California equestrian Valerie Ashker recently reached the midway point of her 3,500-mile, cross-country ride, raising awareness for those invincible, courageous off-track Thoroughbreds.
Riding her OTTB Primitivo, and accompanied by her boyfriend Peter Friedman who is riding OTTB Solar Express, she stopped to snap a picture of a giant road sign, which proclaimed New York and San Francisco to be equidistant at 1,561 miles.
“We’ve passed the hardest, most crushing part of this ride,” says Ashker, 60. “I think when I started this journey five months ago, people didn’t think I could do it. Now that we’re almost to Missouri, people are looking twice at us. We’re really doing it. We’ve got our eyes on the prize now!”
Ashker, the mother of four-star Eventer Lainey Ashker, set out in early May from her ranch in California. Her goal, on this endurance ride of a lifetime, was to raise awareness about off-track Thoroughbreds, and promote their all-purpose work ethic and their indomitable spirit.
With over 1,500 miles behind her, Ashker has endured rib fractures and a broken clavicle in a pair of incidents with the horses, but has refused to give up. Rising at 4 a.m. to tend to the horses, break camp, and ride, Ashker and Friedman have covered roughly 25 miles a day as they make their way eastward. Her goal is to arrive before winter at a racetrack in the east, possibly in Maryland.
No easy feat, the journey has been assisted by fans and new friends who have donated supplies, and opened their farms to the traveling pair. “The people of Kansas have been incredibly kind,” she says. “Lynette Seibly of Paradise Farm opened their doors to us, they couldn’t be nicer.”
Top Rolex rider Mary Grantham-Cook joined Ashker one recent afternoon, galloping Solar while Ashker galloped Primitivo. That was one of her best days, Ashker says. “Mary is one of my daughter’s best friends, and she rides so beautifully. While we galloped our horses together, it felt like the old days. It was just fantastic.”
— To follow Ashker’s progress, please visit Facebook page 2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates. *Ashker is looking to hire a driver to pilot the rig accompanying horses and riders. Those interested in the work should contact her through the Facebook page.