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RIDER REVEAL Olivia Steidle

Written by Cynthia Dawn

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Posted on December 22 2020

A SHINING STAR 

I want my students to learn to coalesce with their horse; to be able to communicate with them; to learn as much as they can about how to use their bodies to influence their horse in a positive manner, and ultimately, to ride in harmony with them. ~ Olivia Steidle 

When speaking with Olivia Steidle, one cannot help but feel her warmth and steadfast nature that is buoyed by her quiet confidence, deep wisdom, and kind leadership—evident of having learned how to ride the polarities of life with unwavering strength and grace.

Olivia and Muppet.

Olivia, an equestrian athlete and FEI Dressage Trainer, based out of Travelda Farm in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, has been a full-time trainer for more than twenty years. “I currently have approximately eleven horses in training and about the same number of riders. Some are boarders, while others trailer in; I also go to Bucks County Horse Park just down the road and train there too.” Travelda Farm is owned and operated by the Burland family.  

Her Horses 

The full spectrum of Olivia’s horses and students in training is a testament to her vast knowledge, experience and equestrian adeptness. “I love working with youngsters and really enjoy bringing them along. You know, they’re a green slate and it’s so much simpler, but I also love the older horses.” 

One of the youngsters in Olivia’s program is 6-year-old Muppet. “Muppet is a 17’ 2” opinionated Hanoverian mare and she’s glorious! I'm developing her and will  do Third Level with her this season, then hopefully PSG in her 7 or 8 year  depending on how she continues to develop. I’m super grateful to Brenda Curnin for allowing me to ride and train her!” Olivia and Muppet are the 2020 Second Level Reserve Champions for the Group Member Organization (GMO) Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association (ECDCTA). Muppet’s other accomplishments include winning the 5-year-old Materiale USDF Breeders Final Championship at Devon in 2019 and USDF Materiale Horse of the Year for 4 and 5-year-old mares. She was also 4-year old Reserve Champion mare for the USDF Materiale and received the 2019 ESDCTA First Level Champion (local GMO). Muppet’s sire is Fuerst Romancier. 

Olivia and Muppet. 

Another star in Olivia’s string of horses is 11-year-old Hanoverin Ducati (Dancier/Londonderry) and he has awards of his own. “Ducati is ridden by my 18-year-old working student, Paige Zimmerman, and they are the 2020 GMO ESDCTA Second Level Champions. Ducati and Paige also won her 2019 dressage seat equitation at NEDA regionals which qualified her for this year’s championships but she decided not to go because of Covid. I honestly think they would have won.” Other awards include winning the Second Level Junior/Young Rider American Hanoverian Society Championships for 2020 and USDF Junior/Young Rider First Level Junior/Young Riders for the American Hanoverian Society in 2019. Ducati is also owned by Brenda Curnin. 

Paige and Ducati.

The youngest horse in Olivia’s program is 3-year-old For Amour by For Romance out of a San Amour mare. “I saw her as a weanling and was really impressed. Brenda and I had been looking for another horse for a long time and it seemed like a good idea to have a young one for the future, so we bought her. For Amour was started over the spring by Roddy Strang and arrived a couple of months ago. She is perfectly lovely—super lanky and sweet as the day is long. She’s pretty special and we’re really excited about her future!”   

 

For Amour

As diversity would have it, Olivia also has a 21-year-old Off-the-Track-Thoroughbred (OTTB) in training. “Buddy came to me as a 13-year-old and was traumatized because he had been in a barn fire. He was very depressed, had low confidence, and had not been cantered under saddle for two years. But Buddy blossomed and I trained him up to Fourth Level, so he can do pretty much everything. He has a really good hind leg and a heart of gold. He belonged to a client who has allowed him to be a part of our program and now Paige rides him beautifully; together they earned her bronze medal. Buddy’s show name is A Year in Time and he’s super fancy. People who see him think he’s a warmblood. I love teaching on him!”

Paige and Buddy. 

Additional horses in her program include a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare, Peanut, who is owned and ridden by Karla Dreisbach and also ridden by BethAnn Adams; the riders are in their 60’s and 70’s. Add to that, a 13-year-old Trakehner, a 29-year old Mecklenburg schoolmaster and a 5-year old Irish cob, named Shakespeare who Olivia refers to as a “head turner.” How’s that for all inclusivity?

