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WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD Olivia Strauch

A R A BI A N HOR SE TR A INER AT L A S ROSA S A R A BES U RUGUAY

H

with Jeff Wallace

ow did you come to know the Princess? Through a friend in common who is a breeder in Uruguay, Gustavo de León. It was hard for him to persuade the managers at the farm to hire a woman. It was the first time a woman was working at Las Rosas. This was 2004.

Did you arrive at Las Rosas with a vision or is this something that formed as your career grew there? No vision at all. I was just a girl willing to learn and who wanted to work with horses. My dream was to become a trainer. Actually, I did it for some time, training and showing horses for Las Rosas and other clients in Uruguay, but when the quality of the horses started to get better and the competition tougher, I felt it was time to leave the whip behind and bring the “real ones!” I’m highly self-demanding and quite obsessed with perfection, so I will only do the things I believe I´m good at. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to learn while working in a great position; that’s why I will always be so grateful to Laetitia and the general manager of Las Rosas, Roberto Serventi, who trusted and believed in me from the beginning. What was it like growing up in Uruguay? Uruguay is a quiet country—nothing happens here. Everything seems impossible. If you are a dreamer, you are nuts. So I always felt I was. When and how did you come to know the Arabian horse? My family owned a cattle farm two hours from Montevideo (the city were I grew up), where my grandma had a couple of Arabian mares. I always admired them in secret, because the breed didn’t have a good reputation in Uruguay at that time. The most popular horse here is the “Criollo” and everyone said Arabians were crazy and good for nothing. There was something about them that attracted me though … they were different, which made them special.

When I was around eight years old, my mother took me to “Expo Prado” to see the Arabian horse show, and I remember walking around in the stables and thinking, “I will be part of this someday; I bet I will.” What is it like traveling the world with the Arabian horse? Everyone says that when it comes to things that you dreamed about, you don’t appreciate them as much when you finally have them. But I certainly do! I enjoy every instant of every trip from the moment I leave to the airport. Mine is a lifestyle I wouldn’t change for anything else in the world. I do what I love every day around fantastic animals, meet amazing people, visit amazing places all around the world and get paid for it. Olivia, your intense focus and loyalty to Excalibur EA over the last few years is quite impressive. Tell us the story of how you found this horse and why you love him so. People here tease me that I am married to Excalibur! All my friends were married with children by this time. I’m the only one single in a group of eleven best friends from school in the ultra-traditional and conservative Uruguay. I just do what I feel happy doing, and for the moment, that is being around the horses. I don’t think ahead or plan much; I just live what life has prepared for me. With Excalibur, it was love at first sight, which never happened to me before with a horse. I had been looking for a stallion for Las Rosas for the last 4 years, but never saw anything that I really felt we should take home. That is, until I saw the 2012 U.S. Nationals email blast from Ted Carson with Excalibur. Something captured my attention and I felt I should inquire more about this horse. In the end, he conquered us all and we ended up buying him. I cannot say I was a “visionary” and knew he was going to be a World Champion—not at all! I just felt he was the horse we needed to upgrade our program. I Volume 45, No. 10 | 2


Roberto Serventi, Laetitia d’Arenberg, Olivia Strauch and dog Frida. 3 | A R A BI A N HOR SE T I MES


WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD

saw him as a breeding horse more than a show horse. By then, I already thought we should produce our champions, not buy them. A very important thing about Excalibur and me is that he was the first big deal I did on my own. Nobody advised us or pushed us to buy this horse; I liked him, so went after him, and made the decision with Roberto and Laetitia. What do you think Excalibur EA offers our breed? I love to read about the history of the breed, the strains and bloodlines, and I am lucky enough to have a place to do my experiments and make my own judgments (and hopefully they profit for the farm!) Before purchasing Excalibur, I did some research on his pedigree, and afterwards I met breeder Albert Sorroca. I also had the opportunity to visit Equus Arabians in Spain, to meet his sire Shanghai EA, his dam Essence of Marwan EA, his grandmother, the beautiful Salymah EA, and many of Excalibur’s brothers and sisters. There I knew that I was on the correct path. So many beautiful and well-built horses present in his pedigree was a great affirmation for me.

Olivia Strauch and Excalibur EA.

