Battling locusts, health issues and occasional setbacks, a 60-year-old California woman on a mission to cross the USA on her off-track Thoroughbred arrived in Kansas this week.
Some 1,500 miles into a journey that began in California in May, Valerie Ashker and her OTTB Primitivo rode like the wind toward lush grasses of the last “big state” they’ll cross on their five-month trek.
Ashker and her boyfriend Peter Friedman, who is riding alongside Ashker on OTTB Solar Express, were en route to Dodge City, Kan. yesterday afternoon, building up “million dollar experiences” on the trip that is easily the hardest thing she’s ever done, she says.
But her two Thoroughbreds are thriving.
Learning to “be comfortable in the uncomfortable” of their new normal, Solar Express and Primitivo have carried their riders eastward along the famous Santa Fe Trail, where wagon trains once headed west.
“We’ve hand galloped and we’ve cantered on un-level footing,” she says. “And there was a point where the locusts were everywhere. They’d take a step, and about 50 grasshoppers would fly up. The horses’ heads were flipping in the air, but they just kept on going. I’m totally floored with how well they’ve handled this.”
The longtime OTTB trainer, and mother of four-star eventer Lainey Ashker, together with Freidman, set out in May from her ranch in Georgetown, Calif. Ashker and accompanied by a van driver, have now covered 1,500 miles in a ride to raise awareness about the virtues of the OTTB. She posts updates on her trip via Facebook page 2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates.
And though tensions have flared, and a few bones have broken—Ashker broke her ribs and clavicle in two separate incidents—the Thoroughbreds have been sound as a bell, and game to face every day.
“They are fab-u-lous,” she says for emphasis. “I make sure I take full body pictures of them, and they look better today than the day we left. Their legs and feet are doing great, and we’re riding them in bitless bridles,” she says.
Once the horses hit the Missouri border, the states should start “flying by,” says Ashker, noting that they’re on track to complete the 3,500-mile ride by late October.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” she says. “And the Thoroughbreds haven’t taken a wrong step.”