H&H caught up with under-25 dressage star Olivia Oakeley at the NAF Five Star British Dressage Winter Championships at Hartpury
Name: Olivia Oakeley
Based: Stroud, Gloucestershire
Horses at Hartpury: Donna Summer (Rio) and Don Carissimo (Darcy)
Have you ever scored a 10?
Yes, from Stephen Clarke for a centre line at World Class training — he said it was perfect!
What are your plans for this year?
I hope to keep campaigning Rio at U25 grand prix, and compete at international small tour with Darcy. I’ve also got three young horses to bring out; two four-year-olds, Lordswood Gently (Lord Leatherdale x Negro) and Lordswood Givenchy (Charmeur x Special D), and a six-year-old, Eclips (San Remo x Krack C).
What’s your training philosophy?
To have fun! I’m not a typical dressage rider. I love going hacking and jumping, I’d happily event. Maybe when Rio retires I’ll take him eventing — [to Rio] “If we don’t win the dressage, you’re sacked!”. When it comes to training, I don’t like to be told it’s good unless it’s really good — I’d rather have 45min of abuse!
Do you have a secret weapon?
That’s a hard one [“her phone”, chips in mum, Katie] but I’d probably say my competitive nature. I don’t get “bad” nerves, but I come from a really sporty family. My granddad was a world champion and Olympic yachtsman and my great-granddad was a world champion wrestler — it’s in my genes.
What are you thinking about as you go down the centre line?
I’m on autopilot by then! But while I’m going round the edge of the boards, I’m thinking about what I need to do, and how to prepare each individual horse for the test — whether that’s trotwork with Rio or speed control with Darcy.
What advice would you give to younger riders?
The same things you always hear really: it takes hard work and dedication. Spend as much time as you can watching and learning from other people. Money will only get you so far — we aren’t blessed with millions — and the fantastic support I’ve had from my parents is far more important.
What was the story behind Rio?
We didn’t have loads of money to spend on a horse, and my parents decided if I really wanted to ride, I’d make something of him, or I’d get into boys at 14 and they could flog him!
Last year he was for sale, but he’s still around — what happened?
He’s not going anywhere. I can’t sell him. I’ll keep him at grand prix for as long as he’s happy, and then hopefully lease him to a junior or young rider so he can still be on the teams. Then he can retire, to come and live at home.
You’ve recently set up on your own — how’s that going?
I think it was more traumatic for mum than for me. It was scary flying the nest at first, but I’ve got a great set up at Billow Farm. They’ve been so supportive and I don’t think I’m doing too badly!