Olivia Towers Dressage Open Day

I’ve been watching Olivia Towers’ vlogs for a while now. It is really rare to be able to get an insight into the riding and competing of someone who trains to Grand Prix let alone to visit their yard and watch them ride their young horses.. but that’s what I did yesterday!

To start off, her home/yard is what dreams are made of: post and rail paddocks along the drive and in front of the house; a barn with stables, wash area and solarium; a big horse walker; a beautiful indoor school and gardens/grounds with a literal lake in them.  It actual felt a bit intrusive to be able to wander freely around the yard (it must be really strange for her parents) but I guess that is all part of being an all-sharing influencer and I really appreciated the opportunity.

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Olivia rode four horses through the day.  She started with Barbie, the massive (much bigger in real life than you can tell on vlogs) palomino four year old.  She was pretty majestic and Olivia showed the straightforward schooling routine she does with her twice a week (alongside one hack and one lunging session).

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Next up was five year old Joey; my new favourite!  Olivia and her mum explained that although he looks like a chunky mini Valegro, actually he is not strong and is behind their other five YO.  They said that he isn’t particularly forward or keen on schooling.  I sat there wondering what you do with a horse like this when you have Grand Prix ambitions and he’s not bothered – is there a point at which you say, regardless of breeding, maybe this isn’t for him?  Or do you change your plan to get him more interested and just accept that it will take longer to get there?  When I asked, Libby (Olivia’s mum) confirmed that they need their horses to get to Grand Prix and that he will get there.  It was amazing to see him transform after warming up and even my untrained eye could see that although he starts off in first gear, he is going to be spectacular!  His schooling is not dissimilar to what Olivia does with Barbie but with higher expectations.

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She showed far more lateral work with Moley, the other five year old, who (although taller and more babyish in looks) they said was far stronger.

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After lunch and some free time to explore Olivia did a demo on Eagle.  Her “top of the string” horse Wilf was out with a sting to the face but Eagle is competing at Inter 1 so he is pretty impressive too. Both Libby and Olivia both made it clear that Eagle and Wilf are less naturally able than the younger horses so that, combined with the fact that they are the first ones she has taken through the levels, means that the younger ones should be more successful than the older ones.  Regardless, seeing Eagle’s pirouettes and the beginning of his piaffe and passage was pretty special.

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So my points to take away from the day

  • Warming up properly is so important – get that right and you’re setting yourself up for a good session.  Joey’s demo showed exactly that.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions.  I know everyone says this but I was certainly reminded today.
  • Every horse has it’s own journey – I think when you’re a one horse owner it is easy to forget this but all Olivia’s horses are so different, even the ones who are the same age as each other.
  • A horse doesn’t have to have natural talent to progress – though it helps.
  • Every rider struggles – if you follow Olivia on social media you will know that she is very realistic and when she did her demo on Eagle she checked in with her mum regularly and was very honest about the fact that they are very much learning the Grand Prix “tricks” together, it isn’t easy.
  • I REALLY want to ride in a beautiful carpet fibre, indoor arena!

 

 

Tips from HOYS

On Thursday I took a little trip to Birmingham for the second day of HOYS.  Yet again I struck gold by having my day off on ‘dressage day’.  There was a Q & A in the Live Zone with Olivia Towers and Alice Oppenheimer, a masterclass with Carl Hester and the Dressage Future Elite Championship which was won by Charlotte Dujardin.  If you didn’t make it – here are the main things I took away from the day – they weren’t necessarily new lessons but certainly timely reminders.

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Stick in the stretch zone

At the Q & A I asked for any tips when getting back to riding after a medical reason kept you away from it.  Olivia answered with the ‘safe, stretch and danger’ theory – that staying in the safe zone would be not riding at all, being in the stretch zone would be gradually getting back into it and being in the danger zone would be getting out there to a competition straight away.  It made perfect sense – I’ve definitely been in danger of going into the danger zone but it was a good reminder that stretch is best!

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Remember no one gets 100%

Olivia and Carl BOTH said this!  No one gets 100% at dressage – you can seek to be perfect but you never will be.  It is a levelling thing to remember that even the greats aren’t perfect.

Even the most precious horses are turned out together

I have always been very much in the ‘let horses be horses’ camp as at my yard, the horses live out 24/7 in groups and I have seen how that benefits their behaviour.  Carl saying that Charlotte’s Vogue gets turned out in the field with Valegro just proves the value of turn out and companionship.

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Variety is the spice of life

The other thing Carl said is that the horses at his yard only school two days at a time and mix it up with hacking and pole work.  It is very easy to get stuck in a rut especially when you’re limited like I am at the moment but it reminded me of my vow to try to hack out, ride over poles, do an all walk session and a normal schooling session each week at the moment.

Aside from the horsemanship and mindset tips I also really enjoyed seeing the Musical Drive of the Heavy Horses, the Double Harness Scurry, the Mounted Games (although sadly a few ponies went lame during them), the Ridden Heavy Horse Championship, the GB Vaulters, Alizee Froment’s bridleless dressage and the Household Cavalry Musical Ride. It was a thoroughly good day out!

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