Can you imagine galloping around Rolex on a 15.2-hh Arabian? Lauren Kieffer tells the story of how she rose to the top of her sport on an unlikely mount.
If you missed Part I of our series, “Unorthodox Excellence: Harry Callahan, Grand Prix dressage Saddlebred,” check it out here.
As kids, we all dream that our first horse will carry us straight to the upper echelons of competition–but for most of us, it’s just that: a dream. When Middleburg, Va.-based event rider Lauren Kieffer met her first horse at age 14, however, it was the beginning of a dream that would actually come true.
Lauren forged a partnership with the then 4-year-old Snooze Alarm that would develop over the following years. Fueled by hard work and determination the teenager and feisty redheaded Anglo-Arab began climbing their way up the eventing ladder. At age 18 Lauren became a working student for Olympians Karen and David O’Connor, who helped the pair achieve the confidence and polish they needed to compete at the highest level. Lauren and Snooze made their four-star debut in 2010 at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, where they finished 29th out of 53 starters.
It’s a pretty wild story for a horse that, by conventional standards, isn’t your typical upper-level eventer. Between his unorthodox breeding (half Arabian), small stature (15.2 hands) and quirky nature some might have simply written Snooze off–but not Lauren. She joins us today to tell the story of how she and Snooze made it work.
- When you first met Snooze did the two of you just click or did it take work to figure out his buttons?
I ended up in the dirt a few times in the beginning, it was really after I took him to his first event that we really hit it off. I asked my dad if we could buy him after the event and he said no. So I cried and he said yes:).
- What challenges have you run across working with Anglo Arabs? What advantages?
They are extremely smart, which is the biggest challenge and the biggest advantage. They only allow you to make the same mistake a couple of times before they hold it against you. People have an assumption that they are spooky and difficult but they really aren’t. I have ridden five or six now, and they are some of the bravest horses and were actually very easy to start as young horses. I think adding Arabian blood is a good asset to an event horse, but you want to stick to the Polish lines. In general they are a very sound breed with great feet, they are careful, brave, and intelligent and usually have quite good gaits and the stamina for the long courses.
- So many of today’s event horses are very much purpose-bred. Was it ever intimidating to know that they were what you were up against?
I never really thought of it that way. It was always a fun thing with Snooze that made him special, I feel like the sport of eventing is made up of so many unorthodox horses, everyone loves to see one rise to the top.
- You had a fantastic cross-country round at Rolex 2010. Tell us about that day!
He was spot on. When he ran a course you knew by the third fence whether you were going to go clean or not and he stepped up to the occasion. There is nothing better than doing your first four-star on a horse you have been jumping courses on for a decade. We knew each other inside and out and I was very confident in him. He is extremely careful and way too smart to jump himself into trouble whenever I made a mistake so I always felt very safe on him. He couldn’t have given me a better feeling around my first four-star and I will always owe him for that.
Video: Lauren and Snooze’s Rolex cross-country round.
- What advice do you have for someone who is competing a horse of “unorthodox” breeding for their sport?
Understand the traits of your horse’s breed. Find a way to use what makes them different to your advantage rather then try to make them into something they are not.
- Snooze is retired from upper-level competition but you are now competing his full brother. Do you see any similarities between the two? Might we see him in the Rolex start box someday, too?
I am, his name is Vermiculus, we call him Bug or Booger in the barn. Mentally they are a lot alike, very smart, very brave. Bug is put together better than Snooze and has better gaits, but in Snooze’s defense he was born with a fused SI joint so he had that working against him. They have the same big scopey jump. I’m incredibly excited about Vermiculus, he is so much fun to compete and has had a lot of success even though he is only six.
Video: Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus at Rocking Horse H.T. in March 2013, where they placed 2nd in Open Preliminary.
Thanks you for sharing your inspiring story, Lauren. Best of luck to you, and Go Riding!
All photos used with permission from Lauren Kieffer.