Navigating tricky terrain and nursing broken bones, Valerie Ashker and her off-track Thoroughbreds crossed into Colorado this week, logging nearly 1,000 miles on a cross-country trek to prove the merits of the mighty ex-racehorse Thoroughbred.
Primitivo and Solar Express, opposite horses in so many ways, have had their ears pricked forward in shared enthusiasm for a daily walk or jog toward the east coast.
“They’re doing incredible,” Ashker says. “It was really perfect to take the two of them, because they’re both so different. Solar is rangier and comes from the Damascus/ Buckpasser line. Tivo is smaller and has a much more complex brain. They’re totally different, and yet they’re both doing amazing.”
Sire: Monashee Mountain
Dam: Siberian Shamrock, by Siberian Summer
Foal date: May 6, 2009
Sire: Bold Badgett
Dam: Proper Look, by Properantes
Foal date: May 18, 1999Ashker was especially impressed with the cool-headed way the horses dealt with unusual terrain two days ago. “The day before yesterday we were riding, and all of a sudden, the horses went down to their knees in this weird mud,” Ashker says, noting that the top layer of soil was deceptively sandy, and appeared at first glance to be firmer than it was.
After pulling their horses out, Ashker and her boyfriend Peter Friedman were able to hose the horses off at a nearby correctional facility and get on their way again.
Though their travels have been hampered by unexpected injuries—Ashker broke her ribs and clavicle in two separate incidents—the pair, along with van driver and companion William Gass, have sought to stay positive on a challenging journey.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “I’ve called home crying some days. But if you look at the logistics of what we’re doing, it’s understandable. We’re living in an 1,100-foot trailer and getting up at 3 a.m. to take care of the horses.
“My daughter Lainey says that anybody doing this trip, no matter how young they are, would be seriously challenged.”
Lainey Ashker, a four-star Eventer, is flying to Colorado this week to joint her mother, and support the mission to ride across the USA on an OTTB.
Ashker began the journey in early May, when she departed her Crow’s Ear Farm property in the foothills of Sierra, CA., in an effort to raise awareness about off-track Thoroughbreds.
Now roughly two months and a thousand miles later, Ashker is philosophical about the trip.
“When I’m worried and stressed, I just have to look out the window of my trailer and see these two great Thoroughbreds, and I see their attitude, and it’s great,” she says. “They act like they can’t wait to get going. I’ve been focused on reaching the east, which I’ve thought of as my destination and as my prize. But I realize now that these horses are the real prize.”