Friday, July 25, 2008

A train wreck and the aftermath

Update April 2014: for what it is worth, at the time I wrote this article I called it as I saw it. Since then, I have  changed my tune about LA. Read some of my more recent posts, you will see this. I did think about removing this blog entry but decided against it because it is truly what I thought at the time, and I was at Rolex when the fall happene.  Blogs are all about opinion. You can take or leave mine, and anyway it has changed. My apologies to the folks I slammed in 2008. Looking back the post seems so judgemental. That was wrong.


More recent posts:
http://www.behindthebitblog.com/2010/04/day-1-rolex-first-thing-we-see.html  http://www.behindthebitblog.com/2011/05/more-thoroughbreds-anthony-patch.html


The picture above is Laine Ashker and Frodo Baggins, and this entry is not for sissies.

This article contains graphic photos/video. Consider yourself warned. I'm posting it on the weekend for a reason -- according to my blog stats, no one reads on weekends. This is just something I want to write about after watching some post-Rolex interviews with Laine Ashker, the rider who fell with her horse at the fifth fence. Frodo died, and she nearly did. If you follow eventing, you probably already know where this is going...

I have the official video footage of Frodo's fall at Rolex -- it was on YouTube briefly. Ashker and Frodo are jumping toward the camera and the the rotational fall is depicted in awful clarity. I watched it many times, because I wanted to understand what happened. The footage followed a horse and rider in a perfect somersault, hooves pointing at the sky, and falling in a graceful arc. We see only the tragic consequences of the approach -- it was not at a useful angle for analysis.



Bob had seen Quiet Man's fatal fall hours earlier. He and I returned from Rolex in a somber mood, and Bob stating flatly that he would not go to events where horses die "for our entertainment." My reaction was not so easy to characterize. I sent Laine Ashker money and a card that I had been saving to have framed -- the haystack rock on Cannon Beach, Oregon with a kite flying in the foreground. My heart broke for her and everyone who loved Frodo. I read everything I could about their fall, other falls and eventing safety.

There has been a lot of buzz about Laine Ashker since Rolex. If you can believe comments from the eventing community made in hindsight, it was common knowledge that she rode recklessly. One of her previous horses also died in competition, from an aneurysm. She has broken her neck twice. She has survived a previous rotational fall (30% of rotational falls result in fatality). But she was also enjoying success and had a shot at going to the Olympics. I reserved judgement: Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. It's easy to kick someone when they're down.




I followed her blog. She and her mom are from California, and sometimes Californians are a bit too sunny for their own good. But Laine seemed to be recovering a little too easily, and too fast, psychologically. While the eventing community ground itself into a fine dust trying to understand what was going on, Laine was doing great, making plans, moving ahead as if nothing had happened. She seemed not to "get it."



Now, months later, Ashker has been appearing on TV and in interviews. Laine's TV interview baffled me. All smiles and optimism, she relates her memories of what happened at Rolex. If the loss of Frodo haunts her, it isn't evident. She is bothered that the fall happened at an Olympic qualifier, and she was made a "scapegoat" by critics of the sport. When asked to analyze what happened, she breezily answered that the fall occurred because "it was fate and Frodo didn't pick up his legs." How's that for a post-game analysis? "Coach, I struck out because the bat wasn't doing its job." No reflection, no remorse, no accounting, but the big, excited smile of a young girl basking in media attention. In a transcript of another interview she stated she never watched the video of her fall, and she has no plans to.

She hasn't looked at it. How ironic that I can't stop looking at it.

So I watched these feel-good interviews and wonder where this girl's head is. Thank God no one ever put a microphone in my face at age 24 -- but I'm baffled at the demeanor of this young woman who has had two horses die in her her pursuit of a sport. Instead of taking time to review her program, she is ready to get another horse and have another go.

And don't get me started on her mom. Laine was barely out of the helicopter that flew her to the hospital, and mom was in the media proclaiming that of course Laine would ride again. We later learn that the doctors attending to her didn't expect her to survive. She didn't regain consciousness for days. But there's mom, who is so clearly living life through her daughter she cannot face the reality of the fall. Then or now. "Mom tells me don't look back," Laine says.

