Last updated on March 16th, 2018 at 02:32 pmThe dressage master and his life partner
are living “a dream come true.”
PHOTOS BY George Kamper
Oded Shimoni is considered a dressage master, an honorific that is rooted in skill, respect, and dignity and earned over time. While many of today’s top riders have enjoyed the luxury of learning from dressage masters early on, riding in fine apparel and in manicured rings, Oded began his riding career in a public park in Tel Aviv, Israel, wearing jeans and sneakers.
When he began in dressage, a unique sport in Israel at the time, he was 13 years old in a local, government-sponsored riding school led by an ex-policeman. He was taught about the importance of discipline in riding and about taking care of horses. Oded claims that within the first two weeks of riding, he knew that was what he was going to do for a living.
His intuition was astute, and he went on to compete on the international stage, including three World Equestrian Games and two European championships. His travels gradually led him to the U.S., initially in the Maryland/Virginia area. From there, he began to go to Wellington, Florida, for three months, which quickly grew to six months, and by 2009 he began staying year round.
Oded is now the owner of OS Dressage, a training and teaching farm in Wellington, which he manages with his life partner, Nataly Leibovitz. A champion show jumper, Nataly first met Oded at her father’s jumper-dressage facility in Israel. The two maintained a long-distance relationship until Nataly decided to vacation in, and eventually move to, Wellington. It is a successful partnership on so many levels, but in particular, it is their shared desire to dedicate their lives to horses.
When asking Oded whether having his own farm has changed him as a rider, coach, and trainer, he admitted it has changed him immensely. “Maybe because I am older, I find I have more time and more patience to understand the horses’ and the riders’ needs,” Oded mused. “The number one thing is the horse. It’s taking care of what they need, spending time with them, and not rushing them. Each horse is different; some learn quickly, and others, although they may be very talented, need time mentally to adapt to the structure. Here, I feel I have the time and patience versus going from farm to farm to teach and not being involved in their everyday care. Knowing what is going on with the horses and the riders has been a huge change for me. It’s made me happier, calmer, and a better horseman for sure.”
Nataly is extremely involved in the nutrition of the horses. She monitors the condition of their coats, hooves, eyes, and teeth, along with the quality of their feed, hay, and shavings. She finds it imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest horse-welfare programs and directs the staff accordingly in the management and care of the horses.
Robert Dover, the chef d’equipe of the U.S. Dressage Team, is based at OS Dressage, as well as U.S. rider Olivia LaGoy-Weltz; top young riders such as Chase Shipka and Kerrigan Gluch; high-level, small-tour riders; and top international riders and horses. The farm also serves as the home of Robert Dover’s scholarship and Future Stars program.
A Home/Farm based on Concept and Collaboration
Oded and Nataly designed their farm together and started construction in 2013. Nataly especially wanted to ensure that the barn was simple, yet professional and well-made. This year, they installed a round pen and changed the footing in the hot walker. The farm is now equipped with an indoor arena with kickboards; an outdoor, oversized arena; and a jump field. Their footing and drainage is also top notch. The indoor and covered arenas and all buildings at the farm meet Miami/Dade County hurricane codes.
What impresses Oded, Nataly, and their clients is that the horses are very happy at the farm. “Sometimes you can have the most beautiful facility but the horses are not happy,” Oded explained.
Their house is also located on the farm because one of Oded and Nataly’s greatest delights is to be able to see the horses while relaxing at home. “Designing the house was fun,” they both admitted. Oded has very modern taste and Nataly had to keep reminding him that it was a farmhouse.
Ultimately, designer Vance Burke (see EQLiving, June/July 2017 issue), helped them bring their visions together. “When they approached me to work on their Wellington home, I was instantly drawn to the dynamic couple,” said Burke. “Together, we developed a sophisticated yet thoroughly modern approach to an open-concept farmhouse.”
The home is warm, airy, and inviting, with tasteful nods to their love of horses throughout. There’s also room for dogs in this happy household, which is good news for Shekel, their Jack Russell terrier, and Stella, the Rhodesian ridgeback.
When Oded and Nataly lived in a beautiful apartment at the Polo Club in Wellington, they worried that they would lose their privacy if they both lived and worked at the farm. But, they say, no one ever bothers them. Everyone, including clients, recognize the unspoken regard for boundaries. Because they have created such a professional yet warm and inviting atmosphere at OS Dressage, there is a respect that flows between them and their clients. They both love their home; it’s their oasis, and they completely enjoy it.
“I never thought in all my life that I would ever have a home or a farm like this,” said Oded. “I did not know then how to get it; I did not know how to think to get it. It wasn’t even in my wildest dreams. I am thankful and I am humbled to have Nataly with me, and to have this dream come true.”