From a “non-horsey” family to four star rider – the rise of Lauren Kieffer

Lauren Kieffer (USA)

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We had a chance a few weeks ago to sit down and speak with Lauren Kieffer, her parents and David O’Connor about Lauren’s partnership with Veronica and her start in the O’Connor program. Lauren and Veronica just completed their cross-country round at Pau today. Opting to take some long routes, they finished safely with time and are sitting in the top 10.

Eventing fans stood up and took notice when Lauren Kieffer and Veronica placed 2nd at their inaugural CCI4* at Rolex in April 2014. This pair has a bit of a history and if you are a believer of fate, their success together is maybe meant to be. Australian Olympian, Scott Keach, imported Veronica to the United States. He brought the mare up to the Preliminary level and then sent her to Lauren to sell. Lauren competed Veronica once, broke her arm and then asked Karen O’Connor to ride the horse until she was healed. After competing Veronica a couple of times, Karen bought her and brought her up the levels.

Unfortunately, Karen had a rotational fall with Veronica in the Advanced division at Morven Park in October 2012. Karen has not evented since and the ride on Veronica went to Lauren…again.

Lauren was more than grateful to receive the ride, “I think it was a conversation between Team Rebecca and Karen about who would suit the horse. I had ridden the mare a lot even while Karen was competing her because she was traveling lots so I rode her horses and I got along with the mare. It came down to who would suit her best and it was obviously a great opportunity for me.”

Lauren was given the opportunity to take over a ride that came from one of America’s most legendary riders. Karen and Veronica had an inconsistent record with some problems on cross-country. At their first CCI4* at Rolex in 2012, Karen was eliminated after she came off in the water.

Lauren was not intimidated to take over the ride that sometimes challenged Karen. She said, “Funny enough it takes the pressure off because if it doesn’t go well, it’s not too big of a surprise. If it does go well then it is just kind of a win. So it was a win-win for me either way.”

Last year when Lauren and Veronica made their European debut, Lauren came off at fence 21 when at the last minute Veronica refused to jump. Lauren explained, ”I did not to get too disheartened because for the most part we had a good year last year. The mistakes that happened were just from us still getting to know each other. You know she is a very independent mare. It took me a while to trust her and at the same time, it took her a while to trust me. The mistakes we had, were stemming from that. This year, we had a quiet spring and were just really getting comfortable with each other and then when we went to Kentucky, we connected.”

She believes that it takes time for a rider to form a relationship with a new ride. She said, “It so depends on the horse. It can very easily take 18 months and it can sometimes not happen at all. Sometimes, like with Veronica, you are pretty much off and running. Like we had our bobbles, but we really did get along from the start. It really just depends on the horse.”

Lauren is young and well on her way to a successful Eventing career. What comes as a bit of a surprise is that she does not come from a horse family. They did not have their own farm and Lauren took lessons and boarded her horses. Helping Lauren succeed has been her parent’s unwavering support. Lauren is an only child and her parent’s have accepted their daughter’s unconventional career choice. Lauren said, “They’ve always been super supportive. My dad used to race dirt bikes professionally so he totally supported the sport side of everything. It was never like I took a year off from college and it turned into nine. They were always of the thought that college will always be there. Take these opportunities while you can. You can always go back to school. They have always been completely on board with it; it’s even more fun that they come to almost every event. They have their camper and they drive all over.”

The O’Connor factor
Lauren credits leaving home and riding with the O’Connors as the best decision for her career. However, she does not consider herself a natural talent. She said, “I fell off a lot and got hurt. When I was 17, my parents sat me down one day and asked me if I was scared and I said no. They said well if you are too stupid to be scared, you need to get good help. So they sent me to the O’Connor camp. At the end of the camp, I went up to the O’Connors and asked if they take working students and they said yes. I asked how I could become one and they said when do you want to come. I said well I can come tomorrow, and they suggested that I go home, pack and return. It started off as a year-long commitment and then I just stayed there.”

Kevin and Jo Kieffer have always supported their daughter’s career choice although others have raised questions. Jo said, “We support her one hundred percent. People do question her not going to college. To be a working student for the O’Connors was her version of Harvard and she worked hard and excelled. And it’s her life and we were right there behind her the whole time.” Kevin added, “She’s got a lot of drive. I mean she’s going to do well at whatever she decides to do. She doesn’t understand quit.”

First impressions
We asked David O’Connor about first meeting Lauren and he said, “There were a couple of things about Lauren that I noticed right away. She really tried the stuff you were working on and she has a good sense of balance. She just naturally has horse empathy. The things you were working on, she got it right away and tried to implement it all through the week. The riders rotated through four instructors during the week. Every instructor was asking, have you seen this kid, have you seen this kid, and I saw her later in the week. She was a good horsewoman but overall she was struggling with her horse that she actually took around Rolex for the first time. We worked on many things and she picked it up. She had the right attitude, and work ethic so she got in and she never left.”

Recalling Rolex
Lauren is about to tackle her second CCI4* cross-country on Saturday with Veronica. She managed to stay on her dressage score at Rolex with a solid cross-country and an impeccable show jumping round. A win on American soil would have been sweet. Remembering show jumping day heading into the ring she got a little emotional and said, “Like you know everything is against you a bit in this sport. And so many people were there and have been there for ages, so going in there you just want to do well for them and at the end of the day you just don’t want to break everyone’s heart.” She certainly did not break any hearts that day.

Kevin and Jo Kieffer, Lauren's supportive parents.

Kevin and Jo Kieffer, Lauren’s supportive parents.

  • Lauren’s parents: Recalling her success at Rolex had Kevin and Jo beaming with pride. When asked if they were hoping William Fox-Pitt would have a rail after Lauren jumped clean, Jo replied, “Oh no I am a way better person than that!” They both then broke into laughter. Jo went on to say, “Of course! But you don’t want to be greedy. She did it, went in there and did the best she could do and put all the pressure in the world on him and he didn’t have a rail. She put as much pressure on him as she could and it’s in God’s hands you know.”
  • David O’Connor: Remembering when William Fox-Pitt rode into the ring while Lauren was sitting in a secured second place, David said, “I was really ticked off that she didn’t win it. I was really hoping he was going to have a mistake. She rode well enough to win, and she will win four stars in her career. I was really hoping for the big win for everybody. But it is great for her, national champion and we are all on that trophy together.”

Bright future
Lauren Kieffer is an American on the cusp of a great career. She has the attitude, ability and support, yet remains incredibly humble. Regardless of how Pau goes for her this weekend, you can count on hearing great things about her for years to come.

 Lauren’s website

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