Ashley Holzer Seeking to Ride for USA at Tokyo Olympics While Coaching Top Canadians to Compete Against Her

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Ashley Holzer and Valentine completing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida. © 2019 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Dec. 23, 2019

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Ashley Holzer has declared the intent to seek a place on her first American Olympic team after riding for Canada in four Games while at the same time coaching seven, yes, seven, prospects for Canada’s team.

If Ashley, a highly popular competitor and trainer, is successful in making the United States squad for Tokyo, she likely will compete head to head against the Canadian riders she is coaching.

The 56-year-old laughs at jokes about her built-in perpetual motion battery that seems to maintain a work schedule of 24 hours a day seven days a week doing what she loves–“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and think how lucky am I.”

The Canadians she’s coaching from her farm within hacking distance of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington, Florida include many of the best from north of the border.

Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu on All In on Canada’s 2015 Pan American silver medal team as well as at the 2018 World Equestrian Games; 2015 Pan Am team mate Chris von Martels; Lindsay Kellock, Naïma Moreira-Laliberté and Jill Irving that made up three of the four 2019 Pan Am gold medal team; Jacqueline Brooks, a team mate at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, as well as Denielle Gallagher LeGriffon.

And for her own goals, she has three Big Tour prospects for the U.S. team: Valentine, Havanna and Mango.

As she does often, Ashley bursts into laughter, as she describes the task ahead of her as both the Americans and Canadians, along with the prospective Japanese teams, and other riders from Denmark to Australia spend the next three months duelling in Wellington with the Oympics as a goal.

“Getting on the U.S. team is an extremely difficult task at the moment with how well poised, how stong, the Americans are,” she said.

With only three spots per team for Tokyo in July, unlike many previous Olympics and world championships with four combinations to allow a drop score, the emphasis is not just on the best competitors but also humans and horses fit enough to withstand the journey to Tokyo and climate extremes that have forced relocating some strenuous events from the Japanese capital.

Ashley Holzer on the American-owned Breaking Dawn at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Ashley’s fourth Olympics for Canada and her last major event wearing the maple leaf patch. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The next three months, she admits will be “very intensive.”

As for her own prospects with the U.S., “I’m going to see… no, I’m going to ask Vally if she wants to do her one-time changes,” referring to the nine-year-old Hanoverian mare that was a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, Rusty. She dropped plans to pursue a place at Small Tour on the U.S. team for the Pan Ams in Lima, Peru last summer to focus on developing Valentine as an Olympic prospect.

She might, she said, have to “steal” Havanna back from owner Diane Fellows. who is enjoying riding her. Havanna is a 12-year-old Hanoverian mare that was bought from German team rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and has been competed by Ashley on U.S. Nations Cup teams on both sides of the Atlantic.

Canada does not have a national coach like Germany and the United States, but depends on riders choosing their own training help.

“I’ve had these students for a long, long time,” Ashley said. “I am so happy that they are helping Canada out. It’s getting better for Canada. It’s exciting for me.

“I’m very happy with the way things are. as far as the coaching. It’s a very comfortable atmosphere. We’ve created a very good atmosphere at the barn and pushed everyone to be a little bit better.

Canadian gold medal team riders at the 2019 Pan American Games. Three of the four riders–Lindsay Kellock, Naïma Moreira-Laliberté and Jill Irving–were coached by Ashley Holzer. © Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images for FEI

“The thing I love about it is the horse care. I know that sounds crazy but we’re so determined to be the very best we can be with our horses, these riders are so up on the latest and greatest in horse care… they’re very on top of it. And I love learning from younger people, too. It’s kind of fun. They’re so greedy for more knoweldge that we’re all benefitting from it. It’s very rewarding.”

It would be great if some of the riders working with her make the Canadian team, she said, “but there are other Canadians trying out and they are incredibly talented and amazing riders. I admire how hard they work and their work ethic.

“I’m always about ‘may the best man win.’ My dad was always about go out and do your best and hope your best is better than the other person. I think if I can help them come out and be their best that’s great for me.

“On the other hand, they have the same hope for me. They are always helping me, being kind in critiquing me in a gentle, kind manner… because they don’t want to do more sitting trot (laughs).

“Joking aside. they are critial of me. They want me to be my best, too. I think that’s something I’m lucky to have. They all work to help each other to become a great team.”

Does she feel conflicted about the switch to ride under the Stars and Stripes rather than the Maple Leaf? She moved to the U.S. in 1994.

“I am glad I made the switch” she said. “There are times I think if I still rode for Canada I could be with these girls on a team. We would all be together. That would be kind of fun.

“On the other hand, this is my home. I’m an American. I kind of would feel like a fraud if I was riding for Canada because I don’t live there any more. I haven’t lived there for a long time.

“I would be excited to be on an American team. I’m an American. It’s weird for me sometimes because I have such strong Canadian bonds. If I’m going to go to the Olympics I need to be on the American team.

“These girls are Canadians, they were born there, live there. They train with me but they are Canadians. It would be fun to be on a team with them but I’d feel like a big fat fraud. Riding for any country than America would feel fraudulent.”

Ashley Holzer riding Havanna with the American Stars & Stripes on the saddle pad at Aachen. Germany in 2018. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“I have to say I have been blessed with being so included by the American team. I am the competition for the American riders. I go in the ring and compete but you would not know that up to a minute before the competition, they are incredibly generous with their time, incredibly generous with their comments, incredibly generous with ther enthusiasm.

“I have felt nothing but kindness when riding for this country. I’m very blessed that Debbie (McDonald, team coach) and Robert Dover (former team coach) have always been nothing but wonderful.”

Again, she jokes, “if they would just let you on the team with a 75? Is that too much to ask?

“You could be the winning rider from many countris with a 75. This country is incredibly competitive.”

It’s amazing, she said, what Laura Graves on Verdades, Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet. Adrienne Lyle on Salvino and Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper have done for dressage.

Is she going to be busy in the next few months? Ashley asked rhetorically.

“I’ve never shied away from hard work. I love it. Through great management you can control and organize busyness, if that makes sense. There’s very long hours, but it’s satisfying. I love working with the team I have.”

With her years of experience, Ashley is confident she has learned to do “a better job of creating the partnerships of horses and riders, suitability.

“I do not have a horse in this barn I am not excited to get on every single day, that is now the difference compared with the past.”

The 2015 Pan American Games medal teams–USA (center) gold, Canada (silver), Brazil bronze. Two of the four Canadian riders were coached by Ashley Holzer. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

For Ashley. this is a different stage in her life.

Her daughter, Emma, has graduated college and lives in Los Angeles, pursuing a career in music that has already been successful, while her son, Harrison, is still in college and also has been successful in movies.

“It’s a different stage in my life,” Ashley said. “My daughter lives in Los Angeles fulltime, graduated from college and pursuing her music and acting careers. My son is in college. There’s more time for me now than there used to be.”

And she ended her commitment to New York, moving fulltime to Wellington that she describes as “an incredible destination”–veterinarians, blacksmiths, footing experts and a whole range of equestrian support services all just minutes away.

“It’s less stressful to be here,” she said. “I think that allows for great training, great horse shows, a vet clinic on the corner. I don’t have the stress of the travel of the horses but you you can still be ring savvy. Being in this community, I think can help you become the best you can be. The community can help you to be good.”

The quality of horses capable of making teams is way different than ain the past–“they have talent that far outweighs the horses we used to ride. It’s a different game.”

That’s what makes the support that’s readily available in Wellington so important.