A 60-year-old equestrian plans to ride her off-track Thoroughbred from California to Maryland in a five-month journey meant to raise awareness and respect for the Thoroughbred sport horse.
Valerie Ashker, an Eventer, horse trainer and mother of four-star Eventer Lainey Ashker, plans to set out on the 3,500-mile journey on May 8. Leaving from her home base at Crow’s Ear Farm, Calif. Ashker will ride her 7-year-old OTTB Primitivo roughly 10 miles a day along old Pony Express roads, looking to cross the United States following the Route 50 corridor.
Sire: Monashee Mountain
Dam: Siberian Shamrock, by Siberian Summer
Foal date: May 6, 2009“This is something I’ve thought about doing for a long time,” says Ashker. “Horses off the track have put us (Lainey and her) on the map. We’ve taken three OTTBs to Rolex and I’m doing this to raise awareness. These horses worked their bums off to be breadwinners for their (race) owners. And after they’re done with racing, usually at a young age, many people think they’re “done” altogether. What I’m hoping to demonstrate is that for a lot of these horses, the end of their race career is just the beginning.”
The Ashkers competed Eight St. James Place (Jockey Club: Catch the Sand Man) and Frodo Baggins before Lainey Ashker and her Thoroughbred Anthony Patch (Jockey Club: Alex’s Castledream) competed at Rolex four times, in addition to an entry at the Burghley Horse Trials. Although the Ashkers lost Fodo in an accident at Rolex in 2008 and Eight St. James Place to an aneurism, the heart and grit of their Thoroughbred sport horses has been something to be celebrated.
“In many cases, a Thoroughbred’s second career is more illustrious than their career on the track,” she says. “By riding cross country, I hope to make more riders stop and think. Typical horse owners don’t need to go to Europe to buy these Warmbloods. They’ve got their own (prospective) sport horses in their own backyards.”
Plotting a route based on the cross-country ride navigated by endurance rider Matt Littrell on an American Mustang, Ashker and her boyfriend Peter Friedman, who will ride 17-year-old OTTB Solar Express, plan to start off at a leisurely pace and make camp along the way. “My mother bought me a beautiful trailer with living quarters and a (corral) system for the horses,” she says. “We’ll come into the trailer at night, and set the horses up outside.”
Ashker has already received warm welcomes from officials in Colorado and Utah, and hopes her journey, once underway, builds a following in the horse and OTTB world.
Ashker adds, “I’m aware of the horse slaughter pipeline, and if this ride can raise a little bit more awareness that these horses are not done in after they race, then I’ll be a soldier for that mission.” Follow Valerie Ashker’s progress via her Facebook Page: 2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates.
*This blog is brought to you by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.