A Day in the Life of Ashley Holzer – Photos and Text by Kenneth J. Braddick
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Ashley Holzer is, depending on who you talk to, Superwoman, Iron Lady (tough to do what she does but with not a mean bone in her body), simply “Amazing.” Many other phrases, not surprisingly, are applied, all glowing.
Ashley is world class–four Olympics, including the only Olympic medal, team bronze, for her native Canada two decades ago.
At the age of 54 and now riding for the United States as she’s lived longer south of the border than in Canada, Ashley’s lifelong passion and unrelenting daily schedule has built a career at top sport that has no end in sight.
This day begins at the Global Dressage Festival show grounds in Wellington, Florida before sunrise, barely eight hours since she left the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center’s Stadium complex after riding the horse Havanna to victory in a World Cup Grand Prix and coaching four other combinations hoping to beat her in the same class.
P.J. Rizvi of Greenwich, Connecticut, on Breaking Dawn is her first lesson for the day, before sunrise.
It clearly is the start of day for horse people (but not us media types who often work deep into the night to prepare reports and edit photos of the previous day’s competition so they’re ready for readers and viewers.
In the early hours, trainers are doing their thing, eagle-eyed despite the early morning light.
Debbie McDonald, in the closest booth, coach of American team riders Laura Graves, Kasey Perry-Glass, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, Adrienne Lyle and others. Furthest away is Ton de Ridder (and his wife), coach of numerous international riders and national teams over the years, working with Yvonne Losos de Muñiz of the Dominican Republic enjoying the best results of her career. At center is Ashley Holzer with Canadian Jill Irving, a fun-loving and popular competitor who also supports some of her country’s high performance competitors, including giving the ride on her Small Tour star Soccer City to Brittany Fraser, also coached, by Ashley. Jill is there early to be coached with two horses.
Global has become the center of top sport in the Western Hemisphere since it was created in 2012 and now is a winter-long circuit of seven CDIs with prize money of more than $600,000. Some of Ashley’s friends and clients are sponsors.
On to her farm about a mile (1.6km) from Global. A covered arena has been newly built behind the main outdoor training rings.
First things first.
Checking on the horses in her barn.
Among the horses she is riding now are three prospective United States team mounts all at Grand Prix: Havanna, owned by Diane Fellows, Radondo, owned by Diana Rose and Sir Caramello, owned by P.J. Rizvi’s Peacock Ridge.
Diana Rose of North Salem, New York, explains with a big smile a view of Ashley that is common: “We bought this horse (Radondo) for Ashley to compete because we believe she can ride it for the United States team. I’m 72 years old and still take lessons from Ashley. I’ll do so for as long as I’m able and she is willing to teach me.”
Not to be overlooked in Ashley’s barn is the Wall of Fame, that is a bit outdated, but not so the box of Dunkin’ Donuts, two boxes of which she bought fresh, one for the stewards at Global before dawn and the other for her grooms at the barn–the contents of which she described as her “favorite food group.” As a gracious host, she made this visitor a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, a preference shared over the popular global brand.
A rare moment of sitting for Ashley with her daughter’s dog, Toto, as she teaches at her farm but no mistaking her body language.
Ashley riding Mango Eastwood, owned by Diane Fellows.
“Your job,” she explains in basketball parlance, “is to set up the shot. Your whole goal is training the horse to be ready. It’s the horse’s job to execute.”
Another lesson at her farm, Ashley giving it all.
Brittany Fraser, the top ranked Big Tour Canadian on All In, her 2015 Pan American Games team silver medal mount, replies simply to a question about the attraction of working with Ashley: “Who do you know who USED to work with her?”
Soccer City ridden by Brittany Fraser, Small Tour star combination at Global this winter circuit. Brittany on All In and Chris von Martels on Zilverstar, both working with Ashley, helped Canada to team silver at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
Back at Global, Ashley warms up Valentine for a national Prix St. Georges. Germany’s Michael Klimke is in the background at the Wellington venue that typically attracts competitors and trainers from more than two dozen nations for the 12-week winter circuit.
Ashley, obviously enjoying the ride on Valentine, wins the class.
To see how she did, Ashley looks at the video shot by manager Lila Chase while drinking a Snapple iced tea, the only refreshment Ashley was seen to take at this point except for a cup of coffee earlier in the day. Staff, students and friends long ago gave up trying to entice Ashley to change how she sustains herself. Part of the legend.
Rusty Holzer, Ashley’s husband, stops by.
Ashley and Rusty have two children, Emma and Harrison, now in their 20s and both are Hollywood movie stars.
Rusty is the son of a wealthy 1960s New York celebrity. He is an investor and was a jumper rider who competed for the U.S. Virgin Islands team in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. They operate equestrian centers in New York City and Wellington.
Naima Moreira Lalibert is next up on I Do Kiss. The 21-year-old Canadian has logged first and second places in two Under-25 starts in Wellington this season.
Ashley stops for a quick lunch with Diana Rose (left) and Jacqueline Brooks and her mother, Mary. The two riders were on Canada’s team at the 2008 Olympics, Ashley on Pop Art and Jacqueline on Gran Gesto. The pair were again on Canada’s team at the London Games in 2012, Ashley on Breaking Dawn and Jacqueline on D Niro.
Jill Irving gets tips from Ashley. Jill performed on the European circuit with Ashley and P.J. Rizvi last summer, developing their horses and making the most of the high performance circuit that was enjoyed by the top riders at some premier events.
Volker Moritz, from Germany, a retired FEI 5* judge and sometime high performance consultant to the Canadian team, pays his respects to Ashley at ringside.
Eliane Cordia van Reesema on Codiak of Jewel’s Court Stud get Ashley’s blessing before heading into Small Tour competition. Eliane’s stud has operations in Connecticut, Florida and Belgium
No, Ashley is not praying to the flowers. She was demonstrating to Eliane Cordia van Reesema on Codiak how to ride her Small Tour. Whatever, it worked.
Eliane is happy with the ride.
Time to give more lessons at her training center before preparing for the rest of her day, to end in darkness as it began.
Some last minute advice from United States team coach Robert Dover. Former manager Lindsay Kellock, who is building her own training business, looks on while her cousin, Hanna Bundy, adjusts tack. The heaviest rain of the night came just in time for Ashley’s ride.