Story and portraits by Jennifer DeMaro
Olivia LaGoy-Weltz’s early passion for riding is a common start for many equestrians. Her journey from riding pony rides at the local park to imaginative interactions with various “horses” like a vacuum cleaner, the 110-pound family golden retriever and a saddle stand made by her dad showed her genuine love for horses and determination to pursue her passion. Thankfully, Olivia’s parents recognized her enthusiasm and enrolled her in a local riding lesson program when she was 6 years old, setting her on a path to becoming an accomplished equestrian.
Even though Olivia was horse obsessed at a young age, her upbringing in Berkeley, California, didn’t include an equestrian background. “I didn’t come from a horsey family at all,” she said, adding that she is grateful her parents provided her with the opportunities to pursue her love for horses. “After a few years of riding, my parents bought me my first horse.”
The horse was an Arabian named Oz, and they promptly brought him to a boarding facility where Olivia enjoyed a variety of activities including Western, jumping and even going trick-or-treating with him. “Fortunately, my mom came to the conclusion that I really needed to be in a structured program, and she came across a trainer that specialized in eventing and dressage and had experience with Arabians,” Olivia said.
Under her new trainer, Heidi Riddle, Olivia achieved success in eventing and dressage. She was encouraged to ride anything and everything, and clearly benefited from the diverse experience. “This gave me the opportunity to ride a lot of different horses from an early age and made me quite comfortable getting on different types of horses,” Olivia said.
When Olivia turned 15, she was ready to embark on horse ownership again since Oz had passed away earlier on in her training. “Our budget was modest, so my trainer helped me get an unbroke 3-year-old named Santiago from a local breeder in California. Heidi helped me start him and took me through the process every step of the way,” Olivia said. Olivia and Santiago showed through Second Level dressage and Training Level eventing.
Heading to Europe
At 18, Olivia found herself at a crossroads in her equestrian journey. She had a strong desire to pursue a career as a trainer, but at the same time, she had applied to colleges without feeling particularly enthusiastic about any of them. It was at this pivotal moment that Sandy Howard, another influential figure in Olivia’s early years of riding, suggested she consider going to Europe to work for a while.
The suggestion turned into reality and instead of just a few months abroad, Olivia ended up staying for six years with time split between the Netherlands and Germany. “The time I spent in Europe was another one of those major turning points in my riding career. It exposed me to a level of sport that I had not really been around before,” Olivia said.
Olivia’s return from Europe marked another significant chapter in her equestrian journey. Upon her departure from Europe, she was given a horse named Rifallino, who had a reputation for being quite challenging, often described as a “hot mess.” Instead of shying away from the difficult task, Olivia committed herself to working with Rifallino. “I was able to take him from a horse that couldn’t reliably execute clean changes to competing in the Grand Prix and the U25 category,” Olivia said. “He taught me so much, let me make so many mistakes and kept me on my toes.”
While still working with Rifallino, Olivia had the good fortune to encounter her “once in a lifetime” horse, Rassing’s Lonoir, affectionately known as Lono. “Lucky for me, Lono picked me to be his dance partner,” Olivia said. Their partnership was marked by considerable success. They went on to be members of multiple Nations Cup teams and were the traveling reserve for the Pan American Games and World Equestrian Games, as well as an alternate for the Olympics.
However, like any sport, there are ups and downs. Olivia experienced these when she qualified for the World Cup twice, and it was then canceled both times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EVH outbreak. To top off the disappointment, the 2021 Olympics—in which she was an alternate—were rescheduled. “I knew we were going to be winding down career-wise, so it was just sad that it coincided with us being at our peak. It really brought home to me how much of our sport is timing and a bit of luck, on top of the hard work and dedication,” Olivia said.
Olivia has a deep sense of gratitude for the experiences that she has shared with Lono. Many milestones in her career were achieved with Lono, who at 19 is now changing gears in his career. Olivia hacks him several times a week in his retirement. “I think when I look back, I just feel so incredibly fortunate to have had a horse like Lono and for all the places that we were able to go together, and the things that we accomplished. I feel very fortunate that he picked me as his person,” Olivia said.
Though there isn’t just one equestrian she aspires to emulate, Olivia does recognize that she has been fortunate enough to have come up through the ranks with many strong and talented riders and coaches who have been an inspiration. One notable person in Olivia’s journey is her coach, Debbie McDonald. “Debbie has such a technical eye and has been able to produce so many good riders,” Olivia said. “I hope that someday I can contribute to the sport the way she has, both in riding and coaching.”
Today, Olivia and her husband live on a 20-acre farm in Northern Virginia, which they acquired in 2015. “Our mission at Mountain Crest is to have a professionally run operation with top-notch care and training for horses and riders in a friendly, professional setting,” Olivia said.
While Olivia’s equestrian career often involves traveling on the road with horses, she dedicates her time and knowledge to working students when she’s at home on the farm. Her commitment to mentoring and educating aspiring equestrians is rooted in her own experiences. “I am where I am today because of the places I worked and the people I worked for, and it’s important to me to pass that along,” she said. “As a trainer, I try and focus on helping my students really understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. I want them to be empathetic and responsible and develop an understanding of the training and the psychology of the horse.”
Though free time is limited, Olivia enjoys gardening and working around the farm. “I really like working on our farm. I like working in the garden and working on creating unique spaces around the house and on the property,” she said. “If I had not been involved with horses, I would have liked to be a designer of some kind—something that involves being outside and being involved in creative and routine activities.”
While Olivia hopes that another top sport opportunity is on the horizon, she thinks it’s important to enjoy every day and have other goals. “You need to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and be willing to address the areas you need to improve,” she said.
A Balanced Life
Olivia lost her parents at an early age, so she appreciates the value of family even more. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we do because we love it so much, but then time passes you by and you miss out on other things. My cousin has three amazing boys between 18 months and 5 years old. They are so sweet and so much fun. My goal is that they grow up with an Auntie Olivia they know and love and who comes to visit several times a year,” Olivia said. Balancing a career and personal life is something Olivia is committed to.
Olivia has come a long way from riding the family golden retriever around the house. Her journey has been marked by dedication, resilience and the ability to adapt to the unforeseen challenges that can arise. “I am personally very passionate about supporting the up-and-coming riders and trainers in our country and paying forward the opportunities that I have been given,” she said.
For more information, visit www.mountaincrestfarm.com
Photos by Jennifer DeMaro
Photo by Shannon Brinkman