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Jo Kieffer

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Final Impressions of the Pan American Games

This is the next post in our Lauren Kieffer Eventing Blog Series powered by Athletux. We hear once again from Jo Kieffer, mom to Pan American Games team gold medalist Lauren Kieffer, who told us what it meant to have her daughter competing in her first major championships earlier this month in this blog. Now she checks back in after the competition to reflect on the experience.

Victorious Team USA: Marilyn Little, Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton and Lauren Kieffer. Photo by Jenni Autry. Victorious Team USA: Marilyn Little, Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton and Lauren Kieffer. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I thought I knew about being part of a big competition. I found I still have plenty to learn after the Pan American Games. From the security, the mix of languages all around us, the sense of purpose and intensity in the barns, the obvious national pride of the audience and the athletes — there was no doubt this was going to be a different sort of weekend.

One of my biggest impressions was how different things were because this was a team competition. This is normally such an individual sport. There is always great camaraderie between eventing competitors, but no one is going to feel badly about moving up because someone they know dropped a rail or didn’t make the time.

This was a much different experience.  These riders were truly a team. They were there to sink or swim together, and I include Jennie Brannigan in this group. The better each person’s ride, the better they all felt. You could also sense the pressure in knowing they carried the fate of the entire team on their individual shoulders.

So when it was all done, those hugs and grins you saw on that podium were quite genuine. They believed in each other and in David O’Connor’s program. I also can’t say enough good things about all the people you did not see on that podium. Those riders knew that they were there due to the help of their own connections and the amazing support of the USEF team.

I have never considered myself a sentimental person. But I defy anyone to not feel a rush of several different emotions when you watch your child on that podium, see them drape that medal around her neck, hear the music of our anthem and watch our flag rise up that center flag pole.

I will also never forget my first sight of Lauren in her red coat. There are so many hours, hopes, successes and disappointments wrapped up in that coat. I still remember the look on her face when her trainer told what the red coat meant. She was not was going to be satisfied until she had one of her own. Now she does. She is now a team rider. Hopefully there will be many more team events in her future, but nothing will replace the memory of this first one.

So now Papa Kieffs and I are back in Illinois, and Lauren is headed to England. This is the first time in over 15 years that we have not planned our entire year around Lauren’s show schedule. I miss it already. The Pan American Games were only one dream come true. I am content to wait and see where Lauren’s dreams take us next.

Standing Right on the Edge of the Dream

This is the second post in our Lauren Kieffer Eventing Blog Series powered by Athletux. First we heard from super groom Shannon Kinsley, and now Lauren's mom Jo, better known as Mama Kieffs, writes about what it means that her daughter is about to represent Team USA for the first time.

Mama Kieffs and Lauren Kieffer. Photo courtesy of LKE. Mama Kieffs and Lauren Kieffer. Photo courtesy of LKE.

I have been asked to do many things I never expected to do in the last few years. This blog is the latest.

If you have gotten this far, I am going to assume you know the basics about Lauren and LKE: the horses, the rides, the results, the steps from clueless beginner through the O’Connor camp, to the working student years through to professional rider, and now to Pan American Games and Team USA rider (fingers still firmly crossed, because until you are going down the center line, we all know stuff can happen).

So what can I add that you don’t know? Maybe you are the parent of one of those horse crazy kids that wants to make this their life. What can I tell you?

This is the hardest thing your child will ever attempt to do, and watching them struggle will be equally hard on you, except for when it is awesome beyond belief.

If your child is riding at Training level, you may think it gets easier the more they learn and the better they ride. It doesn’t.

If you think your heart will burst with pride as you watch them jump that clear stadium round that guarantees that ribbon for them — oh my goodness, wait till you are standing on the kiss and cry watching them do it in Kentucky in April.

And there are other things that do get better. Professional grooms are amazing people; they are worth their weight in gold. Attempting to groom for four horses out of a trailer at a one-day event, just Lauren and I, has given me an incredible appreciation for grooms.

I guess what I want to say is that this is an adventure. And, like any adventure, it is not going to be easy. That doesn‘t mean it won‘t also be fun.

Papa Kieffs and I never imagined watching Lauren compete in Europe when her grandpa got her that first backyard pony. We never imagined the wonderful people we would get to know when she told Jimmy Wofford to remember her name at an autograph signing because she was going to the Olympics some day. We never imagined any of this when at her first event she and her OTTB went through the stadium timing poles backwards because she couldn’t get him to go forward.

But we believed in Lauren and her dreams, and we wanted to do anything we could to help her get there. So we cried with her through the bad, and there was plenty of bad; we cheered for her during the good, and there has been plenty of good. All the while, she worked and worked and worked.

And now we are standing right on the very edge of that dream, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. So if you have that kid that knows life won’t be worth living without horses, that talks about putting on the red coat, that rides Rolex in her dreams, think about encouraging him or her to go for it.

Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Do something every day that scares you.”