Ava and Clark (owned by Jessica Darling).  

And just to punctuate Olivia’s repertoire of horses, riders and talent, she has a Western pony and rider in training. “Drago is an 8 -year-old Quarterhorse who is 14’2”and perfect. He does dressage and he also jumps and his rider is lovely. Dressage and Western actually translate pretty well. Both disciplines are working off of seat with open hips and light contact. “Go Olivia! When you’re a rider, you’re a rider, right? 

Training Principles 

Olivia’s passion and connection with horses is palpable. “I want my students to learn to coalesce with their horses; to be able to communicate with them, learn as much as they can about how to use their own bodies to influence their horse in a positive manner, and to ultimately, ride in harmony with them.” 

Olivia and Muppet.

The word coalesce is the very essence of Olivia’s work as a trainer, rider, and horsewoman. I see horses running across a field in excitement and happiness and that’s what I want them to feel underneath me—that same happiness. I want to bring a horse into carrying himself a certain way that helps him to use what God has given him.” 

As a trainer, Olivia has a remarkable ability to meet each horse and rider right where they are and put them on their own unique course to grow together toward personal bests. “It’s very rewarding to me to watch each rider and see how they click with their horses. I believe each horse has a certain kind of potential and I want to do my best to bring it out—and I believe the same of the rider.” 

Olivia is also committed to the well-being of the horse and her training program is implemented with deep integrity and clear intention. “I’m a fairly open person with regard to a rider’s specific goals but people figure out pretty quickly that if they only want to do the tricks, I’m just not going there. I will not teach the tricks without the horse first learning how to properly manipulate his body and create something beautiful.” 

Olivia and Shakespeare.

Her personal journey with horses traverses through a hilarious recall of an accidental wild ride in Germany at age five, to riding her bike for miles from her house to a barn at age eleven in order to pick horses feet and whatever else she could do in exchange for riding lessons, horse show wins and faux pas, eventually being introduced to dressage while in high school during a summer camp in Vermont, then apprenticing herself after college. “It’s been this pervasive calling throughout my life. I don’t come from a horse-riding family and I didn’t have a lot of money, so I did all that I could to pursue what I call the best sport in the world. I honestly believe that a love for horses is something you’re born with; either you love being around horses or you don’t. It’s not necessarily something that’s taught.” She smiles. “I’ve done some very unscientific research and this is what I’ve found to be true. It’s very interesting.”   

Loss and Resilience 

Woven into the texture of Olivia’s horse life is poignant loss from which she has emerged with admirable and even radical resilience. “Around the same time that Covid broke out, I experienced a traumatic loss. My 3-year-old horse Ollie, had to be put down. He looked a little neurological and it turned out that he had a pinched nerve in his neck because his skeleton grew too fast. He also had a lesion on his brain stem. It all happened very fast and I didn’t give myself a lot of time to grieve. I just jumped back into working to distract myself. It’s a way to deal but not always healthy. I’m still not quite over that.” 

And there’s more. “I had another traumatic experience in 2005. There was a barn fire and the barn burned to the ground; there were no survivors. I lost two personal horses and several clients’ horses. It was devasting beyond words. But thankfully, I have a tremendous support system and that’s what helped me move through it.” It definitely takes a village.  

Olivia and Muppet Photo credit: Giana Terranova

“I had just started training with Felicitas Von Neumann-Cosel and I was so excited because her philosophies were very much aligned with mine. And then the fire happened, “ she recalls. Felicitas said to meWhenever you’re ready, come out and stay with me for a couple of days; we’ll get you back on your feet and back in the saddle.’ And that’s exactly what she did. I remember riding one of her horses during a lesson and I was just crying and crying because the horse reminded me so much of a horse I had lost in the fire. Felicitas just kept me going, kept me riding—it was really cathartic. She is definitely my greatest influence and a really good friend.” Olivia’s gratitude is heartfelt.

