OTTBs complete ‘ride of a lifetime,’ cross USA

Valerie Ashker, 60, finished a six-month, 3,300-mile ride on her OTTB Primitivo this weekend. Ashker and Peter Friedman road from California to Virginia to raise awareness about OTTBs. Photo by and courtesy Tylir Penton

Valerie Ashker, 60, finished a six-month, 3,300-mile ride on her OTTB Primitivo this weekend. Ashker and Peter Friedman road from California to Virginia to raise awareness about OTTBs. Photo by and courtesy Tylir Penton

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
Solar Express
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.

Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman are overjoyed as they arrive in Middleburg, Va.

Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman are overjoyed as they arrive in Middleburg, Va.

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.”

7 responses to “OTTBs complete ‘ride of a lifetime,’ cross USA”

  1. Adrienne Crowley

    I sure hope that someone will make a movie our your journey.

  2. Daryl Conner

    congrats to you and your beautiful horse, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas

  3. Daryl Conner

    wonderful congrats to you and your beautiful horse.

  4. Lori Koestler

    A Horseman’s Prayer ????????
    Dearest God in heaven,
    Give me the strength to guide my horse.
    Make my hands soft and my head clear,
    Let my horse understand me, and I him.
    My heart you have blessed with a special love for these animals,
    Let me never lose sight of it.
    My soul you have gifted with a deep need for them,
    Let that never lessen.
    Always let my breath catch as the sun gleans on an elegant head,
    Always may my throat tighten at the sound of a gentle nicker.
    Let the scent of fresh hay and a new bag of grain always be sweet to me,
    Let the touch of a warm nose on my hand always bring a smile.
    I adore the joy of a warm day on the farm,
    The grace and splendor of a running horse.
    The thunder of its hooves makes my eyes burn and my heart soar,
    Let it always be so.
    Dearest God, grant me patience,
    For horses are harnessed wind and wind can be flighty.
    Let me not frighten or harm them,
    Instead show me ways to understand.
    Above all, dear God, fill my life with them.
    I am not whole without them.
    For this love you have given me graces in my existence.
    I shall cherish it and praise you for it for evermore.
    I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving with your families, Valarie and Peter; thanks ???????? so much for representing our beautiful OTTB’s ???? They all deserve loving homes ???? after their track career, not a trip to the auction house… blessings to all????

  5. adistractedwriter

    Awesome job guys!

  6. Lynne Jones

    Valerie! Congratulations and God Bless You. I wish I had the money to save them all and provide a new home for people to learn how much these animals can enrich a family. I save a few and hope, if things work out, to find a place I can afford and spend the balance of my life with the animals I save, be it horses, donkeys, dogs, and/or cats. I’m 75 years old and haven’t been on a horse since in my teens but at some point in the future, hope to find a gentle, sweetie pie that we can ride together and enjoy our rides and lives. Again, sorry to hear you are leaving California, as I would have loved to meet you – to do this at 60 years old is amazing. May your future be bright, happy, and so fulfilling in the future. And, as to your friend, Mr. Friedman, what a friend. I know he is going to miss you here in California as well. Go girl, the sky’s the limit for you and your love of these gorgeous animals, our American icons.

  7. Belinda

    Yeah! I watched the whole trip thanks to them posting videos and messages! It was awesome to be apart of! I am so proud of them for taking the OTTB spotlight and making a plea for the rescue and retraining of these beautiful animals. All horses should have a chance and no horse should have to go through the horror of slaughter.

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