Split Rock Exclusive: ‘Always Praise Your Pony’ & Other Wisdoms from Junior Rider Olivia Williams

Win or lose, we stay in this sport for the love of the horse, and no one more so than 14-year-old Olivia Williams. A Northern California native, Olivia put herself on our radar after winning the $1,000 1.10m Child/Adult Speed at Split Rock Jumping Tour’s Sonoma International CSI2* earlier this month with her special partner, Cansas. But it was once we chatted with her ringside that we realized even more impressive was her pervasively positive attitude on the sport.

A Dream Years in The Making

The picturesque Sonoma Horse Park was a fitting venue for her most recent win as Olivia competed in her very first horse show there three years ago. She tackled the crossrail classes with her trusty pony, Tin Soldier. She and her sister shared the ride on “Joey” and they’d switch off to both ride in the same classes, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

“I was really nervous and my pony was a brat,” she recalled with a laugh. “I got disqualified my first round and had to move down to the Walk/Trot because he didn’t want to jump. I remember being like, ‘Why am I showing. This is an awful first show.’ But then I realized it taught me a lot, and that pony turned out to be really amazing. I had never been to a horse show, so it was just a great experience.”

Fast forward a few years, and she’s back at that in-gate with the fences raised a few holes. After strategizing with her trainers, Elizabeth “Lumpy” Kilham and Holly Kilham, the focus was on efficiency in her speed class, and it did just the trick. The two finished with over a second of breathing room in a time of 56.011 seconds.

Photo by Kaitlyn Karssen Photography

“I just really wanted to have a smooth ride, and Cansas got in there and she felt amazing. I just wanted to do the best that I could,” she explained. “We saw a lot of the inside turns, but I didn’t want to put too much stress on her because I knew it would be hard for her to come out of the combination on such a hard turn, so tried to just ride her smoothly around and keep time in the corners and do tight turns.”

All Success Belongs to The Horse

“She’s amazing,” she beamed after her winning round. “She’s a great mare. She’s so sweet. She’s super honest and jumps amazing—always.”

This young rider has a good head on her shoulders, and like a true horsewoman, was quick to thank her beautiful mare after her round. Hugs, kisses and mountains of praise rained down on Cansas as the in-gate resembled that of an Olympic Games podium announcement.

“She has to be praised after her round—no matter what,” Olivia explained when she had a chance to catch her breath. “Even if you did awful, she has to know she’s amazing. You have to give her tons and tons of love. She love snuggles. She just really loves affection.”

Photo by Kaitlyn Karssen Photography

Just a girl and her horse—it’s the stuff of fairy tales for Amelia and “Can Can,” a 9-year-old Holsteiner by Cassini I. Her family purchased the mare from Mexican show jumper Daniel Rihan nearly three years ago, and he was present at Sonoma for their big win.

Olivia lives by the mantra: Any success belongs to the horse, and any failure is on the rider. Riding the high of Saturday’s blue ribbon, it all came crashing (literally and figuratively) down Sunday as she took an unplanned dismount in the following day in the Child/Adult 1.10m Final, but in her own signature style, she took it with a maturity well beyond her years.

“I did take a fall. My horse was an angel. It was totally my fault,” she recounted. “You have some great days, and you have some other bad ones. I just got there on a half stride and my horse, being an absolute saint, took off trying to jump it. She made it. I didn’t, but she jumped out of the combination without me. She’s such a great horse.”

Undeterred by the fall, she summed up what anyone involved in horses learns all too well: “It’s funny. Some days you’re up top and you win, and then the next you can fall off and you just have to take it in stride and look forward to the next show.”

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

Fabulous riders would be nothing without their support system, and it was impossible to miss Olivia’s crew at Sonoma. Their eruption of cheering sent an electric feel around the main arena as she and Cansas took their victory gallop. Olivia smiled back gratefully at her cheering squad—definitely the largest and most fervent fans of the day. The double digit gaggle of supporters even joined in on a group fist pump, a signature Split Rock Jumping Tour move, to show their support.

“We have a great barn family. They’re absolutely amazing,” Olivia said. Her squad was expansive — you need at least two hands to count them all.

“We had my whole barn family with all my friends, and then my actual family. Also some friends from out of town came. My grandparents and my dad were live streaming it, so it was really great,” she said. There was also one special fan who was visiting from Santa Barbara, family friend Tippy Bushkin who found Cansas two years ago. “She was there when I first tried Cansas, so it was great to see her here and for her to be able to watch me win that class.”

Being around her crew, you can tell there’s something special in their support, and round after round the Kilham barn family is there to cheer each other on.

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first time on the grand prix field was a success!!✔️

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“That feeling when even if you don’t do well they’re still there cheering for you, it just lifts your day knowing that you have people who support and love you. There always there—everyone is there. If I’m by the ring about to go in, my friends are polishing my shoes or helping me or giving me tips on how to ride the course. The support is just amazing,” Olivia smiled.

Her support system and her positive attitude helped her get this far, and they’ll no doubt continue to be the driving force behind Olivia’s continued success, hopefully, she says, to Grand Prix and beyond.

Go Olivia. Go Jumping.


Shelby Allen grew up riding thanks to a mother who shares her love for horses. Hilltoppers Pony Club got her hooked on the thrill of going cross county, and she hasn’t looked back since. After a two-year stint living in Middleburg, Va. and working for the USEA, Shelby joined the Eventing Nation team in 2017. She now lives in Georgia with her trio of fantastic guys: Justin (the horse), Franklin (the dog), Kody (the understanding boyfriend).