Every one of us who has ever attended or ridden in a local dressage show knew her. Whether it was to offer up a word of encouragement, give a spot on critique of a ride, fix a drooping hairstyle, take a picture, shoot a video, or simply watch and enjoy, Lillian Oliver could be found at almost every show. With her program and pen in hand, she’d be chatting away with judges, competitors and spectators alike. She obviously loved every minute, and in turn, everyone adored her. But how does one attempt to give an account of the texture and significance of the life of someone who touched so many of our lives? We must start with a little known fact: what many of us probably don’t realize is that Lillian was hugely instrumental in the founding of the original Virginia Dressage Association back in 1971. Lillian herself puts it best in an essay she wrote in 1986 describing this period of time:
Twenty five years ago, with zero dollars and only a dream, the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) was born. The State of Virginia, known for its excellence in equestrians and fine horses, could not lay claim to oneorganization devoted exclusively to dressage, and had to rely on the prestigious Potomac Valley Dressage Association (PVDA) … It is difficult, now, to recall that the very word ‘dressage’ was foreign to almost all of us; many did not know what it really meant…, nor was it able to be spelled and pronounced correctly. The educating of the horse community with respect to the importance of knowing how to properly train and communicate with the horse, was going to be a top priority if we were to be able to ‘entice’ the many we needed to join with us to be successful in our endeavor … Oh, how quickly the decision was made (to form VADA) and we sent the ball rolling down the slope that had no visible end.
Lillian, in fact, retired from her career as a nurse with the Public Health Department at this time in order to better serve the newly formed VADA, with all its trials and tribulations, serving in various capacities, including President. Over the next twenty five years, VADA accomplished a great deal, rising in 1986 to become the second largest dressage association in the United States. Lillian herself speculated as to what the next twenty five years would hold for VADA:
I believe I speak for all when I say ‘much heartfelt thanks’ to all who, over the years, have served, so unselfishly in giving of their time, energy and expertise in making, and keeping, the Virginia Dressage Association intact, and on course; hopefully, to someday celebrate a fiftieth anniversary.
And a heartfelt thank you to Lillian, who dedicated herself, and gave of her time and energy to help build VADA into one of the largest and most respected organizations within the United States Dressage Federation. We will all miss her smiling face and undying love of the sport of dressage.