that really showed the selectors they’ve got what it takes to help the U.S. reach the podium next year and beyond. One of my favorite OTTBs (aside from my own, of course) Donner, who is ridden by my dear friend and fellow competitor Lynn Symansky, really demonstrated his freakish talent being the only U.S. pair to finish on their dressage score. And as to Lynn’s talent in the irons? Well, that goes without saying, and if you happen to be in question, well you just try riding around a four-star track … in a cast … AND go clear and inside the time. Talk about a clutch performance!

Laine and her TB youngster Road Star. Photo by S.L. Wolff Photography.

Meghan O’ Donoghue and her famously elegant OTTB gelding Pirate really impressed me over the weekend with three solid performances in their four-star debut. I have been a fan of that horse for years, and seeing him easily handle such difficult questions at Rolex only made my adoration of the little dark bay gelding exponentially amplify! One of my dearest eventing friends Hawley Bennett put in a stellar ride on Saturday and Sunday with Ginny exuberantly running clear across the country and leaving all the sticks up on Sunday. I was so disappointed for Hawley when the little fiery mare showed some tension during the dressage phase, as she is one Thoroughbred that has the movement to trump even the floatiest of warmblood trots!

If you’re noticing a theme of the Rolex horses I happened to highlight above, then chances are you too are an advocate of the Thoroughbred. Although I can and do appreciate all breeds of horses, it warms my heart to see that even throughout all the changes the sport of eventing has endured, the Thoroughbred still prevails. Programs such as ReRun and The Jockey Club TIP (Thoroughbred Incentive Program) have done a fabulous job of offering classes and prizes at shows nationwide and are constantly bringing awareness and appreciation to a breed that will continue to evolve with an ever-changing sport.

Stuart Pittman’s Retired Racehorse Training Project is yet another ingenious method of bringing top professionals and track projects together to demonstrate the trainability of the Thoroughbred and the breed’s ability to change and adapt from one extreme sport to another. Having always competed Thoroughbreds since the beginnings of my career as a rider, specifically ones off the track, these programs that promote and endorse the breed are near and dear to my heart, and I hope that any one who reads this is inspired to learn more about each of these amazing programs and many other ones that I have accidentally left out!

Calling All Comets as a baby and all grown up.

With the excitement of Rolex finally beginning to dissipate, we now look forward to the summer and fall eventing seasons. With that being said, I am pleased to announce that Al will be back in action starting mid June at Surefire Horse Trials. After having competed greenies all year leading up until now, it will sure be a nice change to ride my longtime partner of nearly 11 years. Riding Al is similar to wearing my favorite pair of jeans: no matter how many new pairs I buy, nothing can replace my coveted blue jeans that seamlessly flaunt my assets yet quickly hide my flaws (yes, I just compared my horse to a pair of True Religion jeans).

My plan for Albert is to run him a couple times slowly at prelim or intermediate before running him Advanced at Millbrook, then onto the three star at Richland! My long term goal for this year is to have a spot on the U.S. team that travels to Pau in the fall, so until then my main priority will be building up his fitness, honing his dressage and jumping skills, and maintaining a happy and, most importantly, sound horse at the end of the day.

The next best thing to having Albert back in action is taking my mom’s and my Thoroughbred homebred 4-year-old gelding Calling All Comets (yes, he is a half brother to Becky Holder’s Courageous Comet) to his first event this month at Seneca Valley PC Horse Trials. Mom backed and started Comet a couple years ago and after he scaled every mountain, crossed every river and hopped across every ravine she could find in Northern California, she decided that it was time that he make his eventing debut on the East Coast with yours truly! The only thing that could possibly match the sense of pride that I get from taking a project from the track to the top level of our sport of eventing is doing the same thing with ones that my mother and myself have bred and raised (quite literally) from day one.

Lots of excitement is now underway with the summer season now in full swing. In between shows, I will be traversing the country teaching various clinics in Kentucky, Minnesota and California to name a few, in addition to making a few trips up to Pennsylvania to visit my coach for some jump lessons. Until next time, eyes up, shoulders back and enjoy the regal beast that stands between you and your saddle. It is that indistinguishable feeling that helps us all to understand why they say eventing is the “sport of kings!” Ride on!


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