Olympics newsletter


Holzer is Pop Art's biggest fan

Melanie Ho
July 20,2008

Twenty-three minutes from New York's 65th and Madison - nearly a straight drive down the Henry Hudson Parkway to the middle of a Bronx public park - is the stable of the horse Pop Art, so-named as a homage to Andy Warhol by one of his muses, Baby Jane Holzer.

The stable is part of an equestrian centre on Broadway surrounded by passing trucks, highway exhausts and ambulance sirens. But Pop Art doesn't flinch. With rider Ashley Holzer (Jane Holzer's daughter-in-law), the pair are ranked ninth in the world and form the only non-European dressage combination in the top 10 in the world (a Mexican horse and rider combination are next at 15th).

"I love it," Holzer says about the stables she has run with her husband, 1992 Olympic showjumper and real estate investor Rusty Holzer, since 1994. "It's minutes away from my home in Manhattan. How many times can you say that? In that way, it's beautiful. My horses are kind of used to being in the city."

When Pop Art comes to compete in Hong Kong next month, Holzer's city horse might have an advantage. Noise doesn't bother him. Neither does the heat as Holzer has trained him in the middle of a New York summer afternoon as well as 38 degrees Celsius temperatures in Florida.

Holzer (nee Nicoll) and her husband started their stables in Riverdale, a middle and upper-class residential neighbourhood in the Bronx. The stables' lease was up and the Holzers signed a 25-year lease and renovated the stables so Holzer would no longer have to commute from Manhattan to the New Jersey stables of Olympic dressage rider Robert Dover.

"I was on the verge of quitting because I couldn't spend that much time driving to the horses every day," says Holzer, whose commute would total between five and six hours a day. "It wasn't working, I was sort of at my wit's end and kudos to my husband. He has really transformed this into something beautiful."

Now the centre is sought after internationally, both by elite dressage athletes and those who come by after school for their lessons.

Though Holzer, who was born and raised in Toronto, was not officially named to the Canadian dressage team until the selection trials, her inclusion was obvious. Her ranking is at a career high and she has won numerous competitions with Pop Art this season, including her final competition before the Olympics in Blainville, Quebec.

Holzer has competed at two previous Olympics, one in 1988 where she won a bronze medal in team dressage and in 2004, where the team finished ninth. Her medal from Seoul is at her parents' home, where Holzer says it belongs because they "own every cent of it" after all of their support. The medal in Seoul was unexpected but the horses had travelled well and as they improved, the team began to think that a medal could be won.

"We were thinking in the backs of our mind, maybe this could happen," Holzer says. "We were never sure because we don't get to compete in that many international events as a team that often."

As the Games near, it's become that time of year where everyone tries to offer suggestions to help deal with the heat. Among those offered to Holzer: Bikram yoga practiced in a 40 degree and 40 per cent humidity room and placing ice packs underneath her riding hat.

The yoga she can accept, but the ice ...

"It was like, okay you've never done extended trot," Holzer says.

Holzer was one of the Canadian dressage riders dragged into the heat and humidity debate, when it was reported the team would opt out of Hong Kong because of climate concerns. Although it was soon revealed it was the qualifying criteria that the riders took issue with, the climate issue - fresh off of the pullout from the Swiss dressage team - stuck.

"I was very clear to them," Holzer says. "The heat and humidity has been nothing new and the reason for my concern was it was a very tight frame of time at the end and they wanted to do too much in too small a window. That causes too much stress."

Holzer added that she was disappointed her argument about the original criteria (which would involve the horses competing in competitions in Europe after selection) was intertwined with the arguments about the weather. However, the criteria issue was resolved and in June, Holzer was formally named to the team which also includes Jacqueline Brooks on Gran Gesto, Leslie Reid on Orion and travelling reserve Evi Strasser on Quantum Tyme.

As for the state of the weather, Holzer asked how intense it could be before replying that she enjoyed hot weather.

"I am going to love this weather," Holzer said. "I hate the cold, I love the hot."

It is difficult to determine if Holzer actually adores the heat or if declaring hot over cold is a form of psychological preparation, but despite being raised with snow and wind chill, Holzer has also competed in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. And August in New York is not known for the cooler climates usually associated with Europe.

The old adage "with horses, anything can happen" is very much applicable to the Olympics, but many would say that you can't go wrong with naming top-ranked Dutch rider Anky Van Grunsven, who will come to Hong Kong to defend both her 2000 and 2004 gold medals, as the one to beat.

"She is the favourite, no question about it," Holzer says. "For riders in the top 10 it's going to be close. Of course, Anky is much higher than all of us. The rest of us need some help."

Then again, others are willing to offer alternative encouragement.

From the other end of the telephone line, Holzer's son Harry can be heard telling his mum: "Beat Anky."

The life and times of a busy equestrian

1. Holzer trains her Olympic horse not in the country, but in the Bronx, 25 minutes away from her Manhattan home

2. Holzer's mother-in-law Jane Holzer was good friends with Andy Warhol and suggested she name her Olympic horse Pop Art

3. Pop Art is described as the "family pet who happens to be super good at dressage" and Holzer's two kids play with him like he's a puppy

4. Holzer's Canada team are ranked ninth in the world, the only non-European team inside the top 10

5. She keeps her 1988 Olympic bronze medal in team dressage at her parents' house in Toronto

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