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Thu, 2015-05-21 09:49

Introducing Young Horses To Ditches and Banks with Lauren Kieffer

Lauren Kieffer at the 2014 USEA Young Event Horse Championships on Landmark's Jungle ROC. USEA/Leslie Threlkeld photo.

The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA. 

Four-star rider Lauren Kieffer began her eventing career under Olympians Karen and David O’Connor. After being under their watchful eyes for many years, Lauren went from a working student position to a paid employee and now runs her own training and competition business, and she is very involved in the breaking and training of young horses. She has brought many horses up the levels and achieved her highest competition accomplishments just this past year, placing 2nd at the 2014 Rolex Kentucky CCI4* and earning the U.S. Eventing’s 2014 Lady Rider of the Year title.

Lauren has a lot of experience competing in the Young Event Horse divisions with her talented up-and-comers. She rode Landmark’s Miners Diamond to a 3rd place finish in the 4-year-old championship division and piloted Landmark’s Jungle ROC to a Reserve Champion title in the 5-year-old championship division at Fair Hill this past fall. 

When it comes time in a horse’s training to begin introducing them to more difficult cross-country obstacles, Lauren’s training tools are a bit different than most.

“We start ditches and banks quite early in our training program. We go out and start playing with that stuff as soon as they begin to be ridden. We like to introduce these questions from the ground with no one on their back so they can figure it out on their own. We keep everything small and simple and establish that there is nothing to worry about,” Lauren explained.

If a young horse is going to have an issue on cross-country, it often happens at ditches and banks. Lauren likes to eliminate that likelihood by introducing the concept from the beginning.

“By the time we’re ready to introduce our young horses to both ditches and banks, they’ve already been worked from the ground for a while - they’re accustomed to being handled with a rope halter and 12’ rope. I stay on the ground and typically have someone ride an older horse to give them a lead the first few times. I want them to walk around it, put their nose in the ditch and on the other side of the bank if they need to have time to check everything out.”

The biggest mistake you can make with these young horses is to rush or push them beyond their mental limits.

“The worst thing you can do as a rider is to not let them stop and look. The problem with taking these obstacles at higher speeds is that they won’t take a look and begin to rush because they’re nervous and eventually that nervous energy can lead to stopping. Appreciate their curiosity at this younger age so their confidence can grow! When they are young, both questions can be practiced at a walk for as long as you need.”

Lauren explained that it is always a good idea to have someone on the ground with you when you are first introducing your young horse to these obstacles.

“Have someone you can trust giving you guidance and reassurance—especially if you start to have some issues. My most important piece of advice is not to make a big deal about anything. If you need to walk over a ditch or down a bank 20 times to give them confidence—do so! Take your time so that you don’t begin to make yourself nervous.”

The more you can practice and incorporate these obstacles to your everyday hack only enforces Lauren’s calm approach. Lauren made sure to comment on her experience thus far with the Young Event Horse program.

“I think the qualities that the judges are looking for have improved a lot! The successful horses have been more of a Thoroughbred type and have a good gallop. This is imperative for the horses that are going to go on to compete at the upper-levels of this sport because today the competition is less likely to be won in the dressage, the cross-country phase has proven to be extremely influential.”

Lauren also commented, “After attending the USEA Convention this year, Robin Walker made a great declaration. He said to beware of the quiet 4-and-5-year-old horses, those don’t make the great Advanced level horses—it’s the quirky ones.”

To learn more about Lauren and her program, visit her website at:


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