Despite setbacks and disappointments, two top Thoroughbred riders exited the Rolex Kentucky grounds last weekend brimming with pride in their horses, yet humbled by the experience of “going big” on a world stage.
Four-star rider Lainey Ashker and her 16-year-old OTTB Anthony Patch put in a stellar performance in the Dressage ring, ending the first day of competition in 2nd place before winding up in an admirable 7th place for dressage. Meanwhile, Leah Lang-Gluscic, in her maiden trip to Rolex with her $750 T’bred AP Prime, accomplished a huge milestone in the “electric” dressage ring before withdrawing from the rest of the competition out of an abundance of caution for AP Prime’s condition.
Both riders faced some tough knocks—Lang-Gluscic withdrew AP Prime after becoming concerned about the resilience of a leg he’d injured a month earlier, in a fall in competition, and Ashker had a refusal at Fence 9 after the heavy rain and deep footing caused her to ride less aggressively to the Coffin.
Ashker, a veteran four-star rider, says the heavy rains and footing was a challenge, and that she became unseated jumping into the Coffin, and became a “bit nervous” in the saddle, which caused Anthony Patch to refuse the second part of the obstacle.
“I was disappointed in myself because of the way I rode it,” she says, adding that the rest of the ride got stronger and better, despite the sloppy weather.
Though they entered the competition at the top of the heap, finishing 7th overall in Dressage, the refusal caused them to incur a 20-point penalty. The pair rallied for the third phase, show jumping, by putting in one of only 10 clean rounds that day. “He didn’t touch a single jump, and he put in the first clear round of the day,” Ashker says proudly.
Despite the disappointments, at the end of the day, Ashker was philosophical and optimistic. “I love what I do. I love my horses. And I love my life,” she says. “Not everybody gets to do this … it’s an honor to finish a four-star.”
Looking toward the near future, Ashker is weighing a possible run at Burghley, but only if her 16-year-old OTTB wants to.
Lang-Gluscic, who was proud of the way her 10-year-old handled the “electric” atmosphere in the Dressage ring, says it was an emotional decision to scratch her horse for the rest of the competition. But, it was one she made immediately after a veterinarian exam revealed a slight risk of re-injuring a minor contusion sustained by AP Prime last month.
AP fell at the CIC three-star event The Fork, causing a contusion that healed in time for Rolex. Though her horse continued to be sound on the leg, palpation and ultrasound exams were not conclusive enough for her to feel good about proceeding, she says.
“After his fall at The Fork, and with his contusion, it was always part of the plan to check him one more time before cross country,” she says. “He hates being fussed over, and he was over-reactive when we couldn’t get an accurate palpation.”
She adds, “I knew the second (the vets) told me there’d be an increased risk of injury that I’d withdraw him.”
Though she expected to gain the status of becoming a four-star rider, Lang-Gluscic says it was better she concluded the weekend with a happy horse.
“He’s only 10 and we’re going to have a huge career together,” she says. “I needed to make the right decision for my horse.”
Her plan now is to give AP two months off and continue competing her up-and-coming OTTB, Of Course Carter. Sired by A.P. Indy (just like AP Prime), the 7-year-old is showing early promise. She aims to get him to a one-star this year.
And she will get AP Prime back into training in the fall, and make that second charge to Rolex.
Both riders say they couldn’t be happier with their Thoroughbreds, so much so that Lang-Gluscic says she may take a trailer to a nearby racetrack very soon, and come home with a few more!
“While I was watching the show jumping, I thought that a lot of the horses looked really, really tired. But not the Thoroughbreds!” Lang-Gluscic says. “Some of them came in looking like they hadn’t done anything all weekend … I love my Warmbloods, but sometimes they’re a bit of a puzzle.
“But AP just loves to work. He was so mad that he didn’t get to do cross country that it took me five minutes to get him on the trailer to come home. He normally auto-loads. But he knew what he was there to do, and he didn’t want to leave until he did it.”