The Road to Nationals

Olivia after qualifying for nationals
Olivia after qualifying for nationals

When Olivia Saldivar was born, her family jokingly said she would learn to ride a horse before she learned to walk. They weren’t far from the truth. Olivia’s family owns Orchard Creek Stables, a horse barn in Fort Wayne specializing in the Hunter/Jumper discipline. Her mother, Kirsten Saldivar, is the head trainer at the stable. Olivia grew up in the middle of an arena, listening to her mother teach, attending horse shows, and trotting around on ponies. That road has led her here, a sixth grader qualifying for and competing in nationals for IEA, the Interscholastic Equestrian Association for middle school and high school teams.

In IEA, stables across the nation can form teams, gathering local high school and middle school riders to compete for their barns. Orchard Creek Stables’ IEA team has always been successful, and it was natural for Olivia to join the team upon entering her sixth grade year. IEA is different from typical competitions because the competitors don’t ride their own horses. Instead, riders are given horses to ride at random, which means they have to be able to adapt to many difference kinds of horses.

Erin Stark, the coach for Orchard Creek’s IEA team, says the ability to adapt and make difficult horses look easy is one of Olivia’s greatest strengths. Stark gives an example, “at one really cold and snowy show this winter she drew a feisty little pony who tried to run out a few jumps and was shying away from the corners. She dug in, rode hard, and came out in tears, but her solid ride earned her a second place ribbon in that class.”

In order to qualify for nationals, Olivia was judged against riders from sixth to eighth grade, some of which have been competing in IEA shows for three years. This is Olivia’s first year competing, and her hard work has paid off. “I watch her work her little tail off every day at the barn riding all different horses and doing barn chores to help out,” says Stark, “I’m just so glad all her hard work and dedication have paid off in a great way.”

Olivia, as excited as she is to be competing on the national level, is still very team oriented. “I’m very excited,” she says, “but I really wish our whole team were in Florida with me. We all worked very hard.”

Kirsten Saldivar, taking off her trainer hat and instead wearing her proud mama hat this weekend, says as a mom it’s a little overwhelming to be supporting her daughter at nationals. “Her level of commitment has blown me away and I feel so blessed to be a part of it. God has definitely blessed her with this talent and I’m so excited to watch where it takes her.”

When asked if she had any advice for young girls out there chasing their goals and dreams, Olivia had this to say, “Work hard! Follow directions and always be willing to learn. There is always something to get better at so there’s never a finish line. Oh! And have fun!”


UPDATE: Olivia placed 5th in the competition out of 21 qualifiers from across the country. We are proud to say that she one of the top 5 riders in the nation!