Foothills Rider Profile: Holly Heikkila

November 07, 2023

Holly Heikkila and La Jovena Venganza are heading to the Royal Winter Fair in the CET National Finals

It’s officially Royal Winter Fair season! While the country flocks to the city for the biggest agricultural show indoors, we sat down with our own Holly Heikila to ask about her journey to the Royal.

Not a stranger to the magic of the Royal, Holly will be returning to the Royal Ring for her second Royal debut this week on November 8th & 9th in the CET Medal National Finals. Find out when she is riding and other information about the Royal here.

What is your first memory of horses?

I’ve been around horses my entire life. I have been in the barn with my family since I was a baby. There are so many memories of horses that it is hard to define just one, or when the first memory occurred.

When did you start riding?

I am thirteen years old and had riding opportunities since I was a toddler. I started taking lessons and going to summer camp when I was 5 and then started competing on the Trillium Circuit when I was 7.

Tell us about the horse you are riding this season.

This season I am riding La Jovena Venganza (aka Vera). She is 13 years old and is a perfect angel. I’ve been riding her since mid-March and she has brought me up to be able to compete in the CET Equitation Medal and 1.10m-1.15m classes.

What advice would you give to a rider whose goal is to qualify for the Royal next year?

My advice to any riders who want to qualify for the Royal next year would be to work hard and trust the process. It might not happen but you'll meet so many friends and have so much fun in the attempt.

What are your goals for next year?

I have always wanted to ride on a team competing for Canada, so naturally my next goal is to compete at the North American Youth Jumping Championships in the 1.20 meter Children's. A lot of stars need to align for that to happen, so I plan to keep working hard and hope I am in a position to make the team in 2024.

What is the biggest challenge you faced this show year?

The biggest challenge I faced this year was not realizing all of the goals we had set for ourselves. We started the season with a specific plan in our minds, but then we had to pull back on the training and competition schedule with one horse and it meant we had to pivot our goals. In this sport, the horse always comes first and you need to be willing to match your expectations with what is appropriate for them. This year showed me that even if you have to change plans, it can all work out for the best as other opportunities can present themselves.

Do you still get nervous before a show? If yes, what do you do to help overcome the nerves?

Yes. I work with an excellent sports psychologist named Margie Sugarman. She has taught me many tactics and exercises that I can use in the moment to help overcome situations where I am feeling very nervous. A few of my favorites are breathing exercises and in really tense situations wiggling my toes - it sounds crazy but it works! In all seriousness, this can be a stressful sport so if you get an opportunity to work with a person specializing in sports psychology then take it.

What have horses taught you?

Horses have taught me the importance of paying attention to details. In this sport, even the most subtle change can make an impact and you need to pay close attention to what your horse is telling you. Attention to detail is also important because even the tiniest little details can add up to make a big difference. Slight changes like schedule, feed, warmup… even something like your spurs or a bit. It all adds up to make a big difference.

Also, understanding that things take time with horses. There is no such thing as a quick fix or short-term process. Lastly, you can make as many plans as you want but horses have a way of changing things and you need to be flexible and put their needs first.

If you could take one piece of tack or equipment with you to a deserted island, what would it be?

My saddle or helmet would be the obvious choices here! That being said, I really love my Airbag Vest. This year saw many opportunities for me to make use of this vest. It doesn’t eliminate all the risk, but after a fall it's nice to be able to get back on.

Catch Holly at the Royal! Find out when she is riding and other information about the Royal here.

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