It’s always a thrilling day when the horse-and-rider combinations nominated to Canada’s Olympic teams are announced. Years of hard work and hope, literal blood, sweat and tears, and a healthy dose of good luck all come together to make dreams come true for a few lucky riders. In an instant, former competitors pitted against each other in the ring form an unbreakable bond to become Team Canada. And if team spirit helps propel athletes to success, then Canada’s Olympic dressage team already has a competitive edge.
All five nominated riders travelling to Tokyo – three team members and two alternates – have been part of a team since long before the Olympics: Team Ashley. While Canada may not have an official team trainer, Ashley Holzer is the personal coach to every single member of the Tokyo 2021 dressage team.
That’s a remarkable accomplishment for the former Toronto native now based in New York and Florida who is perhaps best known for her accomplishments as an international competitor and Olympic medallist herself. While Ashley now holds dual citizenship and competes for the United States, she continues to be one of the most influential figures in Canadian dressage thanks to her role as coach to many of our top riders.
“Canada is where I’m from,” Ashley says. “There’s a part of me that feels very Canadian, and a part of me that feels very American. I’m so proud of what these Canadian riders have accomplished in our sport and I’m thrilled to help them.”
“It’s been such a challenging year with Covid and I think we’ve done an amazing job getting the Canadian team to where they are now,” she continues. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they go to the Olympics and score high; they each have the potential to score over 75%. They’ve all worked so hard for so many years and I’m incredibly proud of them. I feel very lucky to be part of their journey.”
What’s the secret to Ashley’s Canadian coaching success? We spoke to each of the riders to find out.
“Ashley is so passionate about all her students. She truly pours her heart and soul into helping each of us succeed. Training-wise, she’s very, very thorough and detail-oriented. Her focus is always on the basics with an eye to developing the Grand Prix right from the time a horse gets started. You have to build the correct foundation from the beginning. Dressage can be complicated, but Ashley has a way with words to make it clear, simple, and easy to understand what she’s asking for.
Her greatest gift is her positivity. Just her presence alone has a calming, confidence-building effect. She’s honestly been like a second mother to me. She’s always there for us, whether in person or teaching virtually using Pixio. I’ve been blessed to have some really incredible coaches, especially when I was a young rider, but Ashley is one of a kind. She has developed this generation of Canada’s top riders, and I’m thankful that she’s taught me and given me the skills to bring along the next generation of Canadian riders; that’s our future.”
“Ashley has been a huge part of shaping my career. She’s truly passionate about bringing her students up to be good riders, but also about educating us on how to be thoughtful teachers with a positive approach.
What stands out to me the most is not only her incredible ability to train a horse to Grand Prix, but also her strength in communicating the training process to her students. It’s one thing to be a good horse trainer, but to be a great horse trainer and riding coach all in one is pretty special. She has set an example for all of us to be kind to our horses and to work hard for success, and I feel very lucky that she has been able to share her knowledge and expertise with me through the years.
“It’s a very unique situation to have such a close group going to the Olympics together under the leadership of one trainer. We’re all good friends and we’ve all been on various teams together. Ashley deserves a lot of recognition and gratitude, not just from her students, but from Canada. I hope people understand just how much she contributes to the sport in our nation, in a way even more now than when she was competing for Canada.
Everyone looks at the most successful riders and coaches and thinks they must have some magic secret that nobody else knows about, but that’s never the case. With Ashley the secret is simply being a good horseperson, having a lot of knowledge and experience having trained hundreds of horses, and staying consistent in following the training scale. She’s a superb trainer of horses, and also a superb trainer of riders. Not everyone can be both.
Most of all, I appreciate that Ashley respects us all as professional riders and trainers, and allows us to trust our own knowledge and instincts. She’s not the type of trainer who says, “You must do it this way.” She allows us to be our own individual riders and trainers.”
“I have worked with Ashley now for close to four years, and I can honestly say she is second to none. She is an amazing rider in her own right and has a tremendously successful career in the saddle. She has an ability to use those countless hours in the saddle and experience working with different horses throughout her own riding career to bring a fresh approach and perspective to each rider and horse combination she works with.
To me, she is super-human in her ability to balance her professional career as a rider and coach with her personal life and her family! She truly wants to see everyone succeed and is always in your corner. I firmly believe that ability has brought out the best within everyone she has worked with, and I am grateful to call her my coach.”
“I’ve known Ashley for 35 years. She’s one of my closest friends, as well as being my coach. Our families are close and our children have grown up alongside each other; we’ve been there for each other for weddings and funerals and everything in between. This shared history is part of what makes our athlete/ coach relationship so outstanding. We finish each other’s sentences and we each know what the other is thinking without saying anything.
Ashley has experienced top international competition including the Olympics, World Championships, Pan Am Games and more. This experience allows her to prepare us for whatever will come both in and out of the competition ring. There is no one who believes in me more; she’s behind me all the way. Ashley has a work ethic like none I know and her unwavering commitment to her athletes and their horses is like no other. Therefore I’m not surprised that so many of her Canadian clients are named to the Olympic team. I’m so proud of her accomplishments!”