The golden years of an event horse are often challenging to navigate. In many cases, a horse accustomed to competing at the intense top levels finds themselves bored or stir-crazy when it comes time to take a step back. Like other elite athletes, these horses crave a job, something to do or fight for.
When it comes time for an upper level horse to retire, several options are brought forth: show the ropes to a young or less experienced rider, live out your days in a pasture or as a babysitter, or step down to a lower level and revel in the joy that comes with the cross country adrenaline rush. Option C is what Team Rebecca LLC and the Broussard family’s Veronica has chosen, and at 18 years young with Lauren Kieffer in the irons we saw the Dutch mare return to competition this past weekend after an injury sidelined her for 18 months.
Lauren felt her heart sink when the mare, who carried her to two USEF National Champion finishes at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and 23 other FEI starts throughout her career, took an off step on cross country at Maryland Horse Trials in 2018. Luckily, Lauren says, her world-class team of vets and caregivers ensured that “Troll” never wanted for a thing during her time off. The team took painstaking measures to bring the mare back to health without rush or agenda. “Her owners Team Rebecca and the Broussard family never question what needs to be done for their horses,” Lauren said. “We took so long rehabbing her — hours of long walks, and once she started trotting we only added 30 seconds every couple days.”
Of course, one option was a full retirement, but Veronica made it clear that she felt nowhere close to her age and preferred to have a job. So Lauren explored some options, testing out the concept of giving the reins to another rider for some easy lower level work. “She was just horrible,” Lauren joked. “She just loves to compete, and I think I’m the only person who actually enjoys riding her. So I’m just enjoying it and letting her tell us what she wants to do.”
Lauren isn’t sure who had more fun out competing again at Majestic Oaks in the Open Preliminary division, her or Veronica. “It was kind of like putting on your favorite old sweatshirt,” she reflected. Above all, Lauren’s thankful for the doors the otherwise unassuming brown mare has opened for her. “She took me to my first overseas trips and gave me an invaluable amount of experience.”
Lauren has no plans to aim for the top level again with the mare; for her, these events are an opportunity to slip on her favorite sweatshirt and enjoy the partnership she’s built with a horse that is by no means an easy ride. It’s a rewarding feeling, surely, to be able to just enjoy the sport — no pressure, no expectations, just pure joy. We think you’ll see that joy plainly in these videos taken by our friend The Horse Pesterer. Welcome back, Veronica!