The decision to retire a horse is never an easy one, and it came as an especially difficult blow for Laine Ashker, who announced the retirement of her longtime partner, Anthony Patch, on Monday.
Laine had been aiming for a return to Rolex Kentucky next month, hoping to go out with a bang on the horse that skyrocketed her career to new heights. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the pair had some uncharacteristic trouble on cross country while contesting the CIC3* at Carolina International over the weekend.
“Al can’t speak to me directly, but I’ve known him long enough and what he has never done is quit on me,” Laine said. “I have to listen to what he’s trying to tell me, and it was the first time that he really ever told me no.”
After the abrupt end to her weekend, Laine had Al checked over by her veterinary team, who told her that she could still make that final push for Kentucky if she wanted to try.
“He is sound, but one thing I never want to do is go out of the start box on a horse that isn’t 110% with me,” she explained. “I really wanted to go to Rolex again, but he owes me nothing. I’m so lucky to have that horse. I wouldn’t want to go to Kentucky and get eliminated or come back with a broken horse, so I’d rather retire him now while he is sound and happy.”
At 18, Anthony Patch has become a household name for eventing fans in the U.S. and beyond, and Laine said he gave her the strength to keep going following her accident at Rolex in 2008 when she lost Frodo Baggins. For all of these things and more, Laine says it’s an honor to call Al hers.
“He’s such a special horse to have taken me as far as he has,” Laine said. “It’s truly an honor to have that little horse who has been such a great ambassador for the sport and who has motivated so many people. He represents so much hope and I’m just so appreciative that he gave that to me.”
“The night before cross country at my first Rolex after my accident, I had a mental breakdown,” she continued. “It wasn’t because I was scared — Al has always kept me safe — but I had so many demons and terrible memories. That next day, Al helped me create positive memories of that course, and we navigated it as a team. I will never forget that ride coming back.”
Laine also added completing her first Burghley to the list of her all-time favorite memories with Al. “I remember telling my mom that I hoped I’d get to ride him at Burghley one day when I first started him,” she recalled. “I had the worst preparation for Burghley, and he went out there with me having no confidence and we made it through the finish flags. It was a dream come true for me.”
Above all, Laine says she just wants to have a happy, healthy horse for as many years as possible. “I want to have the luxury of enjoying him,” she said. “I imagine he could come back and do some Preliminary or Intermediate events with someone who wants to learn how to really be competitive, and I think he will enjoy it because he’s not the type of horse who can’t have a job.”
Ultimately, Laine is making peace with her decision to retire Al. “I’m really bummed, because even this weekend he felt like the one to beat. It will be awhile before my other horses are ready to step into those shoes, so it’s a big void,” she said.
“But I have to remember that they will get there; I just have to continue putting that time in. He stepped up for me when I had lost everything, and I know that they will eventually be able to step up to the plate as well.”
Laine has some sharp talent coming up through the levels in Flagmount’s Spartan, owned by Laine and Tera Call; her mother Valerie’s homebred Calling All Comets; and also the off-track Thoroughbred Call Him Paddy. In time, Laine knows she will once again have the horse to take her back to the very top of the sport.
At the end of the day, Laine knows the journey with her heart horse isn’t over, and she will always have the fondest memories of her time at the top with Al
“I’m looking forward to seeing him teach someone the ropes and continuing to enjoy him. What Al represents is for the kids out there who don’t have the money but have the dream. It is possible to make it and get the result,” Laine said.
“I hope people don’t stop screaming #GoAlGo and I hope they never forget him. I will never forget that feeling, and I know Al won’t either. That’s why I had to retire him. I could never take anything away from him when he’s done so much for me.”