Call it beginner’s luck – or more likely, the result of hard work and acquired skill – but 15-year-old Olivia Blaber has a knack for succeeding on the first try.
In 2019, the Ontario native made her Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) competition debut at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) at Old Salem Farm in New York, helping the Canadian Children’s team win a bronze medal and finishing sixth individually. One year prior, in her inaugural year competing in the 1.20m division, Blaber qualified for the 1.20m Junior Jumper division at the 2018 Royal Horse Show in Toronto, ON, where she earned two top-six finishes.
The talented young equestrian now has her sights set on new first-time endeavours and accomplishments, both in and out of the show ring.
A Quick Learner and a Competitive Edge
While Blaber’s early success appears to have happened almost overnight, it has been a decade in the making. As a five-year-old, Blaber took her first pony ride at the Perth Fair and immediately fell in love with the animal, prompting her parents to enroll her in riding lessons shortly thereafter.
“I was actually at an eventing barn and was doing mainly dressage when I was little,” said Blaber, the only daughter of Paul Blaber and Lisa Dixon. “The barn was far from our house though so when my parents realized it wasn’t going to be just a phase, we had to find someplace closer to home; that’s when I moved to a hunter/jumper barn and started doing the hunter pony classes.”
By the age of 10, Olivia was competing in both the hunter and jumper rings, and she soon started training out of Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa, ON, to further her foundation. From there, Olivia began riding with grand prix rider Kelley Robinson at her Cimarron Show Stables in Russell, ON, where she has now been based for the past two years.
“From the beginning, Olivia’s been a quick learner,” said Robinson who took Olivia to her first gold level show. “Her goal that first year riding with me was to qualify for The Royal in the 1.20m division. She had only been jumping about 0.90m the year before so it was an ambitious goal, but she worked hard enough that I figured we could get it done.”
And get it done she did. With her mount at the time, E S Quantro, Olivia not only qualified for the 2018 edition of The Royal, she secured third and sixth-place finishes at the prestigious year-end horse show.
“It was my first time doing the 1.20m, my first time doing the gold shows, and with a new coach and a new horse, so it was really exciting to be able to get to The Royal,” said Olivia.
It was also a testament to Olivia’s fierce competitiveness.
“When Olivia first came to Cimarron Show Stables, she was really quiet and I wasn’t sure how she was going to be as far as competitiveness because I didn’t know her personality at all,” said Robinson. “It turned out she’s very competitive! She wants to win, and she’s not slow by any stretch. That helped make her pretty successful right off the bat.”
Olivia showed that same competitive spirit at the 2019 NAYC where she rode to a team bronze medal and an individual sixth-place finish in the Children’s division for athletes aged 12 to 14.
“It was such an honour to be there representing Canada, and I had the opportunity to meet so many great riders,” said Olivia, who competed at NAYC aboard her current mount, the 14-year-old Selle Français mare, Serenade de Mai. “I was so happy!”
“Serenade de Mai has a lot of blood but, at the same time, she’s really careful and quiet and good at turns,” said Olivia, who has now had the mare, known as “Mai” for short, for about a year. “We’ve really built up a nice connection. Outside of regular lessons, I like to spend free time riding her. Even though she has a lot of blood, I can ride her bitless and bareback.”
Robinson, who paired Olivia with Mai, added, “I thought Mai was the kind of horse that she would need because she’s very, very fast. Mai is blood for sure so she’s a little bit quirky, but Olivia can ride anything. I can give her any type of horse to ride, and she’ll learn how to ride it.
“The first year that Olivia had Mai she was very good, qualifying for Young Riders and everything which was awesome, but it was also a learning year for Olivia,” continued Robinson. “I am really excited about this year, now that she knows the mare really well.”
While Olivia’s competitive goals are temporarily on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson is keeping Serenade de Mai fit while Olivia focuses on her own fitness and accomplishments outside of the show ring.
“I figure skate, although I recently stopped taking lessons, and in the winter I’m a ski instructor at Mount Pakenham,” said Olivia of her quintessentially Canadian activities outside of the saddle. “In the fall, I did cross-country running, and I’m going to do track and field this summer, hopefully.”
