US Grand Prix dressage rider Jenaya Olsen became one of the youngest equestrians ever to earn a United States Dressage Federation gold medal by achieving four scores of 60% or higher—two at Intermediate and two at Grand Prix level. Remarkably, she was only 13 when she achieved the scores. Since then, even allowing for time off with a serious injury, Jenaya has enjoyed considerable success and now aged 19, has recently represented team USA at U25 in the NAYC. Read on to learn more about Jenaya, her ambitions and top tips for success
Tell us about you and your horses.
My name is Jenaya Olsen, and I am a nineteen-year-old Grand Prix dressage rider. I am very lucky to be able to ride a couple of really cool horses, including my top horse, Beach Boy. Beach is a 17-year-old GP gelding that has allowed me to reach some of my biggest goals including riding at NAYC for the inaugural U25 dressage team. Beach is everything I have ever dreamed about and more, he is such a willing horse, no matter what he always comes out ready to give 110%. He is a very special horse, he came from a rough past, had his jaw broken and thus has some complicated mouth and tongue problems; when I first got him, he was terrified of whips, fast hand motions, being in crossties, he had never been allowed to be a horse, so he would just stand in his turn out and stare at us until he got to come in. Today, he loves his daily turn out, he even has a buddy outside, we frequently go on hacks and ride him around in nothing but a halter. I could go on, but I am pretty sure I would never stop talking about how perfect he is.
I also currently ride a 2014 grey gelding named London Fog MDF; we recently acquired him from Germany. London is an amazing horse, with a promising future, but he does come with his old stallion quirks. He is quite the challenge but so sweet, and so willing. He is a big boy, standing at 18.2 hands, and I am only 5ft 1inch, and he is such a looker, everyone stops and stares at him. London definitely wants to fill his big brothers hoofprints and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I also ride a 2015 bay mare named First Lady MDF; we bought her as a 5-year-old when I was working in Germany but didn’t import her until this past fall. We sold her to one of our clients and she is kind enough to let me continue riding and showing her. Annie is one of the smartest horses I have ever gotten to train, every new thing we throw at her she picks up like a pro, we recently took her to her first show, and she handled the new environment and big atmosphere like a champ.
How did horses come into your life?
I grew up on a small farm in Switzerland and my mom always tried to get me to ride, but I had little to no interest in them. I thought horses were scary and was far more interested in ballet and gymnastics, but nonetheless my mom persisted, buying me my first pony at 5, Gismo a 4-year-old Shetland pony, we still have him at my great uncles’ farm in Switzerland.
When and where do you ride?
I ride every day, and currently have 12 horses on my list, all of which are different ages, sizes, breeds; but they are all very special and so much fun to ride, they teach me just as much as I teach them. I ride at our barn in Naples, Florida, Magic Dream Farm, a dressage training, boarding, breeding, and sales facility. We have about 20 horses, from foals, to client horses, retired horses, and everything in between.
How did you start riding?
This is actually a funny story, and one horse is responsible for my love of horses and dressage. Welcome, a big black mare my mom imported for herself. My mom had asked me to come visit her in quarantine after school, and there she was basking in the warm Florida sun. I was intimidated by her size, but my mom told me to give her some carrots, and so there I was nine years old, sitting next to a horse whose head was bigger than my body. I was in awe with how gentle she was, it’s a feeling I couldn’t describe and it was that day I decided that this was my calling, and I haven’t looked back since. Welcome went on to being the horse responsible for many firsts. Together we conquered my first ride on a big horse, first flying change, first rated show, first FEI, she helped me get my Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medal, all before I turned 13. Now she is happily retired at our farm and living the life of a queen, like she very much deserves.
What are you and your horses currently working on?
Currently we are only working on preparing for a long season, bringing my younger horses up the levels, and improving my seat and confidence in the show ring. My trainer is the most incredible human on the planet. She wants to help me reach my goals just as much as I want, sometimes even more. She has single handedly turned my riding, showing, and horses around. Even from afar she helped me have one of my most successful shows, I had so many personal victories, and actually managed to laugh in my warmup. I am extremely nervous at shows, something I really need to work on, and my trainer has made the biggest difference in my confidence. I am the luckiest rider to be able to call Anna Buffini my trainer, and just as lucky and grateful to be able to ride the horses I do.
What do you love about riding?
In short everything. The bond you form with your dance partner, the highs and lows of training, the small victories and the big ones. Horses are the biggest gift, and there is no such thing as a bad horse. They are always there to listen, they let you sit in their stall and cry when you’ve had a bad day, they love you unconditionally (well some treats are involved). I love every day I get to be with these amazing animals, whether it’s riding, mucking, feeding, spending quality time with them, everything. I think if you want to do this, you can’t just love riding, you need to love everything, because it’s not like a basketball where you can just put it in your gym bag at the end of the day and put some air in it. They give you, what you put in, and more.
What would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
I hope to one day be just as good a trainer as mine is, I want to open my own facility, and train both horses and rider to help them reach their goals. My biggest goal is to become the best rider I can for my horses. I don’t like setting dated goals, we are working with live animals, and I feel that when we start setting goals, we have the ability to forget that. At the end of the day, if my horses are happy, I already won.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
I don’t think you want it bad enough if you haven’t. I am probably one of the most nervous people when it comes to competing, I could throw up every time before I get on my horse at a show.
How do you deal with them?
I guess “you have to be nervous and do it anyways,” but honestly, I have an amazing team behind me, my mom and dad who always know just what to say, my trainer, who can make me laugh at any moment, my friends, and sponsors, who stand behind me no matter what. I owe the biggest thank you to my village, they are responsible for everything I have done and will do.
Do you have any rituals before competing?
I have a lucky shirt that always comes with me to every show, and I always braid my own horses, and spend time visualising my test with them.
Your Top Tip
No matter what, your horse always comes first. No matter how your test went, they deserve all the praise, and treats. No matter what your goal is, if they don’t feel 100%, it’s a sign to put your goal aside and give them the care they need. At the end of the day, they are what make it all worth it and possible.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
Never train emotionally, it’s better to get off, and put your horse away than risk taking steps backward. You are always training your horse when you get on their back. – Anna Buffini
There is always a trainer out there that has yours and your horses’ best interest at heart, so don’t stay with someone that doesn’t. – also, Anna Buffini
Down the Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I feel like I already ride my dream horse, Beach, but if I had to pick one, I don’t already ride it would have to be Anna Buffini’s Rapunzel.
Who is your equestrian hero?
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
Blake Lively, Anna Buffini, Morgan Harper Nichols, Angelina Jolie, Mariska Hargitay
Favourite colour horse?
Favourite horse event?
Favourite way to relax?
Reading a book in my horse’s stall.
If you enjoyed meeting Jenaya you might like to view more dressage rider “chatting with” interviews here . You can keep up with Jenaya’s progress and check out her instagram page here