Laine Ashker is gearing up for her return to Rolex this year, her fourth trip with her veteran OTTB partner, Anthony Patch. Laine graciously took a few minutes to answer some of our questions as she prepares her mental game for the upcoming competition. Thank you to Laine for her time, and thank you for reading!
EN: Who who was your riding idol growing up?
Laine: Karen O’Connor, hands down. Obviously Buck is my biggest influence right now, but she has been my riding idol ever since I was a little girl. She’s ridden horses as big as Biko and as small as Teddy, and I think she is one of the most fierce competitors there is.
I was at Red Hills when I was about 17 in the two-star, and I was riding back from finishing cross country. She passed me and asked what my time was. I said I was a couple seconds over and she said, ‘Ok I have to beat that.’ The fact that she was competitive with someone like me, who was a nobody — I took it as a compliment!
EN: What was it about Anthony Patch that made you think he’s the real deal?
Laine: Four-star is a bit of luck. You can have something with talent, but if they don’t have heart they just aren’t going to do it. Al had great movement on the lunge and he was exactly my sort of type. But I have to say, it took me four two-stars to get a qualifying score. It took me awhile to figure out how to ride him.
The biggest thing with him is to build a relationship. We haven’t had success because I’m an amazing rider but because of our relationship. Any success that we’ve had is a direct result of that.
I’ve stuck with him over his freakouts over cows, which got to be almost dangerous at times. He trusts me and I trust him — that counts for 90% of it. What I saw was typical of any horse — he was obviously talented and looked like an event horse but it wasn’t really until I started building a relationship that I had success with him.
EN: What is the biggest piece of advice you’ve received for your career?
Laine: I’m a very mental rider, probably a result of things that have happened, and my head game gets in the way of my physical game. Buck always tells me to go in and take a deep breath. There’s so many ups and downs in this sport, and I’ve found that in riding, you take one step forward and three steps back.
So always remember to take that deep breath. Take one thing at a time — take one jump at a time and one day at a time. It’s something we always have to remember.
EN: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Laine: Coming back to Rolex in 2010 and finishing in the top 15 with Al. It was coming back and tackling after the experience that I had (in 2008) and being able to overcome so many different fears and things that were blocking me.
The fact that he placed well was secondary — it was getting through those finish flags and realizing that I can do this. I’ve made mistakes as a rider, but we battled those demons and just beat them. It just was reaffirmation that we belonged and that I could do it. Winning the AECs was amazing as well and his career has been incredible, but the one thing that stands out is that year at Rolex.
EN: Did you always want to go back to Rolex after your accident?
Laine: It was always me thinking, ‘I have to get back on.’ It really wasn’t until after the end of 2008 when I ended up getting nervous, and I called Buck and said ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’
It was the mental part. I did Intermediate the whole spring and one Advanced before the three-star at Jersey Fresh, and once I sort of got back into it and ignored everything it felt better. I did no interviews for two years, it was just that reading everything and being a part of social media made it so much harder.
I was able to find the fun again and figure out why I do this. I don’t do it to impress anyone. I do love being a face and role model but why I do it is because I love the horses and I love the people. I’ve had a lot of support from my own peers and I had to just find solace in my horses and in myself and do some deep soul searching.
Going back to Kentucky was the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do, but I am a true believer in learning from every mistake. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, which is unfortunately very cliché for me. I have learned, and fortunately I had to learn the hard way and my horse had to learn the hardest way. I’ve wanted to make sure that whatever happens, I learn from it.
I will make mistakes in the future but I was able to take away from that. I am maybe a more mental rider now. Without the support of my family and my coach it would have been impossible but I already had a great horse in Al and I had my mom there with me. I had a couple of mental breakdowns but, like Buck told me, I took one breath at a time and lo and behold got through the finish line. I wasn’t there to make time or to win. I was just there to do what I knew I could do.
If you read what people are saying bad about you — and that’s the responsibility that anyone at this level has — you will accept the consequences of people being upset. That’s the sort of thing you have to expect. I was sort of thrust into that position from the accident. I didn’t go from being a star to being a fallen star; I had to build my way back up. I did it through being quiet and using social media as a positive thing.
EN: If you weren’t riding what would you be doing?
Laine: I would be doing something in high fashion, probably living in a little cubicle in New York but loving it. I love fashion and makeup. I love the trot ups because you can really express your individuality.
My family is big into music; my dad had a studio and my mom was a recording artist. We’ve both sung the national anthem at sporting events. I love fast paced life, which is why I thrive on eventing. I like being the spokesperson for something, so music or fashion would be my choice.
EN: Speaking of fashion, do you already have your Rolex trot up outfits planned?
Laine: I’ve got my first one already planned out, my second one is still being planned. You never know because of the weather. I am so proud of myself — I’ve been working on what makes me tick and ride the best, and for me feeling confident in myself is fun so I’ve take it upon myself to lose some weight. Not only because my horses are small, but if I feel more confident in myself then I ride better. I’m hoping to get a couple size smaller pants for Rolex, so that will be my reward to myself. Just feeling better about myself and feeling confident helps me perform better.
EN: What kind of advice do you give a student getting ready to do their first cross country course?
Laine: If it’s their first event, we school harder at home so that at the event, in theory, it should be easier. The first one is the last thing to leave the flags is your shoulders — keep your shoulders back. I also preach warrior mentality. But you have to have fun. That is why we do this sport, for the fun — especially for a first timer.
EN: What horse would you take a spin on, past or present?
Laine: I’m a big fan of Barb’s horse Everready! I love that she bred him, and he looks like a really fun horse to ride. I would also love to ride Totilas’ extended trot just one time just to feel that sort of grandeur and power and to feel what it’s supposed to feel like.
EN: What are your favorite things about C4?
Laine: C4 has been a great supporter. I love that we can customize our colors and let our personalities out. I plan to do a logo design with my new logo, so keep an eye out for that! I love that it’s for a good cause, and I’m big sort of organic person and so it’s graet that they’re made with recyclable materials. Thinking green and going green is the way to go.
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