Olivia is also an award-winning poet. Following an assignment from her French teacher, Olivia submitted an original French poem to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) Student Achievement Awards, with the poem following the program’s 2020 theme of “One Strong Woman.”
“I chose to write about Kelley because everyone else was writing about their moms and stuff; I wanted to write something different, and Kelley’s been so important for me,” said Olivia, who has been taking French since kindergarten. “She’s really my definition of a strong woman. In January, I got a call saying that the poem had advanced through several levels, and I actually won the French award!”
Olivia’s poem, which earned her a $1,000 cash prize, tells of Robinson’s positive impact on young women, how she’s helped Olivia’s confidence, and how she has overcome her own conflicts and adversities.
“It was so sweet, and I cried so much when I read it,” said Robinson, who had planned to travel with Olivia to attend the Student Achievement Awards ceremony in Toronto, ON, prior to it being canceled due to COVID-19. “I was so flattered; it was amazing.”
“Kelley really brings out the best of the horse and rider together,” said Olivia. “She knows you have specific goals, and she helps you train toward them. I really love that about her. I started my gold level career with her, and I’ve already had so many achievements.”
When competition resumes following the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Olivia hopes to move up to the 1.30m jumper division, a goal she is now preparing for through her participation in the Great Rider Intensive Training (GRIT) program, organized by provincial equestrian federation, Ontario Equestrian.
“While we’ve been in quarantine, we’ve been doing virtual training sessions every week, and that’s kind of how I’ve been keeping in shape and keeping busy,” said Olivia. “This week, they were talking to us about social media and how to get your personal brand out there and then, after that, we had workout session, which was really fun.”
Long-term, Olivia hopes to be a top grand prix rider and run her own stable, much like Robinson, and, be it on the first try or following multiple attempts, Robinson has no doubt that the young rider will be successful.
“She’s super dedicated, and she’s very talented,” said Robinson. “She hasn’t really been at it for that long as far as showing goes, so what she’s accomplished so far is impressive. She’s really determined, and she’s a good kid. I think that she is definitely going to go somewhere in the sport.”
Ma définition d’une femme forte
By Olivia Blaber
Une femme forte, comment est-ce que je peux la définir?
Elle est une personne que je veux être dans l’avenir.
Elle fait du bien pour tout le monde,
Dans ses tâches petites et profondes.
Elle passe du temps avec sa famille,
au lieu de se plaindre de comment elle s’habille.
Elle a un grand sens d’humour,
mais peut séparer ce qui est correcte de ce qui lui donne la douleur.
Elle a de l’empathie pour toutes espèces.
En hiver, ses animaux portent des manteaux bien épaisses.
Ma femme forte gère les conflits avec grâce.
Elle explique ses opinions et ne divise pas les personnes en classes.
Elle écoute et discute mais quand même tient sa place.
Bien sûr qu’elle devient frustrée des fois,
mais elle enlève ses larmes et débat ce qu’elle croit.
Quoi qu’elle est une femme forte, elle fait quand même des erreurs.
Mais, elle les utilise pour se rendre une personne meilleure.
Cette femme est forte mentalement et physiquement.
Elle vit avec la maladie de Lyme et a survécu de nombreux accidents.
“Qui est cette personne?” tu le demandes. “Elle serait parfaite pour mon emploi.”
Elle dirige sa propre entreprise, donc meilleure chance la prochaine fois!
Ma femme forte a un grand impact positif sur plusieurs jeunes filles.
Le moi d’il y a un an n’est pas aussi confiante que le moi d’aujourd’hui.
Elle est mon entraîneuse, professeure, partenaire et amie.
Il y a des centaines d’autres mots qui la décrient.
Mais la plupart du temps, ses leçons sont très simples.
Par exemple, si vous faites de votre mieux, vous pouvez tout vaincre.
Et, pour répondre à ma question originale,
cette femme est ma définition d’une femme forte.
Donc, chère Kelley, merci pour tout ce que tu fais.
Tu est vraiment l’exemple de la femme forte parfaite!