Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

How Valentine Got Her Groove Back



After Ashley Holzer saluted at the end of her ride on Valentine in the Havensafe Farm Grand Prix for the freestyle CDI3* on Feb. 9 during Adequan Global Dressage Festival 5 (Florida), she breathed a sigh of relief while the crowd erupted into cheers.

The performance earned her a 71.17% and a third-place ribbon, but even more impressive was the stark contrast between that test and the last time she competed at the level, at the Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championship (Denmark). There, Holzer’s Hanoverian mare (Sir Donnerhall—Renaissance, Ragazzo) reacted to the electric atmosphere in the packed indoor by rearing, spinning and shying during the Grand Prix.

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Ashley Holzer was thrilled with Valentine’s performance at AGDF 5. Mollie Bailey Photos

“It’s known to everyone the upset we had at the world championships, and no one was more upset than me,” Holzer said Saturday after her test, reflecting back on Denmark. “When you feel your partner lose it mentally and lose her confidence, it’s heartbreaking as a rider and as an owner.”

Holzer resolved to get Valentine’s head back in the game.

She took advice from myriad horsemen and decided to drop the mare down to the medium tour for a show to reduce pressure in the show ring.  Outside of it, she focused on keeping Valentine happy both in and out of the saddle.


“We just went back to a lot of basics, and really I just spent a lot more time with her,” said Holzer, Wellington, Florida. “She spends a lot of time in the paddock now. I’ve been very good about taking her to other venues and riding her at the venues so she’s not always at the same spot. We worked on hacking her a little bit more.”

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Valentine performed beautifully for Ashley Holzer in her return to the international Grand Prix arena at AGDF 5.

This season, she also started bringing Valentine over to the stadium at the AGDF showgrounds on Tuesdays for mock horse shows. The mare would be braided and polished as if it were a show day, and they would warm up outside the ring. Holzer would ride through part of the test in the ring, then walk and let her decompress.

Despite her great performance at AGDF 5—she also finished second in the Havensafe Farm Grand Prix freestyle CDI3* on a mark of 77.40%—Holzer knows she needs to stay attuned to Valentine’s needs.

During AGDF’s Friday Night Stars event, Valentine reacted to the atmosphere that surrounded the packed stadium in her warm-up and got “really scared,” Holzer said.

So, instead of practicing complex movements before their test, they spent much of the time doing simple walk-trot-canter work under the eye of Katherine Bateson-Chandler to help the mare unwind.


“We just did some nice transitions; [we] really didn’t do much of the Grand Prix work in the warm-up,” Holzer said. “I finally felt her relax.”

Then, in the ring, in front of the lights and the crowds, all the work of the past months paid off: Instead of ramping back into nervousness, the mare grew in confidence.

“We came in the ring, and I just tried to say, ‘Hey, you’re my partner, you’ve got to go; we’ve got to do this together,’ and she slowly came more and more and more to me as the test went on,” she said. “I have to tell you, as her rider, her owner, her everything, she is my pet since she was young. To feel that—I can’t even explain it.

“That last centerline I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s my mare again. She’s back.’ ”

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