The Happiest Athletes in Hong Kong: Canada's Ashley Holzer and Pop Art

Ashley Holzer is living proof that the key to happiness is in setting realistic goals, and achieving them with a smile on one’s face along the way. She went into these Olympics in Hong Kong with the knowledge that Canada’s team result rested very much on her shoulders. Twenty years ago, she was in a different position when Canada won its first and only Olympic dressage medal, bronze in Seoul.

Cindy Ishoy and Dynasty narrowly missed the bronze medal individually.

“In 1988, Cindy was the leading actress and we played the supporting roles,” Ashley said of that historic moment a few weeks before the long journey to Hong Kong began with quarantine in Aachen, Germany. “This summer I hope to play the leading role for the team.”Photo:

Pop(ular) Art

It’s fitting that his name suggests the very thing that he is: popular, with judges and spectators alike. “He’s so correct in so many of the things he does,” says Ashley of the eleven year old Dutch Warmblood gelding who is owned by several of the most important people in her life: her parents Moreen (on left) and Ian Nicoll, and her husband Rusty Holzer.

“He just does everything so easily; it’s obvious to everyone watching. He’s the poster boy for the Happy Grand Prix Horse.”

When Ashley rode to Canada’s strongest placing in the Grand Prix in Hong Kong, she was still proud of her horse, even though his nervousness got the better of him a couple of times and the score of 67.042% fell several points short of his potential.

“Do I wish the score had been higher? Yes.” There were no big mistakes in the test, but Pop Art stumbled twice. “He’s so always in self-carriage, and he isn’t used to doing that. It scared him.”

Back With Her Game Face On

When Ashley returned to the electric atmosphere of the stadium at Sha Tin for the Speciale, it was a different picture, right from the warm up circuits around the ring before the bell rang. Pop Art entered at A with more confidence, and the test was both free of errors and more brilliant. “I thought he was great,” said Ashley after her score of 68.76% went up on the board. “He was much better than the other day, though I could feel him getting tired…but he kept going.”

The weather on the evening of the Speciale was not excessively hot, but the story of these Olympics has been the toll the high humidity has taken on horses’ endurance. “It’s a factor I didn’t take into account,” she says. “I have changed my warm up, adding more walk breaks. My groom whistled me if I did more than eight or nine minutes’ work.”

Ashley had to wait until the final rotation of horses had begun to find out if her score was high enough to put her in the freestyle final. There was more at stake than her own sense of accomplishment: “I have to live with my son and daughter if I don’t make the freestyle.”

Loving It

Ashley and Pop Art placed fifteenth in the Grand Prix Speciale and will compete in the freestyle final on August 20th. Ashley says she used to hate riding freestyles but now she loves them. Pop Art shines to his Disney Millenium Celebration music.

The program also includes a short section of canter work to the theme from the film National Treasure that Ashley’s daughter Emma found when Ashley and her freestyle designer (the author of this article) were working on music selection in New York city in the fall of 2006.

Whatever her result at these Olympic Games, it is certain that Ashley will go for it with a smile on her face, and with pride in her brilliant little horse. “He really tries for me, and it’s such a great feeling when I feel him trying.”