Laine Ashker: The Underdog Returns!

Laine Ashker returns this month with some very exciting news: Anthony Patch has returned to competition after a long period of time off following Fair Hill last fall. Many thanks to Laine for giving us an inside look at Al’s last two events at Surefire and Maryland, her plans for this fall — which involve Pau! — as well as her take on “The List.” Take it away, Laine!

Al shows off his TIP ribbon from the Maryland Horse Trials.

From Laine:

“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I have always found solace in the words of the late great Bill Shakespeare, and every time I think about how lucky I am to be sitting on my Albert, this line always resonates with me. After having some time off earlier this year after a phenomenal fall season with Al, it was time to bring my champ back to competition starting with the (very competitive) class at Surefire Horse Trials that hosted more than five Rolex horses all duking it out for the preliminary champion title. I was fortunate enough to be able to squeeze a lesson in with David O’Connor the day before Surefire, which was extremely helpful in creating a more collected canter and improving my seat aids, which, after having been married to Al for going on 10 years now, result in a delayed reaction or, like in some lengthy marriages, get ignored completely.

Al was in perfect form the next day for his 2013 eventing debut. Although I wished I had asked for more collection, more movement and more thrust in all the gaits, I was pleased with his calm demeanor despite having a meltdown in his last dressage test at Fair Hill in October. His show jumping was flawless despite his rider feeling slightly rusty and not completely in tune with him. Although I usually run Al in a full cheek gag for advanced level cross country to help with straightness over corners and angled lines, I decided to run him in the loose ring snaffle since I wouldn’t be going fast, and I was so pleased with how relaxed he stayed as he cantered around the undulating hills Surefire’s demanding course is built on. Just having my boy back in action added a bit of pep to my step from that day forward. Yes folks, I got my swag back!

Al’s second competition this year was held at the beautifully manicured and ornately run Maryland Horse Trials. This time I decided that I would begin to ask for that collection and movement that DOC had extracted from us a few weeks prior, and although my test wasn’t perfect, we managed to subtract nearly 10 points off of our test in addition to earning a “best extension of the day” comment from our judge! This time around in the show jumping, I was riding him more forward and fluid, and the cross country round was so steady and rhythmical that we came through the finish flags on a loose rein and literally spot on the optimum time without me looking at my watch once! Al finished up his first two shows with a third, a fourth and the very coveted TIP award given to the highest placed OTTB in each division.

He's back!

With the first two shows behind us, we now look onward to the remainder of our summer season, beginning with Millbrook and culminating at Richland CIC***. My sights are still very much set on Pau CCI**** in the fall, and even though we were not included on the USEF High Performance Summer/Fall Training List, I still have a lot of confidence that this trip is still well within our reach!

Which brings me to my final topic, which happens to be a touchy one: the “list.” Years ago when I was far less experienced and blinded with ambition, I used to drive myself crazy about being on the “list.” However, as I have aged and as the horses, the experiences and the humility have knocked some sense into me, I have discovered that being on the “list” is not the end all be all when it comes to this sport.  I can understand why Al and I were left off the list simply because we did absolutely nothing this year by way of showing, and therefore we gave our spot away to other talented up-and-coming pairs who have proven themselves this spring and really do deserve to have a spot on the training list.

Buck Davidson always tells me that in order to earn a spot on the list, “ You have to get results that get noticed,” which I am confident we can do come this August. Plus, I have always found that I perform better while being in the underdog position, the guy who comes from out of nowhere so to speak, so perhaps my being left off of the list is a blessing in disguise. One thing is for sure, I have 100 percent confidence in our U.S. selectors and our coach, and I know that when it comes to the best decisions for what horses and riders will yield the best results for our country that the small group of individuals who proudly stand on top of that podium will be there because they earned every minute of that grandeur and will be thoroughly supported by those who fell just slightly short of it.

There will always be a “next time,” and it is in that very hope for a “next time” that I continue to find my endless drive and motivation. I will not stop until my goals are achieved. When this will happen I haven’t the slightest idea, but all my bets lie within the little brown horse that’s forever changed my riding career and also stolen my heart. Go Al.

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