To say that Lainey Ashker has a busy schedule is an understatement. In addition to competing at the international level in both eventing and dressage, Ashker is also a sought-after clinician who can be found jet-setting around the country to share her knowledge and experiences with riders of all levels.
Event Clinics chatted with Ashker on a rare weekend when she was planning to stay close to her base in Chesterfield, Virginia.
“I was supposed to go to a dressage show this weekend, but I’m actually really excited that I will be home so I can cheer on Woodge [Fulton] and the U.S. riders at Badminton. I watch every ounce of cross-country riding that I can so I can learn. I watch and take notes, it’s great inspiration. My Saturday plan is to get up early and help the girls in the barn then be glued to the live stream for a bit!”
From CCI five-star events to CDI dressage shows, Ashker’s competitive ambitions are fueled by a huge ambition to develop her skills as an equestrian and a coach. “I have a really strong drive that’s yet to be fulfilled. Every day I train, and train, and train. And I won’t feel satisfied until I get where I want to be.”
Balancing competitive ambitions in multiple disciplines with her commitment to encouraging the next generation of up-and-coming riders is no small feat. “I’d be lying if I said it was easy. But I really am a horse-crazy person. Teaching lessons and preparing for horse shows brings me joy. I thoroughly enjoy the process of riding my upper-level horses and then also of having young ones in training."
“I had one horse I couldn’t get on in February. He actually broke my ribs. This week I just got on him with a loose rein and he stood there. For me, that’s huge. I can be so proud of myself that I was able to do that.”
Helping fellow riders to achievements with their own horses brings Ashker a similar satisfaction. “I love teaching clinics. It has been such a humbling experience. I’ve learned patience and humility - probably I’ve learned more from the students than they have from me.”
“It’s so rewarding to see people get something out of a clinic experience. There was one girl from Minnesota who was scared to go over a pole the first time I taught her. She’s about to do her first Advanced! I got her over the darn pole, and it’s so nice to feel like a small part of that journey.”
During clinics, Ashker strives to give the rider a revolutionary moment that builds confidence that they can carry over to future rides.
“The goal is to challenge everyone enough, without over-facing them, to where they can have a bit more confidence the next time they sit on their horse. I try to pinpoint a big issue, get to an answer rather quickly, and break it down from there so a rider can work through it at home as well. Those small revelations won’t happen from a babysitting-type lesson.”
“That’s something I’ve learned riding with Buck [Davidson] for so long, you’ve got to ruffle feathers just enough that people feel they have accomplished a feat during the lesson. My lessons feel like a challenge and then I leave with a sense of accomplishment. My teaching style is very similar to Buck’s in that way. When I’m teaching clinics, I want to give people a snapshot of how to achieve good moments at home or with their regular trainers.”
“I’ve ridden with Buck since I was 17, and have watched him teach so much. What Buck is probably the best at in the world is being able to set up exclusive exercises for any horse and rider combination to fix a problem. He’s truly a trainer of the rider.”
Ashker admitted, “I used to be pretty bad at that. Now I am a bit more of a professional, I watch people warm up and can identify issues that usually there are very simple small solutions for, then I incorporate that into the lesson.”
The desire to learn and the willingness to try new things have helped Ashker throughout her career, and she believes those attributes will help riders get the most out of a clinic lesson.
“Clinics exist to encourage thinking outside of the box. You’re likely there because you want a different set of eyes, a bit of help, or a new way to try something. Be receptive to change, even if it makes you a bit uncomfortable.”
“I always stress to people who come to ride that you are doing yourself a disservice if you go to a clinic with the intent of impressing the clinician and/ or fellow riders. You’re there to learn. So if you are asking yourself, ‘Should I ride with more bit? Should I change into bigger spurs?’ Always go less. What will impress me is your commitment to learning. Come as you are and try to learn.”
Big equipment and showing off won’t impress Ashker, but a little elbow grease will. “It always draws your eye to someone who cares enough to turn out properly. That rider takes your time and their own time seriously. As a clinician, that makes me want to help you. Turnout is a good thing, it’s a nice thing, and it’s a matter of respect. You don’t need money to bathe your horse and brush it and be well turned-out. Have a belt, have a hairnet, have clean tack and some hoof polish.”
