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Riders bring awareness to off-the-track thoroughbreds

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Photo by Willy Gass Peter Friedman and Valerie Ashker reconnected with Delta resident Alan Story, right, during a stop in Delta last week. The horse is Solar Express, a 17-year-old retired off-the-track thoroughbred.

Valerie Ashker and Peter Friedman have embarked on a cross-country horseback ride to draw attention to off-the-track thoroughbreds. These are horses that are "put out to pasture" after their racing days. Valerie's goal is to raise awareness of the thoroughbreds' strength, stamina, courage and versatility.

Ashker explains that buyers often travel to Europe and spend tens of thousands of dollars on horses when there are thoroughbreds that can be picked up for much, much less. With the help of a good trainer, these horses can be reconditioned for second careers. Valerie and her daughter Laine have both taken off-the-track thoroughbreds to Rolex, a four-star equine competition in Lexington, Ky., and the highest ranked event of its kind in the U.S.

Laine, one of the nation's leading event riders, plans to join Valerie and Peter this weekend before returning to her ranch in Virginia.

"I've done a lot of things in my life, but this is one of the hardest," Valerie said. Spending day after day in the saddle is grueling, but Valerie said she feels passionate about the cause and is able to pull a lot of energy from her horse.

The 3,300-mile trek began in Georgetown, Calif., when Ashker and Friedman stepped off their ranch and headed east on Highway 50. One rider, one horse, every step of the way. They're accompanied by Willie Gass, who is pulling a horse trailer that carries supplies to make sure both horses and riders remain comfortable. The horses are outfitted with boots, rather than horseshoes, because the boots can be removed for hoof care as necessary.

Horses and riders rest every few days, but have been averaging 20 to 25 miles per day through California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Once they clear the mountains, they hope to pick up the pace a bit. The cross-country trek will end in Virginia and will take an estimated five months.

You can track their progress on Facebook. Valerie posts updates at "2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates."

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