Nearly six months since setting out from California —on horseback— to tackle the ride of a lifetime across the United States, Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman completed the 3,300-mile journey last weekend at Virginia’s Middleburg Training Track.
Ashker’s daughter and four-star Eventer Laine Ashker wept with joy, as friends, family and supporters gathered to welcome the tired travelers, and thousands more watched online, as the two unflappable Thoroughbred ex-racehorses trotted onto the track as if they’d just come in from a hack.
Glistening in good health, and sporting robust figures, Primitivo, 7, and Solar Express, 17, carried Ashker and Friedman toward the welcoming committee, which was organized by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. And for old time’s sake, the two racehorses were galloped toward the track’s finish line—their long ride over, a page turned to another chapter.
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, 1999“I’ve actually been melancholy,” says Valerie Ashker. “After all this time, it’s hard to start a new chapter.”
Ashker set out on the blockbuster trip in early May, departing Crow’s Ear Farm in Georgetown, Calif., with Friedman, a man who’d only ever sat on a horse a time or two before this ride. But when his dear friend Ashker said she planned to ride an OTTB across the country to raise awareness about the breed, he amazed his work friends and saddled up to join her.
“I’m a machinist by trade and everyone at work hears me moaning and groaning about my aches and pains. They had a bet that I wouldn’t make it through Nevada,” Friedman says. “It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but it was so rewarding.”
Ashker, who sustained broken ribs and a broken clavicle and other health challenges en route, encouraged Friedman throughout a journey that saw the novice rider pilot a 17-year-old “on the muscle” Thoroughbred over mountains, and through city streets.
Friedman adds, “If Valerie could ride with broken ribs, I couldn’t not ride. I learned a lot watching her; she was my guide all along.”
The pair’s accomplishment amazed Laine Ashker.
“Thousands of riders train to ride a four-star event, but I can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve crossed the United States riding one horse,” Laine Ashker says. “What they’ve done is just so much more amazing. But I don’t think many people grasp it. It’s not like a little trail ride. If you think about what you’ve done the last six months; for instance, I’ve been to Ireland and New Jersey, I broke a shoulder, and this entire time, they’ve been out on this ride.”
And the daily riding is only one part of the trip, which included breaking down and setting up camp, erecting corral fencing, feeding and watering the horses, and of course, making dinner for themselves. “It’s the true American way, a story of grit and perseverance and getting it done,” says Laine Ashker.
With her trip now behind her, Valerie Ashker is making plans to turn a new page in her career. She recently sold her farm in California and will reside at Laine’s farm, Keystone Acres in Chesterfield, Va. and she plans to develop a series of training videos that take an OTTB novice from purchase to training and showing. She will continue to update her Facebook page, 2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates with news and updates of her next chapter.
“This whole trip has been so amazing,” Valerie Ashker says. “We’ve had so much support along the way. I hope it helps to empower people to give an OTTB a chance.”