Mid-South Eventing & Dressage Association

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A Conversation with David O’Connor | Annual Meeting 2024

02/27/2024 7:08 PM | Maddie Ozbun (Administrator)

Amongst many achievements, including two time Equestrian of the Year, David O’Connor is an Olympic gold medalist, with the best score in Olympic history won at the Sydney Olympic Games. David was also the former USEF President, and now serves as USEF Chief of Sport. O’Connor led his discussion at the MSEDA Annual Meeting with a presentation on Social Licensing and then wrapped up his conversation with his thoughts on developing the Young Event horse. 

Social Licensing

David began his presentation on giving background on Social Licensing in equestrian sports. David stated that social license is essentially the public’s overall acceptance of the sport. O’Connor emphasizes that in today’s world, technology is everywhere, meaning you could be filmed and that video could be posted anywhere, in and out of context. Social Licensing is important for the future of our sport, since the public’s perception of a sport can quickly change the acceptance of said sport. David coined the phrase “If you can’t do it in Central Park with thousands of people watching, then you should not do it.” 

Young Event Horse Development

O’Connor’s second segment focused on the development of the young event horse. David started by telling the audience about his newly minted 5* horse, Phelps, that is ridden by Mia Farley. Phelps, an 11 year old thoroughbred, was bought for just one dollar. David stated that he never though Phelps would make it to the 5* level, and Farley had doubts of him even going past the Preliminary level. Through David’s consistent training and coaching, Farley and Phelps finished as the only riders within time at the Maryland 5 Star event and finished in 5th. 

O’Connor’s main goal when developing a horse is considering the horse’s longevity in the sport, and not rushing them while they are young. David then relayed how a horse’s growth pattern should affect their training program. Horses' bones reach full development at age 6, and that should coincide when trainers start to worry about the horse’s correctness in their form. Meaning, a 4, 5, or 6 year old’s frame should be more relaxed than vertical. David stated when he is working with young horses he “is always waiting for them to turn 7”. 

A unique way David starts his young horse, is teaching them in a rope halter before introducing a bridle. This way he can correctly teach the horse pressure and the reward of the release of pressure. O’Connor stated that “The give (or release of pressure) is always the most powerful tool to the horse”. David then shared videos of his round pen work with Mia Farley riding a young horse for the first time. He always has riders back the horse for the first time under his eye in a round pen, using a rope halter and a string around their neck to give more control of the shoulders. 

O’Connor went on to share videos of Mia schooling a horse cross country. The horse went over jumps, banks, and ditches. David stated that watching a horse’s eye is extremely important during their first days cross country schooling. Watching where they look can lead to how the horse jumps. He also went on to explain the importance of up banks, and how they teach the horses to learn to raise their front legs and use their body correctly to find good jumping form.

David ended the session with sharing one of his favorite exercises, lovingly named “the circle of death”. This is a simple 4 poles, cavelltis, or jumps set up in each quadrant of a circle. The rider then adjusts their horse's stride in between these obstacles on the circle, changing the amount of strides in each quadrant. He uses the exercise for all his riders and horses to teach control of the rider’s seat, speed, tempo, and proper use of the outside aids. 

MSEDA thanks David O’Connor for taking the time to educate our members on these interesting topics and further encourage our riders during the Awards Banquet. 

Midsouth Eventing & Dressage Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

MSEDA’s mission is to promote and preserve the sports of Eventing and Dressage in the Mid-South area, by providing leadership and education to its members and the community at large. To further these goals, MSEDA will provide educational opportunities, fair and safe competitions, promote the welfare of the horse and rider and reward the pursuit of excellence from the grass roots to the FEI level.

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