In addition to being a longtime student of Buck Davidson, Ashker has an invaluable mentor relationship with her dressage instructor, Radu Marcoci, who represented his native Romania in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“The top of the top eventing riders don’t take dressage seriously enough. It’s so important to me,” Ashker told EC. “I’m a savage perfectionist. It’s a bit different when I’m out on cross-country, but dressage really feeds my perfectionism. It’s a challenge every day, it’s like I am re-learning how to ride. It’s a cerebral exercise just as much as it’s physical. It’s about timing!”
“Understanding of the seat is one thing that has really changed my riding in the last six or so years, and I’ve tried to really express that in my teaching because it’s not taught nearly enough.”
“Event riders are so overactive with the leg. I realized after having ridden many four-stars (now five-stars) that I had no idea what my seat could do to push horses forward. My FEI dressage horse was so dull to the leg because my leg was overactive and making him dull. I’ve taken advice from Radu and have had my stirrups tied to my girth for many winters.”
“If I can take my learning experience to my clinics; if I can start to teach people a basic understanding of the seat and how to use it, then I feel like I’m really doing something! If I can improve as much as I have - and I am still learning so much every day - then anyone really can.”
The team at Laine Ashker Dressage & Eventing has an exciting few weeks ahead. “I’ll be wearing my shadbelly on some very different horses at very different competitions within a single week,” Lainey joked.
“We’ll head to a dressage show at the Virginia Horse Center mid-May. I’ll ride Atlas in the Prix St. Georges, and it will be Ann Wilson’s young horse Zeppelin’s first show. He’s an exciting horse. Then the following weekend it’s the CCI3* at the same venue. So we’ll be back with a really different set of horses.”
Managing the well-being of the horses amidst overlapping show calendars and a demanding travel schedule takes a great deal of time and energy, plus a great support system. Lainey has a number of ways to balance the demands of her lifestyle.
“I try to keep a wishlist of what I want to do with the horses. That helps to keep me on track. I don’t call them goals because if I don’t make it I won’t get demoralized about it. If something doesn’t happen it becomes a motivator for next year. If I set a goal for something I need to ensure I don’t overlook any training to get there.”
“I am so hungry to get back to the top level, I’ve definitely been guilty of rushing at times. But horses have taught me to take my time. Every time I’ve tried to rush, I’ve ended up 10 steps back. I’ve learned I’ll go farther forward faster if I take my time.”
For opportunities to learn from Lainey, visit www.eventclinics.com. Event Clinics makes it easy for riders to find and register for equestrian activities. For more details on Lainey’s program and horses, head to www.laineashkereventing.com.
Tamie Smith’s year has been nothing short of action-packed as she packed up all 25 of her competition horses and made her way to the East Coast for the first part of the year before hopping on a jet to Tokyo where she served as the U.S. team reserve for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She then stayed overseas and competed abroad for a little while before returning home to the West Coast. While this year has been full of opportunities to show, her aspirations are bigger than just competition. The 2021 Bates USEA Lady Rider of the Year has been full steam ahead chasing goals in both her riding career as well as in her impact on the sport’s future.
Get to know each United States Eventing Association (USEA) Areas a little better in this new series, Meet the Areas! This month’s feature is USEA Area I which is comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Founded in the 1960s, Area I was the birthplace of the United States Combined Training Association (USCTA) which was founded in 1959 and would later evolve into the USEA in 2001. In 2021 just under 800 members made up the membership count in Area I.
Trainers, riders, parents, and more are in for a real treat when the all-new USEA Eventing Handbook by the Levels is officially released. Those participating in the 2022 USEA Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP) Symposium at Barnstaple South Farm in Ocala, Florida on February 8-9 will be the first to set eyes on this all-encompassing guide that has been two years in the making.
The USEA established the Young Event Horse (YEH) program in 2004 to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. While the goal of the YEH program is to identify horses that will be successful at the four- and five-star levels, horses with the potential for lower-level success are also showcased by the program.