There is now another video, this one showing the approach to the fence. I don't know how long it will be up. Well, if Laine isn't going to watch it and learn, at least we can. If you have the stomach for it, and want to see the approach to the flower basket, you might be able to draw some of your own conclusions. I also happen to think it honors Frodo's memory to show what really went down. Didn't pick up his feet? See for yourself.




35 comments:

  1. I am tired of riders riding like jackasses to get to the Olympics. I am tired of rich kids just picking up other horses to ride when they're done with one. These people don't DESERVE to ride. I am tired of Riding Organizations not BANNING these riders for MONTHS after rotational falls.
    I'm also tired of the jumps not being collapsible. I don't give a SHIT if it makes it feel 'less dangerous'. Get over yourselves. You're jumping an animal that gets tired, and makes mistakes! What is this, a steeple chase?

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  2. Wow, that interview with she and her mom annoyed me too:-x just so matter a fact it was his fault that he didn't pick up his feet... she said it herself, young and dumb. Poor horse.

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  3. holy crap. i by no means am an accomplished rider but that video scared me. was that sound i heard the horse HITTING THE FENCE?? wow.

    and how can this rider NOT want to see the video footage? i'm sure it may be a bit traumatic because yes you've lived it but how else will you ever know what happened so that you can learn from it? *shakes head*

    if your in this sport and care for your horse(s) at all you would be concerned about what happened. i guess not everyone is like that.

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  4. Wow, how sad. I hate to see someone who seems to be in it just for the sport and not for the love of horses. They are living animals and we have a responsibility to take care of them and treat them with respect. If something like that happened to my horse with me riding I would be devastated, and I certainly wouldn't blame the horse. This is the kind of attitude that gets people and animals killed. You would think she would have learned a lesson by now. I'm about her age, and I think she should know better no matter how young she is.

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  5. I watched her interview yesterday. I find it completely abnormal that she could do that interview and not show even the tiniest bit of remorse or sadness. I don't get the impression she's learning from her mistakes at all.

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  6. You really are the most persuasive (not that I needed any persuasion), researched, and eloquent writer. No one could have written a more appropriate piece- You seriously should sent that to USEA.

    I felt the same way right after her fall- following Laine's progress, writing in to the family with my support and best wishes, but watching her bounce back so quickly without taking any responsibility or having any remorse is frankly disgusting. In any other sport you can get away with bouncing back from an injury and getting back in the game, but when you kill your horse- when you are reckless and ruin another athlete- you loose all your fans.

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  7. Thanks for the frank and very thorough look at this issue. I'm appalled at the lack of insight L. Ashker is showing following this incident. It's very disturbing to think that she already has another horse and as far as I've read/seen, hasn't in any way truly come to terms with what happened with her last two mounts.

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  8. Ah I'm angry now. Technically he didn't lift up his feet, true, thats why he flipped, but he was going so fast and the spot just wasn't there. He didn't have any choice he sure tried, but he was too close eh.

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  9. The girl is obviously just in it to win a name for herself and doesn't care how many horses she kills/injures. And then we have the stage mom living vicariously through her daughter, I can't believe this,if you care nothing for all the horses you are damaging, at least care about your child's health and welfare. If the girl eventually gets killed I guess mom will be a celebrity of a sort. They are both reprehensible and I must say it only makes it worse that they are now the media darlings until something else tragic happens.

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  10. I'm so glad you posted this. I had not seen the fall, nor known about the interviews. Question to rider and mom: How is a horse not like a success-machine? Answer: It is a live animal and you are responsible for its welfare. These selfish greedy people make me ill.

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  11. really well written piece.

    when you wrote: "Coach, I struck out because the bat wasn't doing its job," i think you alluded to the real source of the problem. for people like this, the horse is nothing more than a piece of sports equipment to be used then and thrown away or replaced when it wears out or breaks. it is a vehicle for the rider/owner/sponsor's blind ambition; and to the egotistical and blindly ambitious, everything - even living beings - are expendable. they are 'collateral damage' in the pursuit of a bigger, more selfish goal.

    there is probably no way to prevent these people from being involved with the sport but, at the very least, there should be suitable punishment for riders who are so careless by the sport's governing bodies and an effort by the community to withdraw support and any positive attention from them. maybe they'll get the picture that the equestrian community and the society at large find their behavior inexcusable, even if they'll probably never understand why.

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  12. Dressage in jeans nailed it -- jackasses.

