The Debrief: Olivia Miller on Trusting Your Training

Welcome to The Debrief, where we’ll recap the experience of a rider following a big result or otherwise memorable competition/season. Click here to read more editions of The Debrief. This week, we catch up with rising professional Olivia Miller, who hails from the West coast and is now a part of Sharon White’s team in Summit Point, WV. This edition of The Debrief is brought to you in collaboration with Athletux’s Young Professionals program.

Olivia Miller and Cooley Starstruck. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

What was your number one goal for your season?

My ultimate goal for Cooley Starstruck (Aiden) and I this season was to compete in a 3*L, but we fell just short of that. We had made the move up to Intermediate this spring and had a handful of runs at the level before contesting our first 3*S at the beginning of summer, where we finished in the top 5. As the season progressed, we had some ups and downs and came to the decision that it would be in our better interest to aim for a 3*L in the spring of 2024!

What did you practice the most in the weeks leading up to the season?

So as a working student I have the privilege of riding a large variety of horses, which is great because it gives me the opportunity to work on my own self all of the time and is not just limited to the time I spend riding Aiden. I can then spend my time with Aiden more focused on his strength development and training.

Leading up to any event I just try to go back to the basics and keep things super simple and confidence boosting. There really is no point in putting all this added pressure and stress on myself or my horse because nothing super useful comes of it. The more confident I am is how confident my horse can become, which is exactly what I want my horse to be going into a competition.

Describe your feelings after finishing cross country in three words:

Relief, grateful, proud

Olivia Miller and Cooley Starstruck. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

What do you do after a big event? Do you spend a lot of time rewatching your rides? Do you go back and watch any of the live stream? We’re interested in any process you may have to “debrief” yourself after your rides.

After any event really I absolutely watch videos of my rides and a lot of times, especially with dressage test. I will compare the ride to previous tests to see if I like any of the changes that I have made and reflect on what additional changes need to be made. Now, that’s a little bit harder to do with jumping because obviously the show jump and cross country courses aren’t the same but I do love to watch those videos over and see what worked and maybe what didn’t work and then formulate a better plan for next time.

What is the number one thing you learned about yourself this season? What about what you learned about your horse?

My biggest takeaway this season as a whole is to trust your training.

The hardest thing to recognize some of the time is how much your hard work and training has actually worked. A lot of times I catch myself riding the horse I used to have instead of the horse that’s under me that day. So then oftentimes the pendulum swings too far the other way and before you know it you have the opposite extreme of whatever issues you have been working on.

As far as Aiden goes, I think the number one thing I learned about him this year is just how genuine of a horse he really is. He is great in the sense that he won’t hold anything against me. I could mess something up seven ways to Sunday and it’s almost as if he were to say “well that wasn’t it but let’s try again.”

Olivia Miller and Cooley Starstruck. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Describe your history with your horse.

Aiden and I’s story starts back in December 2020 when I purchased him from Tamie Smith, who I was working for at the time. I was actually able to compete him prior to buying him as he was sort of a sales horse/lesson horse that everyone got to ride and compete, so that was a great opportunity to really see all sides of him.

At the time he had been professionally produced up through the Preliminary level. It did take me a little bit to get him figured out as he was a completely different ride from my previous horse. I went from a pretty small, compact little horse, who didn’t have the biggest stride or the most scope and had to make do with what he had, to Aiden who has an absolutely massive stride and scope to spare.

So, learning how to steer and use Aiden’s abilities to my advantage has been my biggest challenge. It almost feels at times that he’s too powerful for his own good. We then moved out from California to the East coast where we are now based in West Virginia with Sharon White. Just this year we made the move up to Intermediate and completed what was both his and I’s first 3*S.

What is a piece of advice you would give to yourself, 5 years ago, now?

If I could give my self a piece of advice to my self from 5 years ago I would say to just always give it your best shot. It wont always be easy — in fact, it hardly ever is — but if you just keep working hard towards your goals it will all be worth it in the end.

How do you plan to spend your off season? What do you like to do when you’re not riding and competing all the time?

So as a working student my “off” seasons probably look a bit different than others. I primarily utilize the off seasons to spend time either breaking and starting the young horses or just giving the greener, less experienced horses the time and training that they maybe didn’t get when all of the other upper-level horses were in work. So, there isn’t really any period of time when I’m not riding, just maybe not competing as much.

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