Winning any championship is monumental, but the winner of the World Equestrian Center Premier Championship Cup 3’6″ Equitation, Olivia Darnell, gets to celebrate a little differently by driving off in her brand new 2019 Chevrolet Blazer. The Kentucky native beautifully guided her mount, Freakfeld, to the Championship at the inaugural World Equestrian Center Premier Championship Equitation Cup. JN’s Tess Fortune had the opportunity to catch up with the notorious catch-rider and gather her perspective on the Equitation Championship class.
Olivia Darnell, the WEC Premier Championship Cup 3’6″ Equitation Champion is pictured with her brand new 2019 Chevrolet Blazer. Photo courtesy of World Equestrian Center Press Releases and Winslow Photography
This is not Darnell’s first time competing with Freakfeld, affectionately called Tony. She first rode him in Ocala during the 2018 winter circuit as a catch-ride in the Maclay. After seeing Tony’s ring presence, Lily Beck and the Beck family purchased the beautiful gelding. This wasn’t the end of their partnership; however, as Tony’s new owners have generously allowed Olivia to continue to ride Tony throughout this season.
With the all-new Equitation Championships at WEC in mind, the duo made sure they were prepared by putting in a tremendous amount of prep-work. Darnell shared that due to his young age (eight-years-old), they practiced as many common equitation tests as possible, including rollbacks, transition, and a lot of flatwork. As they say, practice makes perfect!
Olivia Darnell navigates the first course with precision and classic style. Photo courtesy of World Equestrian Center Press Releases and Winslow Photography
Upon reviewing their tests for the day, Darnell felt the course was practically built for Tony. The show-like simulation she re-created at home helped Tony be brave and jump unique and spooky obstacles, much like those they had seen at the national equitation final classes. Course designer Bobby Murphy made the track picture-perfect, and Darnell and her partner Freakfeld posed as the cherry on top.
During the flatwork portion, the pair was asked to demonstrate a counter canter with extension. Tony stepped up to the challenge and showcased Darnell’s text-book perfect position. The coursework invited the pairs to exhibit both extension and collection in the lines. The course further asked the competitors to demonstrate control and precision in the rollback turns and a halt to canter transition. Darnell credits her smooth execution of these tests to their continuous practice at home.
For those aspiring riders looking to be competitive in the equitation classes, Darnell shares some advice. She encourages riders to watch as many equitation rounds as they can, whether it be on YouTube or in-person. One of the best preparation methods that Darnell implemented was to watch these tests, and then simulate them at home. By doing so, she was able to learn her strengths and weaknesses. Darnell commented that if she had to summarize the key to equitation success in one word, she would say “versatility.” She highlights the importance of riders to stay versatile in both their execution and style for success in equitation classes.
Olivia Darnell poses with the “WEC EQ” Scrabble fence. Photo courtesy of World Equestrian Center Press Releases and Winslow Photography
Prior to showing in the World Equestrian Center Equitation Championship Cup, Darnell had been car shopping, so this win could not have been more timely! Besides cruising around in her new Blazer, this winter, Darnell can be seen competing at the World Equestrian Center and Florida horse shows. In true horse-woman fashion, you can find her taking each and every catch-riding opportunity in all three rings. This year her goal is to qualify for equitation national championship classes, and we think she is certainly on the right track!