Ashley Holzer, 4-Time Olympian for Canada Now Competing for USA, May Go to Tokyo as Coach of Canada’s Best
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May 25, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
When Ashley Holzer began riding for the United States instead of Canada four years ago, her focus was on vying for a place on America’s Olympic dressage team. Although that goal has been deferred, Ashley may still end up in Tokyo two months from now as the coach of all top five contenders for Canada’s team.
The combinations from which Canada’s team of three riders and horses and a reserve will be selected to go to the Tokyo Olympics are all members of what Ashley calls her “extended family.” The deadline for qualifying for Canada’s team is three weeks away–there are no competitions remaining in the Americas before then but a rider could seek to get the required scores in Europe.
Ashley is not the official coach, or technical advisor, as they’re called, and there has been no indication she will be named as such. Six-time U.S. Olympian Robert Dover was coach of Canada’s team for the 2012 Olympics before taking over for America for the 2016 Games. The four combinations selected for the team are scheduled to fly from the United States in early July to quarantine at Aachen, Germany before heading to the Games two months away.
“I’ve had these people in my life a very long time,” said Ashley, 57, a four-time Olympian for Canada including as a member of the bronze medal team in 1988 who is based in Wellington, Florida within hacking distance of the Global Dressage Festival show grounds.
“They’re close to my family and I’m close to their families. It goes beyond a student-teacher relationship. I might feel differently about it if you’re coaching four people you’ve never met before. I don’t know that I’d be doing it with the same passion I am right now. I feel I’m very invested in all of their journeys.
“I adore these people. They’re great friends of mine.”
Canada’s top team prospects, and coached by Ashley, are:
—Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu, 32, and All In, 16-year-old KWPN gelding, owned by Brittany and her husband, Marc-Andre Beaulieu
—Chris von Martels, 38, and Eclips, 12-year-old KWPN gelding, owned by Barbara Soederhuizen and Chris
—Naïma Moreira Laliberté, 24, and Statesman, 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding, owned by KML, Inc.
—Lindsay Kellock, 31, and Sebastien, 15-year-old Rhinelander gelding, owned by Enterprise Farm Equestrian, LLC and Lindsay
—Jill Irving, 58, and Arthur, 16-year-old KWPN gelding, owned by Windhaven
“Extended family” is no exaggeration. Lindsay is Ashley’s god-daughter. She has been friends with Jill since she was aged 16. Ashley’s two children, now adults, were “very little were flower kids” at the wedding of Chris von Martels to Lisa. At the request of Lindsay, Brittany became her student when competing All In at national 4th level almost a decade ago. And Brittany asked her to coach Naïma.
Brittany and Chris were on Canada’s Pan American Games silver medal team in 2015 while Naïma, Lindsay and Jill were on the 2019 Pan Am gold medal team.
“Ashley has been a huge part of shaping my career,” said Lindsay. “There are so many things to say about her loyalty and dedication to me and the rest of her students, but what stands out to me the most is not only her incredible ability to train a horse to Grand Prix but also her strength in communicating the training process to her students.
“It’s one thing to be a good trainer but to be a great trainer and coach all in one is pretty special. She’s truly passionate about bringing her students up to be good riders but also to educate us on how to be thoughtful teachers with a positive approach. She has set an example for all of us to be kind to our horses and to work hard for success and I feel very lucky that she has been able to share her knowledge and expertise with me through the years.”
Chris von Martels described Ashley as “a person who goes above and beyond for her students without looking for recognition. It’s actually pretty amazing when you think that all of her students/clients have been very long term. I think it speaks volumes for who she is as a person as well as a trainer.
“I have trained with Ash for over 15 years and have shared countless amazing experiences together. I would say her personality reflects in the training as well. She is always positive and very classical in her principles but also thinks outside of the box.“
Ashley had declared Valentine, the Hanoverian mare now 11 years old and named to mark the Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, Rusty, as the mount she would campaign for a place on the U.S. team
“Valentine is a great young Grand Prix horse,” she said. “It looked like she could maybe be amazing. In retrospect, I think I probably pushed her a little too hard. I took her into that one competition and she was unbelievable. I was so shocked at how well she did. She’s never been the easiest horse in the world. She got a little spooked in the Grand Prix Special and I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I don’t want to go down that road.’
“I felt in my heart it wasn’t right. I backed off. I think it’s the right decision. I’m going to wait; see how it goes. I think we made the right decision for the horse. I will always make that right decision for the horse.”
Valentine likely will be a prospect for the 2022 world championships, along with some of Ashley’s other mounts including the experienced Big Tour horse Mango Eastwood owned by long-time supporter Diane Fellows, and Bliss, that she and Diane own.
Does Ashley feel conflicted by being an American but focused on the Canadian team contenders?
“No, I don’t,” she replied. “At the end of the day it’s them. They’ve got to go in the ring, go down the centerline and do the job with their horse. Do I feel for them when it goes badly? Oh, yeah. I feel for them a lot more than some people might. Do I feel elated when it goes well? Yes, absolutely.
“I feel badly if I don’t think I’ve given them the support they needed that day to be the best they could be. I feel great when I have given them that support. I’m always trying to be a better coach. I think that’s where there’s a great cohesiveness in this unit. They know I’m trying the best for each and every one of them.
“I’m certainly not going to take all of the credit. I’m not responsible for everything they’ve achieved. They work extremely hard–they have their own businesses now, they ride extremely well. I’m just so happy that I can support their journey. I really hope I can help them become the best they can be, especially on the day they canter down that centerline.
“It’s been a long journey and I feel so happy for these people and what they have achieved. I’m sure they will go on to achieve even more. To see what they’ve done especially in this adverse climate right now. They’ve really sacrificed a lot. It’s been a very rough year for many of the people that are looking like they’ll be on the team. They work really hard. They love their horses. I’m proud of the horsewomen and horsemen they’ve become.”
As to why she decided to ride under the Stars and Stripes rather than the Maple Leaf, Ashley said: “I thank God every day I became an American, because I really only want to go out and be my very, very best and I want my best to be one of the best.
“I don’t ever regret trying to be better, going to a team that’s harder to get on. That’s where I’ve got to stand up and be better.
“Look at the American team; it started out this year looking a little thin. The competition started and, guess what, people are stepping up to the plate. It just pushes the whole team up. The Americans are amazing team mates. The riders are so supportive, the best in this sport. They cry when it goes badly and they cheer when it goes well. The first text I get from anyone is from Laura (Graves), from Kasey (Perry-Glass), from Katherine (Bateson-Chandler), from Adrienne (Lyle), Steffen Peters. If things go badly or things go well they are on it right away… before my husband,” she laughs. “They’ve lived this sport long enough to know the heartache and the joy. They are passionate, so generous with their words and their best wishes.
“When I go around the world, I don’t think every country has that camaraderie, that group that really wants everyone to do well. When we go down the centerline we all want to be our best and hope that day happens to be the best. You bring the whole game up by being your best. I watch Laura on a video before I go in. Great rides make you better.
“I think that’s why America is where it is, and where Canada is going to be.”