Running her own farm while also competing internationally has taught dressage star Olivia LaGoy-Weltz how to handle the unexpected — and that’s more crucial than ever now.
Dressage standout Olivia LaGoy-Weltz knew that running her own farm while competing on an elite international level would require mastery of both flexibility and balance — but she never guessed that those skills would also prepare her for dealing with the impact of a global pandemic.
Just a few short months ago, Olivia and her horse, Rassing’s Lonoir, “Lono,” were at the top of their game. They planned to compete in the FEI World Cup in Las Vegas, one of the biggest dressage events in the United States.
Then, reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. began to surface.
“Before it was being taken seriously nationally, my husband said to me, ‘They’ll probably cancel competitions like the World Cup,’” Olivia recalls. “I was like, ‘They’re not going to do that. Stop trying to rain on my parade.’”
But her husband was right. Within a few weeks, the World Cup had been canceled. “I don’t want to say it was taken away from me,” says Olivia, “but it disappeared. It was that moment when you feel like someone just popped your balloon.”
As Olivia navigates a world on pause — just as the rest of us are doing — she’s trying to keep perspective: “I look around at people losing their jobs and being worried about putting food on the table, and then I think, I’m so lucky.”
Managing the unpredictable is a vital skill Olivia has honed since buying Mountain Crest Farm in Haymarket, Va., in 2015. The 36-year-old athelete has embraced a challenging balancing act: operating her farm, learning how to be a good boss, and training to land on the podium with Lono, no matter what the world may throw at her.
“You have to hunker down and stay focused on the long run,” Olivia says. “It’s about riding the ups and downs, pushing through the hard times and enjoying the good times.”
The Learning Curve
Her first year as a farm owner brought about some of those hard times. Olivia had to make the leap from serving as a No. 2 for someone else to handling the responsibilities of being in charge — leading her staff, creating systems, and managing the physical property.
The people skills didn’t come naturally to her. So Olivia approached her growth as a businesswoman in the same way she’d approached her development as an athlete.
“One of the bigger challenges I’ve had is transitioning to truly being my own boss and the boss of other people,” she says. “I’ve had to step away and look at it like, ‘Okay, I want to be a better boss in the same way I want to ride better. How do I learn this skill set?’ It made me uncomfortable at first, but you get better at it.”
While Olivia was tending to daily farm upkeep, she was also representing Team USA with Lono, a Danish Warmblood owned by Mary Anne McPhail.
On the Small Tour circuit, the up-and-coming duo caught the attention of Steffen Peters, an American dressage legend. “How is it we don’t know about you?” Steffen asked Olivia, according to Dressage-News.com.
Soon enough, America knew all about Olivia and Lono. In 2018, they were named Traveling Reserve for Team USA at the FEI World Equestrian Games. After an 18-month break due to a farriery issue, Olivia and Lono returned to the arena in January 2020 and emerged victorious with a score of 80.495% at the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W in Wellington, Fla.
It looked as though 2020 would be the best year yet for Olivia and Lono. But then … everything changed because of COVID-19. Cancellations. Postponements. Dreams deferred.
“The biggest thing is that Lono is 16,” Olivia explains. “We’re going to go home and stay fit, but he’s trained, so I can’t ride him into the ground. I’m trying to stay positive about it.”
The Importance of Community
No matter what happens with upcoming competitions, Olivia will still have her farm to focus on — specifically, the community she’s created there. She’s determined to stay true to her reasons for buying her farm in the first place.
“I lost my mom when I was 11,” Olivia shares. “I was riding then, and it was what I threw myself into during that time. I had all these amazing trainers that helped bring me along.”
Olivia wants to offer a similar support system for the young riders she trains and employs at Mountain Crest.
“A lot of the time, riding for these kids can be a lifeline in a situation you wouldn’t otherwise know,” she says. “Most of the girls that work for me have gotten here on their own. They’ve figured out a way. I’m always trying to help those kids out. It’s super important to me.”
As Olivia has grown from horse-crazy little girl to successful professional, she’s received help in the form of several grants, for which she is most grateful to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation and its supporters.
“I’ve always been a pretty scrappy person,” Olivia says. “But these grants are so incredibly helpful. It’s such a professional way to gain financial help to keep you independent. They’re a very valued piece of the puzzle.”