By Amber Heintzberger
We're going behind the scenes with Team USA Dressage as they prep for the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. Want more? Catch the rest of the series on NF.insider.
As an alternate for the US Dressage Team for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz is currently hard at work training alongside her teammates. Focusing all of her time and energy on preparations for the Games is a challenge, but one the 35-year-old rider and her mount, Rassing’s Lonoir, are diving in with all six of their combined feet.
Olivia, 35, was also the alternate for the 2015 Pan Am Games team in Toronto, but that was small potatoes compared to WEG. This is her first time as an alternate on a major Grand Prix team and she's getting a real taste of what it's like to be in the big leagues. In fact, stepping up to the international level has been a bigger test than she realized: "I love riding and training - that’s what makes me tick - but competing at this level is really another skill set I need to develop," she says.
Being part of Team USA dressage is a huge honor, but the travel and training schedule leading up to the World Equestrian Games is no joke. It's been strenuous on both Olivia and 'Lono', her 2004 Danish Warmblood partner. “When WEG’s over, I’ll have been gone for five months for this process,” she says. Though she owns and operates Mountain Crest Farm in Haymarket, VA with her husband, Olivia made the decision to spend the weeks prior to the Games in Wellington, Fla. for more one-on-one time with coaches Debbie McDonald and Robert Dover.
Now that their whirlwind summer of criss-crossing Europe is over, Olivia is focused on Lono's happiness, her own fitness, and making sure she's a team player.
Photo by Shannon Brinkman
“Mostly at this point we want to keep his fitness going more than working on ‘stuff’," she says about her bay gelding with whom she finished third in the CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle in Aachen last month. “He had some easy days after Aachen - you don’t want to just come off a major show and give them two weeks off when they’re super fit - so I spent part of that week just longeing him,” Olivia says. "We just work on thoroughness and getting him over his back and 'gymnasticizing' him rather than riding him in ‘show mode’. He’s 14 years old and a trained Grand Prix horse – he knows how to do everything so I want to keep him fresh and happy and fit.”
She's also gone above and beyond for Lono, who she's owned since he was seven. "We have to bring our farrier down here because this horse has pretty specific feet – we had him done by someone else in Europe – but you know you have an amazing team when your farrier drives 15 hours and turns around the next day!" she shares. "We use Tim Ober as our vet and he’s coming down as well. The horse has been feeling great and is super sound, but you want to stay on top of everything.”
"He’s 14 years old and a trained Grand Prix horse – he knows how to do everything so I want to keep him fresh and happy and fit.”
Speaking of staying fit: Olivia has been filling her body with the good stuff in preparation for Tryon. “I’m always a pretty good eater – I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit and salad and chicken; I do some pasta but mostly no dairy and stuff like that,” she shares.
"I’m lucky I’m a fairly athletic person and maintain condition pretty well, but we’re going on my fourth month of riding one horse a day," she says about the travel required for WEG qualification. "That’s really different when you’re a professional. All of us ride at least a few horses a day; those of us who run businesses ride at least five a day, so that’s a little tricky."
Photo by Judith Kuivenhoven
While physical fitness is obviously essential, riding at the international level is also a mental game - big time - and LaGoy-Weltz says that reading books about being a competitive athlete is one of her favorite ways to prepare for riding down the centerline.
“I love the book The Talent Code and I just read Top Dog and The Big Leak, [all of which talk] about how we subconsciously limit ourselves based on how we have been raised – not on purpose, but about how we self-sabotage. A friend of mine read it and said it was interesting, so I read it too,” she says. "It’s not that I’m not competitive – I used to be really competitive in soccer – but in dressage, you have to be refined and detailed and the horse has a mind of its own. It’s another being that you’re working with.”
Though she doesn’t have a particular pre-ride playlist for getting relaxed or pumped up to go in the ring, Olivia enjoys listening to music to loosen up. “At home, the girls love to put on music and I think one of my favorites is when we have the ‘semi-oldies station’, say, 70’s 80’s and 90’s, like Brown Eyed Girl and American Pie. The 90’s bring back my high school days. I’m a big Coldplay fan, too. I like Simon and Garfunkel – just music that’s nice to listen to and isn’t too intense. I think it’s also nice for the horses to have it playing in the barn.”
"It’s not that I’m not competitive – I used to be really competitive in soccer – but in dressage, you have to be refined and detailed and the horse has a mind of its own. It’s another being that you’re working with."
Up to two hours before the jog, USA Dressage can substitute Olivia for a team member who is unable to compete. If they don’t need her by then, she can go home, though she plans to stick around and cheer the team on. “I have some little USA flags because I will definitely be one of our biggest cheerers!" she shares. "I’m really excited for the group. It’s great to be a part of, and while it would be great to have one of those assured riding spots, I support one hundred percent everyone on the team and want to see them be their best.”
Feature photo by Jessica Pjilman