For the next 6 weeks, we'll be honoring the deep bond between horse and rider in our series, A Letter to My Horse. On June 29, we'll be releasing details on how you, too, can participate! We'll be choosing 3 top reader submissions to this series, and along with some pretty awesome prizes, winning pieces will be published on NoelleFloyd.com. Follow along with the series and keep your eyes peeled for details!
Dear Anthony Patch,
You have given me so much, so many wins. You put me on the map and taught me how to be a winner. Before you came into my life, I was really good at coming from behind and chasing the one at the top. It’s easier to move up, but it’s another thing to set the bar. And you have done that for me. You set the bar, in more ways than one. You set a standard, not just in winning but in partnership, horsemanship, and friendship, and taught me how things should be.
After you, all my horses have such big, little shoes to fill.
Just 16.1 hands on a good day, you were not an easy prospect. We met on a scorching hot August day. The Tjadens, who had a great eye for talented sport horses, were upfront. You were not the safest horse. They wouldn’t even get on to show you. Instead, they showed you on the lunge…where you proceeded to lose not one but two shoes. Still, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that you had talent and beautiful movement. I got on and popped over a jump, looked at my mom and said, yes.
We paid $2500 for you, with a check ominously numbered 666, and my mom asked them to wait two weeks to cash it. As we were going over the contract, I could hear you throwing a fit in your stall, thrashing around and throwing yourself on the ground. Loading you into the trailer, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was making a big mistake.
But three hours later, when we got home, you turned into the kindest, sweetest animal. My mom called the Tjadens and told them to cash the check, and I thought I was some sort of horse whisper.
"Al". Photo courtesy of Laine.
Well, I wasn’t. Turns out, you were just terribly afraid of cows. That was just one of many things I had to learn about you. We still had a long way to go, and it took many years to build that relationship. I had to learn your quirks and your insecurities. In the fifteen years that we’ve been together, I’ve learned what makes you sad or scared, and I’ve learned what you need and what makes you happy. We were both young, a little immature and un-poised. We had a long way to go, but we grew up together. In many ways, we saved each other.
Although you taught me how to win, it’s not just the wins that I’m most proud of. I will never forget our first Burghley together, my first overseas 5*. It wasn’t anywhere close to a win…we were almost last of the finishers. Key word: of the finishers. Our prep wasn’t the best, and I wasn’t in the best mental state. I may not be the best rider in the world, but I certainly can feel like the worst rider in the world when I’m not in the right state of mind. But, we had crowdsourced to be there. Every penny it took to get us there came from friends and even strangers on social media, people who believed in us and sincerely wanted us to be there. There was no way I was backing out or not doing everything in my power to finish. We both gave 110%. We both fought to get through that show.
I think we deserved to be there and compete. We earned our right to represent the American flag. I knew I had the cheapest horse. I knew your whole story. I knew what we had been through to get there, to have a horse that I brought from the track, to bring it to the most prestigious show in the world. I was, and still am, so proud of that moment. I always had the dream of being there. From day one, I knew you could do it. I knew it from the moment I sat on you, even if there were others who doubted us.
Every aspiring event rider wants to get to Burghley. To get there and complete it, you gave that to me. In the end, you have me ten 5*, when you could have given me none.
Sometimes at shows, there would be a long line for my autograph, even if I wasn’t the winner or the best rider there. And I know it was because of you. Because you represented the dream of getting a horse off the track, building this unshakable bond together, and having a chance to fight our way to the top. For many of us, it’s not about the money. It’s not about getting a ready-made horse. We don’t want a ton of horses in a yard that are groomed completely by other people. For many of us, we want a partner. We want an intimacy and a love with a horse we care for. I know people watched us together and felt that dream was possible.
I got you because I was young and hungry and broke, and I knew what kind of horse you were. Everything I had to do for you was worth doing. We’ve grown up together. We’ve learned and matured together. There’s always been a give and take between us; it’s like, ok, I messed up this time. Ok, you were an ass and ran out that time. Holy crap I missed the distance on that jump but you kept it up, thanks bud. You saved me. That’s what people see and that’s why our lines were so long. You are an inspiration, and not just for me.
"You represented the dream of getting a horse off the track, building this unshakable bond together, and having a chance to fight our way to the top."
Thank you Al, for keeping me safe and bringing me to the finish flag. You are tough as nails and taught me so much. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so young when I got you so that I could have been a better rider, the rider you deserved. But I know everything happens for a reason, and I’m so lucky to have you in my life. It’s scary to think of the day you go, because I don’t know what I’ll do.
There are a lot of horses out there that can make you feel like a winner…you can buy a horse that can do that. But you can’t write a check for friendship, trust, or love. We built that together. You kept me safe, and you looked after me, and you loved me back. Thank you for seeing me with a different set of eyes. There have been many times when I haven’t been able to love myself, but you have never stopped loving me.
As told to Cheryl Witty-Castillo. Feature photo by Sportfot.
Written by Laine Ashker
Laine Ashker is a 5* event rider based in Richmond, Virginia. She has countless FEI competitions through the five star level under her belt including Blenheim CCI4* and Burghley CCI5*. She also won the National Eventing Championship in 2013 aboard Anthony Patch. More recently, she has found success in the Grand Prix dressage ring and has earned her USDF gold medal.