If we consider that Excalibur is a horse that represents the best of his predecessors, being a balanced, correct, charismatic and handsome horse, what he offers the breed is the return to a “real horse” that can be pretty without giving away all the rest.

he was not “all that.” I even heard somebody say he was a “glorified gelding.” After we decided to take him, we heard a lot of “he is not pretty enough for Europe,” “it’s impossible to beat FA El Rasheem,” “you don’t have

OLIVIA Describe what it’s like to be involved with a European Triple Crown winner? Being involved with World Champion and Triple Crown Winner Excalibur EA offers the gratifying feeling that owning these kind of horses is not an exclusive privilege of the most rich and influential people in the business. I can say, “It’s possible; we did it!” You had tremendous competition in Paris. Describe the thrill of the win. Most people said we were crazy to buy this horse—that he was too expensive and that

STR AUCH the politics” and many other discouraging comments. This negative atmosphere made the thrill even bigger, the adventure even more exciting, and the will to win huge. We felt like the Uruguayan soccer team in the World Cup: against all the odds. The dream of Laetitia since she was 15 years old and mine for the last 10, reduced into a few minutes while we stood beside a horse and a golden saddle—and you think you own the world. What an amazing, unforgettable feeling.

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Who are your mentors in this breed? Rodolfo Guzzo inspired me in every aspect of this industry, opening many doors and my eyes to everything. He belongs to the select group of people that created his own way of going and had the generosity of letting us in—not only me, but many others that today, are somebody in the business. Dejair Souza is one of my best friends and the most talented and sensitive horseman I have ever known. I have had the privilege to watch him school, and I speak with him about horses for endless hours. Gustavo de León was the person that encouraged me to live for and from horses, and believed I could do it when I didn’t.

Olivia Strauch and Rodolfo Guzzo.

Do you have a social life outside of Arabian horses? If yes, tell us a little bit about that. I try to! It’s very tough when your job is your hobby and your passion and the most important thing in your life. Despite all, I love my country, and if I still live here, it is because I cannot be gone for a long time away from my family, my friends, my habits, and traditions and won’t leave behind the idea of someday raising a family just as mine, right here. Do you prefer the ocean or the desert? The countryside! What was judging the Breeder Finals like? Did you enjoy it? It was probably the only aspect of the business that I haven’t experienced before and I felt honored to have been invited. I was very nervous from the day I received the invitation until the morning of the second day of judging. Fellow judges, organizers, and the trainers in the ring made it very easy for me, which I appreciated immensely. I had a great time!

Olivia during a winning moment.

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In your experience with the breed, what is on your mind currently in regards to the industry? Endurance comes to my mind and I must admit that I feel a bit jealous. This sport is getting more and more popular in my country—attracting many breeders who used to show halter horses before. The main reason is that it’s easier and cheaper to be successful in endurance than in the show ring (and more profitable). The other reason is that it’s still an amateur sport where everyone


WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD

can participate (owners race their horses at the World Championships for example) while in halter you need to pay professionals to do everything for you if you want to compete at a high level. I don’t really have any great ideas to solve this; I’m not even sure if the solution exists, but I see it’s a problem and people are leaving the business. I’ve read some discussions about the future of the industry and appreciate the efforts of people like Scott Bailey and Riyan Holte regarding these matters. With your global perspective, please tell us how you feel about the current state of the Arabian horse. Selection is making a horse that is getting closer and closer to the image of perfection. To be competitive nowadays, you have to think on breeding a very complete horse. It’s very challenging to be part of this process, and at the same time, a big responsibility. We are carving the future, so we should emphasize more on the art than on the money. You have traveled to so many different shows at so many different destinations; which is your favorite and why? My favorite show in the world is Aachen. It takes place in a country I admire, in a charming city, has wonderful parties, the best horses in the world, and it is fairly judged.

It’s very challenging to be part of this process, and at the same time, a big responsibility. We are carving the future, so we should emphasize more on the art than on the money. Versace is my all-time favorite. Although I never had the chance to meet him, I can recognize his classic style generation after generation. Our stallion Dominic M (Da Vinci FM x Rosa la Valentina— double Versace) has his look and that’s why we bought him and I love him. And Bask, because people from the “time of Bask” are kind of superior for me. They tell stories of the “good old times” and stuff like that, from when I was not even born and I hate them for that! What women in the breed did you or do you most admire? Eileen Verdieck, who taught men how to train a halter horse, and Robin Hopkinson, who could show a horse as well as most of them did. ■

Are there any lines or strains of the Arabian breed that you wish to know more about? I would love to stay in Poland for some time and learn as much as I can from them. They are a world reference with a rich history. What breeding programs around the world do you admire today and why? I admire ALL true breeding programs, but unfortunately, these are getting scarce around the world. Whether I like their type of horse or not, I love to meet committed breeders with a project. Breeding is a journey with no end and that’s why it is so fascinating. A real breeder enjoys every step of it and the ones that don’t get frustrated easily. I visited Australia for the first time recently, and I was very impressed with the Mulawa and Simeon Stud programs and owners. If you could resurrect any two horses, owned by yourself or anyone else, who would they be and why?

Olivia with Christine Jamar.

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