Canadian dressage rider Ashley Holzer has been showing at Devon (Pa.) since she was just 16, and she’s seen her fair share of action in the Dixon Oval. So when she walked—or attempted to walk!—into the ring on Tiva Nana for the Grand Prix for the freestyle at Dressage At Devon on Sept. 26, she had her game face on.
“Tia,” a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Metall—Nana Linda), bred by De Kennedy Stoeterij and owned by P.J. Rizvi, is new to the Grand Prix level as of this spring and had never shown a freestyle. Despite Tia’s nervous reaction to the big venue, Holzer, 50, was able to rein in the mare’s energy to put in a powerful test and win the class on a 71.44 percent.
We caught up with Holzer before she competes again tonight to learn about the hard-working mare and her daring Grand Prix freestyle test.
How did you feel about your test last night?
It was exciting. She’s never been in a venue like this before, and there was tons of atmosphere. Obviously she was very nervous. I thought she handled it beautifully though. There were a few small bobbles—to be expected her first time at this kind of venue, but in general that horse just gives it her all. She’s an incredible mare. I haven’t had a lot of mares, and I’ve always heard that when they try, they try really hard, and she tries really hard.
I think what I had to overcome was her tension. She definitely had tension! But I have to say, I love this sport inasmuch as I can feel a horse underneath me that is tense, yet is still trying to do her job and trying to listen to me even when she’s also trying to rip her head up and look at the crowd.
All of the mistakes were legit, honest mistakes, like when she didn’t want to go over so I pushed a bit hard with my leg, and I got a little hitch in the change. But it could’ve been a train wreck and it wasn’t. I had a lot of fun!
Did you feel any pressure when she started acting up before the test?
No! I think I would get more nervous if it was a competition where I’m expecting a certain result. I was just going in there to see what would happen; I don’t think you can expect any result when you’ve never tried it before. I was thrilled that she tried so hard. I was thrilled that she was obviously so spooky that I could barely walk around the ring, yet when I asked her to walk in the ring in her test, she walked. That’s the kind of horse she is—any mistakes she makes are usually from over-trying.
The crowd really loved your performance!
Yeah, the crowd was really great! I live about two hours from here [in New York City], so we have a group of friends here. There are a lot of Canadians—and Americans for that matter!—who are very encouraging. I think they know when they see a horse try really hard. This crowd is an educated crowd, and I think they knew that I was dealing with a handful, but also that the mare really put out for me. So I think they were really getting behind that, and that’s what began the whole cheering fervor.
How did you get the ride on Tia?
A student of mine, Marissa Mastronardi, bought her when she was 7, and we had trained her together. She’d shown a very little and could really only do flying changes. Marissa did a great job with her.
Another one of my students, P.J. Rizvi, recently bought [Tia] from Marissa, and she’s to be P.J.’s next Grand Prix horse. I’m just giving her a little bit of time in the ring so that when P.J. gets on, it won’t be her first time in a venue like this. [P.J. and Tia] are a great combination; P.J. is a very sensitive rider and the mare is a very sensitive horse, so it really works very nicely. They’re beautiful together.
What does this season have in store for Tia?
P.J. and I sort of make the plan as we see fit, so the plan will be for [P.J.] to come out with [Tia] in Florida, but again, we’re sort of a moving unit. If we decide that she needs a more experienced rider at that time, I’ll get on and ride her. It’s really about education for P.J. at this level, and I think having a horse that’s sort of steady but with a lot of energy so you can really learn to ride in the ring is as great thing. We’re sort of playing it by ear and making the right decisions for the horse.
What can we expect from your freestyle tonight?
We’ve never done it! This will be our maiden journey. Tamara Williamson [of Kurboom] made the music for me, and I love it. Some of it is the theme from Titanic and some is music that I found on YouTube that I liked.
It’s a very difficult freestyle; I feel like I maybe should’ve positioned myself with a slightly easier freestyle for the first one out, but it’s an exciting freestyle. The judges may not love it, or they might like it—I don’t know. I’m trying something a little different: I’m starting at a walk! It might not work because I could hardly walk yesterday. I thought it would be calming for her, but it might end up backfiring. I’m just going to go in there and see how she does and see where the cards fall.
What’s your favorite part about Dressage At Devon?
It’s home to a lot of memories and a lot of history, and a lot of friends gather here, which I think is really special. I think it celebrates dressage in a way that very few other horse shows really do. To say you won Devon is special; not every horse show has the history that this horse show does.
Don’t miss any of the Chronicle’s online coverage of Dressage At Devon—check in at the dedicated Dressage At Devon page all weekend for coverage of the Grand Prix freestyle, Grand Prix Special and more!
Also look for in-depth coverage of both the breed and performance divisions the Oct. 13 issue of the print magazine The Chronicle of the Horse.