Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Ashker Remembers A Friend With Poplar Place Victory

She scores an advanced win on the former ride of Eleanor Brennan.

For Laine Ashker, winning the advanced division aboard Mazetto at the Poplar Place Horse Trials, March 28-30 in Hamilton, Ga., was a tangible way of honoring a close friend.

Mazetto completed four four-stars with Jonelle Richards of New Zealand before being purchased by Eleanor Brennan.
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She scores an advanced win on the former ride of Eleanor Brennan.

For Laine Ashker, winning the advanced division aboard Mazetto at the Poplar Place Horse Trials, March 28-30 in Hamilton, Ga., was a tangible way of honoring a close friend.

Mazetto completed four four-stars with Jonelle Richards of New Zealand before being purchased by Eleanor Brennan.

Brennan shipped “Eric” to the United States in the spring of 2007, but she didn’t get a chance to enjoy him at the upper levels because he had a reaction to his spring shots and became seriously ill.

Then, Brennan, 21, had a fatal fall at the Ocala CCI** (Fla.) in November of 2007. After the accident, Eleanor’s mother, Christine Brennan, decided to see if Ashker would take over the ride on Eric.

“I was dumbfounded and completely honored,” said Ashker, 23, of Crozier, Va. “But I’d also heard about people not getting along with made horses [because of having a different riding style].”

She shouldn’t have worried—from the first time she rode him, she said, they had an instant connection.

“He’s a forward thinking horse, which is exactly my style—the fewer half halts the better,” said Ashker. “He’s a joy to ride cross-country, and he gives me so much confidence. I had a profound relationship with him, so fast, and I know it has something to do with Eleanor.”

Ashker started the season with two preliminary runs and one intermediate before tackling the advanced course at Red Hills (Fla.), where they finished third before heading to their win at Poplar Place.

“I came off the course at Red Hills and said, ‘This horse has to go to Rolex,’ ” she said. “Certain horses have that ‘it’ factor, always looking for the next fence.”

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She said her ride with Eric at Rolex won’t come with any pressure. “Eleanor was one of my dearest friends, and she’d always said her biggest goal was to ride at Rolex,” said Ashker. “It’s kind of cool because I’m riding him in her colors (green and yellow), with a special saddle pad that has a Shamrock clover, because she loved clovers.

“I’m riding in her memory, and she had so much to do with it,” Ashker added. “It’s my way of giving back to the family because I’m living the dream she never got to finish. I’m doing it more for the honor of Eleanor than to go out and be a hero.”

At Rolex, Ashker will also be riding Frodo Baggins, who is on the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s eventing winter training list. An impressive run with either horse could help her chances of competing at the Olympics in Hong Kong, but she said that’s not the main goal with Mazetto.

Ashker recalled the day Eleanor’s horses arrived in the States, and how Eleanor had said they both looked so strong and fit, like lions. While Eric went through a serious illness before returning to competition, Ashker said he’s back.

“He was almost dying last year, and it’s so cool to see him back to looking like a lion,” she said. “It’s so important to Eleanor’s mother because Eleanor would have wanted that. I get to live Eleanor’s dreams through this horse and my relationship with him, and at the end of the day, that’s what the sport is about—camaraderie and dreams coming true. It’s a great position for me to be in.”

Two New Partnerships

Mazetto: b. g., 13, by Master Jack (Cleveland Bay cross) out of a Thoroughbred mare, owned by The Brennan family, ridden by Laine Ashker.

Partnership Started: In the spring of 2008.

Previous Experience: Traveled to Athens Olympics as New Zealand team reserve horse.

That’s Smart: gr. g., 8, 7⁄8 Thoroughbred from New Zealand, owned by The Woodstock Group, ridden by Amy Tryon.

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Partnership Started: In the spring of 2007. “I did some prelims [last year] and just let him get accustomed to life over here—to eating our food, our turnout and bugs,” she said.

Quirks: He doesn’t like to be left alone, after growing up in a herd in New Zealand. “He jumped out of his paddock a few times, so we put someone with him,” said Tryon. “He would love to have a horse in his stall with him too.”

Amy Tryon also brought out a relatively new mount to win the CIC** at Poplar. She found That’s Smart in New Zealand last winter, and he arrived at Tryon’s farm in Duvall, Wash., in March of 2007.

But before she could buy any plane tickets, Tryon had to pass the sharp scrutiny of Smarty’s breeder, Joanne Bridgman, of Quality NZ Horses.

“Joanne decided he was only for sale to certain riders,” said Tryon with a laugh. “She saw a video of me riding Poggio, and I guess she decided I was worthy. If I didn’t take him, she said he would go to Polly Stockton or William Fox-Pitt.”

Stockton, said Tryon, has a full brother to the horse, whose dam sire is Brilliant Invader, sire of Blyth Tait’s 1998 World Champion and 1996 Olympic champion, Ready Teddy.

“She breeds nice horses and gives them a fantastic start, so she can be choosy about where they go,” said Tryon. “She flew with him from New Zealand to Seattle because she didn’t want him to be alone, and then she stayed at our farm to make sure it was a proper farm.”

At 17 hands, Smarty is “a lovely stamp of a horse,” said Tryon.

“He’s a nice mover and could do any sport,” she said. “If he doesn’t make a good event horse, he’d be a lovely show horse.”

At Poplar, she asked him for a bit more speed for the first time and was thrilled when she got a good flow with the quicker pace. “He’s very careful, quite spooky, and slow and methodical in his jump,” she said. “He’s explosive—more like a warmblood than a Thoroughbred.”

She will compete him in the Ocala CCI** in April, but she doesn’t plan to move him up to advanced this year. “He’s 8 but not until November,” she said. “He’s quite young, and I’m really excited about him. He’s exceeded my expectations.”
 
Beth Rasin

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