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  13. Holy mother of god she didn’t have a clue as to the distance for the fence. That horse died trying to save her ass. Had he taken off where she let him go they’d have crashed it too and fuck him for having too big a heart to refuse...

    I’ll take a refusal ANY day over a hail mary to a 5’ solid obstacle...

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  14. If you go to the Chronicle of the Horse eventing forum, there is a lot of analysis of the basket jump and what happened. Apparently there is a significant dip right before this jump and Jimmy Wofford and others warned that it could get someone into trouble. See the threads on Laine Ashker for the full discussion. Not all posts are informed but there are some heavy hitters, including Denny Emerson, that post there regularly...

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  15. dressageinjeans nailed it! I watched the Bryant Gumbel segment last night about Eventing, and its dark side. In fact I was compelled to blog about it, myself.

    http://frequentlyfeline.blogspot.com/2008/07/equestrian-eventing-with-bryant-gumbel.html

    It was a most revealing piece and I walked away after viewing it, shaking my head mostly about the apathy and the reasons for not making ALL the jumps collapsible.

    I found your blog through MrsMom, and commend you for an excellent one.

    Jo

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  16. Interestingly, the Ashker farm in Virginia is on the market, and the Web site says they are relocating to Northern California. http://www.crowsearfarm.com/home.htm. In addition, several of her competition horses are for sale. Is this indicative of larger problems that they aren't talking about? Perhaps financial issues related to the accident?

    Great blog, by the way. You clearly do some research before posting. Thanks for the insights!

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  17. I couldn't bring myself to watch the interview or crash video, but--is she the one whose sister also died eventing? I thought I had read about someone recently whose sister had been killed riding several years earlier, and the mom was pretty prominent in that story--like they were suing USCTA or something...just wondered if you knew...

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  18. No, but I know that story. Info is
    available at
    http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/news/2008/05/142.shtml

    The family claims that eventing is made dangerous to be more "thrilling" to the spectators.

    To me the suit appears to be without basis.

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  19. Excellent blog...

    This post highlights one of the sad but frequent occurrences in equestrian sports. For the true horse lover, the horse is an equal partner, which is what makes equestrian sports unique from all others.

    The loss of a partner would be a tremendous blow to anyone who felt this way about their horse.

    Apparently, Laine views her horses as "tools". A means to an end. God help her next mount.

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  20. I don't think that at the age of 24 I would have the ability to handle this on the world stage the way this young woman is being asked to. Sunny California (is she from Northern or Southern California — there is a huge difference!!!) makes for a great place to own and ride horses nearly year round. I treasure that greatly. I am sorry for this tragic event.

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  21. In response to the previous post--the interview said that Laine Ashker is from El Dorado Hills, in Northern California, about 45min from Sacramento, where I live. Although I hate to make assumptions, I must add that EdH is the expensive, trendy neighborhood in the region. Because the area is rural (in a stylish way, of course) it is full of swanky lesson stables as well. Again, I'm sure there are exceptions, and that this attitude is not limited to only upper-class areas, but I have taken lessons from several barns there, and without exception they all had the total lack of conscience that Ms. Ashker demonstrated. Girls rode lame horses, jumped 3 year olds over tall fences, and generally had a nauseating unconcern over their hurting, unhappy mounts. The lack of basic horse knowledge and training was disturbing--I got out of there before I could be infected.

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  22. I don't think that's limited to eventing, or to a region of the country. At a barn where I boarded, a young girl trained her mare over 4 foot fences almost every time she rode, and that horse had the biggest, most hideous windpuff i'd ever seen -- it looked like a deformity. There was also a girl who campaigned a lame horse (lame at the trot) in jumpers, with success. I fault her less because she was a good, conscientious horse owner in other ways, and the horse didn't seem to mind -- he actually seemed to like jumping -- he just gimped at the trot...

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  23. I don't think that the region she came from "infected" her. The region she came from may have influences on her, but she has been on the east coast almost as long as she was in Northern CA. To make generalizations based on where she came from can't be right, remember, she did go through pony club and no one in the horse industry can say that pony clubbers aren't well informed and taught. I don't agree with her comments in the interviews or her apparent lack of remorse, but she is a grown woman and is apparently medal driven. There is no excuse for her behavior and most of all lack of remorse. If it was me or my horse, I would still be in a grieving state. I agree with mostly everything that has been posted here. The one exception is the horse that died of an anuerysm. That can't be held against Laine. Anuerysms go undetected in horses and you find out about them too little too late. I had a horse die of an aneurysm playing in his paddock. No warning...just gone. I am from El Dorado Hills and there ARE many exceptions to the swanky, upper-class attitude previously mentioned.

