Growing Pains: Lauren Sprieser Talks Life With Young Horses
Word to the wise - pony parenting is not an easy task. No one knows this better than FEI rider and trainer Lauren Sprieser. She'll be the first to tell you that if you want to mold a youngster into your Grand Prix dream horse, you better be prepared to ride out some adolescent years with a helmet and a good sense of humor.
The Virginia based trainer describes the hilarity that ensued when she took her newly imported youngster into the ring for the first time.
"I just took Gretzky (whose barn name is Puck) to a horse show and I entered him in the show probably two months ago when he was going brilliantly and as soon as I licked the stamp to the entry he turned into a savage. And I probably shouldn't have taken him, but I did. So off we go and I'm stabled down the aisle from my wonderful friend, Ali Brock. And the only person who had a worse day than me because I got six movements in before I saluted out because Puck was being such a menace, was Ali Brock who one year to the day after winning a bronze medal at the Olympic Games got bronco bucked on her five year old - not off fortunately - she stayed on -but through pretty much through all of first level test two."
Sprieser ends the story with sage advice, "In those cases you laugh, and you have a beer because this is teenagers."
Such an adventure definitely justifies happy hour, but Sprieser easily shrugs off the experience. To her, the misbehavior is simply the spark of unbridled talent.
"Anything that piaffes perfectly at fifteen, and works fabulously with no whip at twelve, is kind of an ass at six."
Due to the inherent challenges of donkey-minded six year olds, Sprieser has one crucial suggestion for riders working on training their FEI horses from scratch.
"You have to have a very experienced and competent coach and get as much help from that person as humanly possible. It doesn't matter how much you know - everybody needs a coach. Especially with young horses, feel is a little bit of a liar."
"I find that you get into this sort of cycle where - OK on day one he (the young horse) doesn't want to put his head down so I'm going to work on putting his head down, and on day sixty my coach sees me and says 'Hey, will you pick his head up already?" so I pick his head up and on day 120 my coach sees me and says 'Great, put his head down again." So you're teaching the young horse to accept a range of possibilities. My Grand Prix horses I can pick up, I can put them down, I can put them left, I can put them right, I can make them bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, and so in my young horse I'm installing the gray area."
Sprieser says the process of training young horses is one that she remembers fondly, and believes it's well worth it in the long run, even with all the bumps in the road.
"My favorite part of starting a new journey with a new horse is getting to age nine and looking back. Of course it's not the destination, it's the journey, but sometimes the journey really stinks and being able to look back and see the trees through the forest is really a wonderful thing. I've gotten better finally at taking pictures of the horses when they are young and being able to compare the confirmation shots of some of the horses that I have brought up through the levels from 3, 4, and 5, years old to 9, 10, and 11 years old, and it's just really fulfilling."
"I would imagine not having human kids, that it is a lot like watching your kids go off and become adults. It makes all of the dirty diapers and three am hysterical fits and loose shoes, and times he doesn't want the halter on, and times he kicks the snot out of your trailer all seem really funny."
One such horse that Sprieser was recently proud to have leave the nest was her-self trained Grand Prix mare, Ellegria, who has since moved on to a partnership with a young rider.
"I remember when Ellegria was five. I took her to a horse show and on Tuesday she was incredible and by Saturday she was awful, and I called my longtime coach and friend Lendon Gray and asked - 'When is it a good time to show a young horse?' She said 'Never, it's never a good time to show a young horse.' It's like hitting a moving target, and you have to have a sense of humor about it all, and you have to remember that very rarely are the great Grand Prix champions of the world also the great training level champions of the world. So just keep on keeping on."
Clearly, determination helps one brave the challenges of young horses, but Sprieser concludes her saga with cautionary wisdom.
"It's very important as a rider of young horses to roll with it and be able to say - 'You know what, today isn't out day, or WOW, today was amazing - DON'T ENTER A HORSE SHOW, it's not going to last'!"
To hear to the entire conversation with Lauren Sprieser listen to the podcast below, find it under Dressage Talk in iTunes, or download it directly here.