 

 Olivia and Muppet

Of course, the horses did their part too and Olivia’s connection with them is visceral. “Horses are just so healing. It’s their smell, their expression, their honesty, their kindness and forgiveness – no matter what, they will always forgive you.” Sometimes when the heart is cracked wide open, the auspicious reciprocity between horse and human has resuscitative qualities. 

Along with Olivia’s steadfastness, when asked about her greatest accomplishment as a rider and trainer, she replies, “I feel like I’ve become a much softer and intuitive rider and a better communicator with horses. It’s my hope that right now I’m the best I’ve been so far and I will keep growing.” 

2021 Goals 

As winter begins, Olivas’s 2021 goals are in queue. “The winter is mainly training time for us, so we’ll do some clinics and maybe a winter series. I’ll take Muppet out at Third Level and test her flying change wheels to see if they’re all intact and we're setting our sights on the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) for Paige and Ducati. I want my clients showing too.” 

From left to right, Olivia, Paige, Bridget Steidle, Ashley Gilbert

Gratitude for Her Team 

Olivia is keenly aware of the collaboration required to make it all happen. “I’m really lucky to have such an incredible team! There’s Page Zimmerman, Ava Geiser, and Brenda Curnin who owns five of my horses and owns and manages the barn. She continues. “My clients are great too! Truly, my whole group is awesome; they are all so loyal and kind and trusting. I’m super grateful for them!" 

Brenda Curnin, Mia Zimmerman, Olivia, Paige 

Olivia is also a family woman and her thoughtful lifestyle epitomizes her insane ability for time acrobatics. We’re definitely an outside family and my husband, Kevin, and I do lot of walking and biking with the kids. My daughter, Bridget rides as well and I’ve been incredibly blessed to have one of my students teaching her on a pony named Obie (owned by Ava Geyser). I love seeing her have fun trail riding, doing fences, dressage, she likes it all. It’s really joyful for me to watch. My son, Coltrane, plays hockey and is a runner, though much of that has been shut down with Covid restrictions.” Add to her family portrait, Leon, an 11-year-old Catahula Leopard Hound rescue who climbs trees and you get the full picture. 

From left to right. Olivia's son, Coltrane, daughter, Bridget, and dog, Leon

 

Her Kingsley Boots 

“I love The Dressage Store! And I love my Kingsley boots, Montar breeches, PS of Sweden breeches and my KEP helmet! My boots are gorgeous! My first pair is the Capri with cognac colored pebbles, blue snakeskin, and crystals. They fit beautifully and feel great! I’m lucky enough to have a second pair that I show in! They’re navy blue and we designed them around a starry, starry night textile. They are really stunning! I have a third pair that are the polo type boots with a front zipper and they are super comfortable. They’re soft boots which I hadn’t ridden in for a while, but they’re the firmest leather with a leather strap across the knee and ankle AND they have a star along the side!” She laughs when she adds, “And now I’m working on designing my fourth pair.”  

Olivia's Kingsley Boots. 

 

Olivia's Kingsley Boots.

Hey Olivia, what’s in your tack room? 

“Kingsley bridles and Kingsley saddle pads which is all I want right now because there’s so many colors and they’re gorgeous! You’ll also see extra tack, my Devoucoux saddle, long lines, lung lines, and a vacuum—that is hugely important.” 

When Olivia reflects on all that this year has presented, she shares, “I think it’s made me even more grateful for my riding.” And sage words for anyone interested in a life with horses, “Figure out what is it about horses that makes you want to do it and then expand on that—it’s a labor of Love.” 

Olivia and For Amour

It’s been an intense year for all of us and there’s universality in everyone’s life story—collective wisdom. So perhaps Olivia’s reminds us, as Winter Solstice arrives in the northern hemisphere and the Holidays are dawning, we have an invitation to pause, maybe enjoy a slow cup of tea, and allow ourselves to rest and digest the whole of it. We’re stronger than we realize and there’s much to be grateful for! 

And as we gift ourselves a present moment, may we all remember what it is that lights us up—and do more of it! 

“Be Fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”    ~Jennifer Lee

 Cynthia Dawn is an Author, Writer, Coach and Mom. www.cynthiadawn.com Follow her on Instagram cynthia.d.a.w.n. and Facebook Cynthia Dawn