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  24. Hi Anonymous,

    You are right that the significance of region in her reaction is probably an overgeneralization.
    The question is whether the aneurysm was triggered by overexertion. I've seen no evidence on this but it seems possible. I've also heard (from several eventers at the event) that ESJS colicked the night before the event where he had the aneurysm.

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  25. you know what if that fall had happened to me i would not want to see the video either!! horses make mistakes and so do riders. if you watch the video frodo dropped his feet causeing him to flip because the cross country fences do not fall. if you are goinbg to blame someone or something blame the people that designed the fences if they were built to fall he wouldnt of flipped. You all should really give this girl a break her horse just died and she almost did. get off her back and try to imagine how you would feel!!!!

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  26. The ignorance displayed on this board is unbelievable. I rode and competed with Laine and she is a phenominal young women, incredible athlete, and cares deeply about her horses. This sport is far from perfect and the recent accidents have highlighted the changes to the sport, the effects of which have only been seen in the last few years.
    To comment on Laine or her mothers response to this situation, or to speculate their financial situation and therefore their commitment and knowledge to the sport and their animals is absurd.
    Her fall at Rolex in 2008 was an absolute tragedy, of that there is no doubt! Pointing fingers, and discrediting an entire sport and its athletes both human and equine is ignorant. Every sport has its downfalls, we can only learn from our mistakes to ameliorate the arena in which we compete.

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  27. Hi Anon, people react to what they see and feel, and I stand by the views I held at the time this happened. Keep in mind that my husband saw the accident and we were both pretty deeply affected.

    That said, I have learned a great deal more about LA since then. She has impressed me. I'm not inclined to "pull" this essay because it was what I felt at the time, but my thinking has turned around. Watching her on Anthony Patch and seeing her riding now is an inspiration.

    It's very hard to sit "outside the circle" and judge what is going on in someone's world, but when folks are in the limelight that is what happens. LA did not represent herself well, and maybe she's been judged too harshly, but that's what happens when you're out there in the public eye. Now, in 2011, I think people need to let this go, and let her enjoy her success. She is a lovely rider and has shown a lot of grace and maturity in the last few years. I will be cheering for her at Rolex.

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  28. I too agree, Laine Ashker has come a long way since the tragedy at Rolex. She however, seems to lose her competion/up and coming horses to often. Any idea how Barracuda(Guppy) was injured and putdown? just curious!!!!

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  29. personally i don't think anyone should blame her or the horse. it was a terrible accident. it could have happened to anyone. people get bad distances all the time.

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  30. You people are disgusting. This girl lost a horse and could have lost her life. The fact that she grieved privately is none of your concern and the reality of your judgement towards her for her strength shows your weakness, not hers. It's her life, not just sport. She cares more about those horses than any of you do about anything save offensive blogging banter. If you call her an inspiration and have respect for yourself, then you'd pull this 'for show' article. From, a childhhood friend of Lainey's (who knows her better than any of you judgemental strangers).

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  31. Hi Anonymous, for what it is worth, at the time I wrote this article I called it as I saw it. Since then, I have definitely changed my tune about LA, and if you read some of my more recent posts, e.g., http://www.behindthebitblog.com/2010/04/day-1-rolex-first-thing-we-see.html and http://www.behindthebitblog.com/2011/05/more-thoroughbreds-anthony-patch.html you will see that I have seen much to admire about her. I did think about removing this blog entry but decided against it because it is truly what I thought at the time, and I was at Rolex the year of the fall. Maybe I should include these links in the post to update it, as truly I have become a fan and look forward to seeing her at Rolex this year. Blogs are all about opinion. You can take or leave mine.

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  32. I still agree with this blog post, six years down the line.

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  33. I still agree as well. I personally know Laine and if you look on her Twitter account, she is no stranger of using words like gay and fag

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  34. Laine has no problem judging others. I have text messages from her in which she uses slurs against others. She hasn't changed, her acting has just improved. She is her own #1 fan and would do anything to see her name in lights. Don't be fooled.

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Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.