It was an electric crowd watching the Dressage At Devon Grand Prix freestyle under the lights of the Dixon Oval Sept. 27. Hundreds of dressage fans buzzed with concern when a horse took a misstep, and cheered with gusto when the riders turned down the centerline for their final salute.
The loudest cheers came as the final horse and rider walked into the ring — and Ashley Holzer gave the audience a performance to remember aboard the eager-to-please Tiva Nana.
The daring and innovative freestyle impressed spectators and judges alike, and the pair scored an impressive 76.12 percent, almost 3 percentage points above Karen Pavicic’s second-placed score of 73.57 aboard Don Daquiri.
Holzer, of New York City, N.Y., had no expectations for “Tia,” a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Metall—Nana Linda), bred by De Kennedy Stoetererij and owned by P.J. Rizvi, when they first arrived at Devon (Pa.). The mare was new to CDI competition this season and had never competed in the freestyle. In fact, Holzer hadn’t quite decided if she would enter the freestyle division until just days before riding in it.
So she was pleasantly surprised when, despite Tia’s nervous energy going into the ring, the pair won the Grand Prix for the freestyle on Sept. 26.
But Holzer and Tia had never practiced the test with music, and Holzer was concerned about their ability to match their movements with the tempo the following night.
“This could’ve gone really bad or this could’ve gone really great, and I wasn’t really sure which way it was going to go,” said Holzer. “She’s never done this freestyle before and we actually made a last-minute decision to do the freestyle. Tamara Williamson [of Kurboom], who does my music, was a little surprised when I called her last week and said, ‘No, no, I really need the music!’ I’d done the choreography a while ago but we hadn’t really found the right music, so Tamara sent me the final track Thursday!”
The music Holzer chose for her last-minute freestyle was, in a word, epic.
“Ready for this? I literally went on YouTube and I looked up ‘epic, emotional, orchestral music!’ ” said Holzer with a laugh. “So that’s where I found it — the 90 minute ‘epic’ music video on YouTube.”
And watching their explosive, powerful test, you would never have guessed that the pair was so unpracticed with their music, nor that Tia was nervous about the large crowd and lights.
“She’s just such a great horse,” said Holzer. “People always said to me, ‘You find a mare that works for you and they are unbelievable,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ But it’s so true! If I said to [Tia], ‘We’re going to jump out of that ring and you’re going to try to clear that,’ she’d be like, ‘I’ve never jumped before, but okay, I’ll try!’ She’s that kind of horse.
“She’s nervous, yes; this is something she’s never done before in her life,” added Holzer. “But she’s not an animal that will ever give you attitude or say ‘no.’ She just tries. If I set her up wrong, I’m not going to get them right; if I set her up right, they’ll be great. It puts a lot of responsibility on the rider, but to have a horse that is just such a partner is really something you just don’t take for granted.”
Don’t miss any of the Chronicle’s online coverage of Dressage At Devon—check in at www.chronofhorse.com all weekend!
Want to read more about Holzer’s big win? Look for in-depth coverage of both the breed and performance divisions in the Oct. 13 issue of the print magazine The Chronicle of the Horse.