Friday, April 25, 2014

That Kid Named Lauren Kieffer

Once upon a time--June, 2006, to be exact--I met a kid named Lauren Kieffer. We were actually both campers at the O'Connor Event Camp in Lexington, VA, taught by world-renowned event riders David and Karen O'Connor. It was a fabulous week.

I know Lauren was there. I remember her vaguely from camp dinners and such, and also remember her from a particular day cross country. In truth, I was too busy trying to sort out my own riding problems to pay too much attention to my fellow campers, but it was hard to miss this intense firecracker 17-year-old, riding a half-Arab horse named Snooze Alarm (barn name Maggot), with a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas. Lauren desperately wanted to be fabulous, and she wasn't, and when in frustration she flipped her horse on the cross-country flat day, I could hear David O'Connor screaming at her from three fields away.

Lauren's become rather famous for what happened next. At the end of camp she asked Karen and David if she could work for them. They asked when she would be available. She said, "now." She followed them home.

I get it, somewhat. I've never been that intense child, but I can imagine being that intense, and I can see it in Lauren. She wanted to learn so much, so badly.

For years, after that first session of camp, I ran into Lauren either at the Virginia Horse Center or in my sojourn in Florida. I'll be honest, for years she annoyed the snot out of me. I'd say hi, and she'd roll her eyes. I'd make what I viewed as a friendly overture, and she'd walk away. Whatever, I'd think.

But I've always said that relationships are the key. I know that after awhile, even the most annoying and most bratty of the Holston Pony Clubbers seem to metamophasize. They may still be annoying brats, but they become my annoying brats. In the same way, I became Lauren's annoying middle-aged amateur. What can I say? We grew on each other. Two years ago when I went looking for a new horse, Lauren was my wingman. She loved Sarah before I did.

A few years back, Lauren rode her crazy horse Maggot at Rolex. It was a culmination of a childhood dream: buy a horse, train it to greatness. They didn't place high, but they finished respectably. I was proud of her. It seemed strange, because she'd pissed me off so much, but I was pulling for her pretty hard.

Then this year she had a Rolex horse again. I knew she had a logo now, I knew she had had shirts made up for herself and her groom and family and friends. I was working dressage. Could I have a Lauren Kieffer Eventing shirt in a white polo, to wear while I was working? Could I ever! The shirt arrived. Today I put it on.

Lauren was both completely calm and wildly nervous. I watched her warm up alongside her parents, meeting them for the first time. It rained, hard, and I stood in the rain. I stayed watching her warmup.

She went down to the ring. So many people I know and care about went with her. They crowded into the little space allocated for family and owners. I stood to one side, where the dressage volunteers could stand.

My girl rode. She laid it down. Halfway through, my daughter, standing beside me, gasped, "She's in the lead!" and I looked at the scoreboard and realized it was true. She was leading. Leading Rolex, the biggest competition in our country. Leading. She finished, and we all went wild--cheering, shouting. Twenty-six years old and on top of the world. I felt like her old great-aunt or something, not really involved but so wholly on her side.

It didn't quite last. Later in the day William Fox-Pitt rode the marvelous Bay My Hero to a slightly better score, and then Alison Springer and her quirky quixotic Arthur did even better. I've always loved Alison and Arthur, and I was so moved when her friends and owners shed tears of joy, that I couldn't begrudge them their higher placing. But eventing is never won on the dressage. Tomorrow my girl Lauren Kieffer kicks it into high cross-country gear, and all my prayers, all my best wishes, will go with her.