Olivia Johnson: Equestrian World Champion


Courtesy of Ruehle Photographix LLC

Olivia Johnson accepts her award at the World Championship Appaloosa.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

Villanova junior Olivia Johnson started riding horses after her older sister Samantha picked up riding as a kid.

“When I was seven, my sister picked up her friend from a camp, and my sister went into the barn, and she was like ‘Oh my gosh, mom, I want to do what Bella’s doing. I love this,’” Johnson said. “Then it was a year, and then my mom was like, ‘Your sister’s getting into this, she’s going to horse shows, is this something you want to do?’ So then I started. And both of us have never stopped.”

Nine youth world championships and two national championships later, Johnson is still riding. She competes with three horses, Suddenly Blazin’ Hot, Jack’s Lil’ Shiner and Take a Hit. 

In late October, Johnson competed as an individual at the World Championship Appaloosa Show, where she claimed the reserve world championship in all-around non-pro, and placed top five in all her classes with Suddenly Blazin’ Hot.

Johnson, a Communication major specializing in journalism, is a part of Villanova’s club English equestrian team. 

“It’s kind of interesting because it’s English, my horse is primarily Western,” Johnson said. “I’ve never really jumped before, but with the English team you jump. So, it’s interesting learning different buttons for the horses because you ride them completely differently. Some of the mechanics are still there, but it’s just the way that they carry themselves in the arena. They have their heads a little bit higher and it’s a faster pace. And the judges are looking for different things. So, it’s been a process. Also, [I’ve] never really jumped over standards before. It’s been kind of scary. My parents say, ‘I’ve seen you do the speed events. I don’t necessarily want to see you jump.’”

Johnson said that at times it can be hard to explain exactly how she competes to those who aren’t familiar with equestrian, but that usually a video can help illustrate what it’s like to compete at the level she does. 

“I definitely think it’s hard to tell people about it because I feel like you always get the question, ‘Do you jump? Do you do dressage?’” Johnson said. “ I think it gets confusing explaining what I do to people because I kind of do a little bit of everything. But also none of the things that they exactly think of when they think of riding.”

Johnson is also a Youth Superior Achievement award recipient for accumulating more than 1,000 points. She received the award in her last year as a youth. Johnson was and continues to be heavily involved in the Appaloosa Horse Club, serving as a member of the youth board for three years. 

“I think we have some of the best camaraderie and sportsmanship out there in the equine industry.” Johnson said. “The Appaloosa Horse Club is an extremely welcoming environment because you always have people that are there to cheer you on (no matter if it is your first show or your 30th) and it is why my family has been a big supporter of the club since I was about eight years old. It is also why they encouraged me to be a part of the Youth Board for three years, as a general member and then the Vice President for two years.”

Johnson says her journey with Equestrian isn’t over either. 

“I’d love to continue it as long as I can.” Johnson said.