Ashley Holzer With Three Prospects for USA Team for Tokyo Olympics

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Ashley Holzer on Mango Eastwood completing the 2020 Adequan Global Dressage Festival with a Big Tour victory. © 2020 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, June 9, 2020–With three Grand Prix horses, Ashley Holzer could have more prospects in pursuit of a place on her first American Olympic team than in the four Games she rode for Canada, including earning bronze in 1988.

The three are Mango Eastwood that put the pair fourth in ranking of combinations seeking to be on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Games before Covid-19 brought a halt to qualifying and postponement of the Olympics; Radondo that has barely tipped his hoof in Big Tour so far and Valentine, named for the gift from her husband on the occasion of that celebration entered for national Grand Prix this week.

Ashley, based in Wellington and this year staying home through the steamy tropical summer because of the coronavirus, is also coaching the four Canadian combinations top ranked internationally, though by live video as all four of her students are north of the border.

The horses will be aged between 11 and 15 when the Tokyo Games are scheduled to be staged in the summer of 2021–so long as the virus is under control. Foreigners from 111 countries are currently banned from entering Japan due to the CoVid-19 pandemic.

Eastwood, an 11-year-old KWPN gelding (Wynton x Sandro Hit)), is the leading mount for Ashley who, behind her hand whispers, “Don’t tell Poppy but this one might be better,” referring to Pop Art that was her mount on the Canadian team at the 2008 Olympics.

Ashley Holzerv riding Pop Art for Canada at the 2008 Olympics. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Eastwood was bought as a nine-year-old from Jordi Domingo, who rode for Spain also at the 2008 Olympics. He competed Eastwood in international young horse classes before being sold to Diane Fellows, a longtime sponsor of Ashley.

Jordi also sold his Statesman that he partnered on Spain’s team at the 2017 European Championships before being bought by Naïma Moreira Laliberté, a young star for Canada who is coached by Ashley, and was on the Pan American Games gold medal team in 2019 that earned a start in Tokyo.

“Jordi did an amazing job,” Ashley said of Eastwood that she rode in four international Grand Prix competitions at this winter’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, the pair’s first Big Tour performances.

Ashley, who jokes she doesn’t do math to figure her age any more but rode in her first Olympics, on Canada’s bronze medal team at Seoul in 1988 when she was 25 years old, described Eastwood as “just a machine. I think when I get the kinks out of there this horse is going to be spectacular. He has more spring, he has more power, he’s a bigger horse than Poppy was.

“I think this horse has the scope. When he makes mistakes, he wants to get right back to work. He doesn’t hold anything against me. It doesn’t matter, he doesn’t throw in the towel, he just goes to the next thing.”

She has had what she puts down to “a lot of luck with a lot of horses.” Among them, Pop Art “an amazing partner in the ring… one of those horses you could always depend on” that she competed at the World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2009 the year after their Olympic appearance. And at the 2012 London Games, she rode Breaking Dawn, owned by P.J. Rizvi who with her husband produced the “Twilight” series of big grossing movies.

The 2012 Olympics were Ashley’s last international championship for Canada before switching to ride under the Stars and Stripes in 2017. 

Ashley Holzer on Radondo. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Radondo, a 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding bred by Blue Hors (Romanov x Don Schufro) and owned by Diana Rose, was successful at both Small and Medium Tours in Europe in 2017 and 2018.

The duo has been competed at Big Tour by Ashley twice, once in the 2018 and in February this year, both times in Wellington.

Ashley clearly has a soft spot for Valentine aside from being a Valentine’s Day present six years ago, another of the horses of today that she can’t say enough about their talent and athleticism.

“It’s been a journey,” she laughs, “tricky as a young horse, very successful but an incredibly opinionated young mare that taught me to ride gently.”

The pair logged 10 straight victories at Small Tour last year, plus a second and two third places that helped the United States win gold at Global’s Nations Cup.

And the two won a qualifier for the newly created national developing Grand Prix series at Global, the final competition of the 2020 circuit before it was shut down by Covid-19 causing the series final to be deferred until the start of the 2021 circuit. The goal had been to take Valentine to Europe along with Eastwood that was likely to be named to an American squad from which the Tokyo team would be selected.

Now, “Vally” as she’s called in the barn, is entered in the Grand Prix at a U.S. federation-approved event in Wellington this coming weekend.

“She’s a partner now,” Ashley said, “fun to ride.”

“I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that every day is a gift,” she said. “When you see a horse come from where she came… she was quite the teenage girl, what do we call her, a ‘drama queen’.

“She was definitely not always on board. Quite a queen. She bangs the door at feed time because she wants to be fed first. We call her ‘Princess Vally’.”

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

While she’s developing horses to ride on what she hopes will be an American Olympic team, Ashley speaks of her Canadian students that she not only describes as “incredible” individuals but “an incredible group together.”

Brittany Fraser, the top ranked Canadian on All In, who missed the 2019 Pan American Games as she gave birth to her first child last summer, is stabled in Montreal at Naïma Moreira Laliberté’s facility. Pan Am team mates Jill Irving has her own farm while Lindsay Kellock is also currently based in Canada.

Ashley sits in her apartment with the air conditioning on coaching them on video in real time.

Before she realized the video system was live both ways, she laughs, someone caught her having what they thought was a glass of wine. She swears it was actually an iced tea.

The Canadian riders in her group, she said, all work together. When it looked as if Brittany might go to the World Cup Final in Las Vegas to which Ashley would have been there to coach, everyone stepped in to volunteer to help the others at Tryon, which was scheduled to host a CDI3* the same weekend. Both events were canceled.