Lauren Knopp, an up-and-coming 23-year-old professional dressage trainer, fell in love with dressage when she began riding at the age of 8. When Knopp’s parents realized her dedication, they decided to move to Wellington, Florida, in order to further her education.
In 2009 she was reserve champion at the National Junior Dressage Championships in Gladstone, New Jersey, and team and individual silver medalist at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) with her horse Rho Dance. In 2011 she received her USDF silver medal and in 2013 she received her USDF gold medal. After taking a few years off from showing due to school, she purchased Rantaro, a Holsteiner gelding with whom she competed and placed third in the Brentina Cup division in 2013.
In the summer of 2014 Knopp established her training business at her family’s facility, IDA Farm, in the heart of Wellington. Dressage Today recently had an opportunity to chat with Knopp and discuss her career and her future goals, which include her hope to represent her country internationally.
DT: Why is the Brentina Cup so important for your career?
Lauren Knopp: The Brentina Cup is for Young Riders in the age range of 16 to 25, and it is an introduction to the Grand Prix. I think of it as a baby Grand Prix. The tests are a little more forgiving than the actual Grand Prix, but we still have to do piaffe and passage and the one tempos.
I think it is important for young, up-and-coming riders to participate in the Brentina Cup because it gives us a little taste of what we need to compete in the Grand Prix.
DT: What does the Brentina Cup mean to you?
LK: It meant a lot to me to compete at a level I’ve dreamed about since I was a Junior rider. Advancing from Young Riders to Brentina Cup with Rantaro was special because he was the horse I purchased who taught me the Grand Prix. My relationship with Rantaro was extremely special. If I was nervous he would take care of me, and if he was nervous I would take care of him. We were a great team. After Brentina Cup, I decided to sell Rantaro to purchase my 4-year-old Oldenburg gelding, Samoa 52. Rantaro was purchased by a wonderful Adult Amateur from Virginia and comes down for the winter season to train with me. It is great because I am still a part of his life and I still have the opportunity to see him a few months out of the year. It has been wonderful seeing him succeed with his new owner.
DT: You have had noted success at the NAJYRC. What were some of the hurdles you experienced on the road to Gladstone?
LK: The hardest part was getting all 14- to 18-year-old girls to get along. In the beginning we were all catty and it was stressful. Then we realized that forming a team was most important. Together we had to wise up and grow up or face the chef d’equipe. We had the choice of supporting one another or falling apart as a team. Being on a team and having some issues taught me how to compromise and how to interact in a team setting. In the end, we became close friends and still keep in touch today.
DT: As a mentor for other young riders who may not have a strong support system, what personal characteristics do you think are important to succeed?
LK: Patience and dedication are key. If there are no finances available then look for a working-student position. With or without money you have to work hard and believe in yourself. There are many opportunities for people to come to Wellington and work for a trainer. Sometimes trainers have sales horses that a working student can ride if that person does not have her own horse. Also, working-student positions are good because most trainers offer free training and/or a free stall if the student has her own horse. Doing this makes it somewhat affordable for a person to continue her dream.
DT: How important is your family’s team effort in making your dressage career a success?
LK: Without my parents, none of this would have been possible for me. Within a month they packed up, sold their house and moved to Wellington so that I could have greater opportunities. They want me to succeed and they love what I do. My dad is always busy making sure that the training facility is kept at its best. The footing is a prime factor, and he has made sure that we have, what I think is the best I have ever ridden on. My mom is a people person. She meets and greets and makes sure everyone has a smile on his or her face. She is right there for me if I need her. I am lucky. Even my brother comes and helps out when he is not in school.
DT: You and your family have recently built a new dressage-training center in Wellington. Within the facility there are several unique training features, including a man-made hill and a galloping track. How will this unique opportunity influence your training techniques?
LK: To me, cross-training and hill work are just as important as arena work. The hill plays an immense roll in conditioning my horses. We also have a jumping field and a galloping track behind the barn. The track is a good opportunity to get out of the arena and relax with them. Florida is known for wet weather, but we have two state-of-the-art covered arenas that help me maintain continuity. There is at least a 10-degree difference in the temperature of the covered arenas during the summer, so the training is pleasurable. We have several grass paddocks that allow the horses some quiet down time. The paddocks are big enough for the horses to move around without enabling them to build up enough speed to hurt themselves. The paddocks are also four rails instead of three. Fortunately, we are situated in a small horse community with no major thoroughfare. This allows me to safely go on long walks along the road, either on the grass or asphalt. A few days out of the week I like to forget about the arena.
DT: Who has influenced you the most in dressage?
LK: Caroline Roffman. I look up to her because of how successful she has become at the age of 26. I think she is a wonderful role model for people like myself because she proves that hard work, determination and dedication pay off.
DT: You have recently begun working as a professional in the business of dressage. Do you put a different sort of pressure and/or responsibility upon yourself now?
LK: Before it was about not letting myself down. Now it’s my parents, sponsors, clients and trainer. It is a lot of pressure. I’m also managing other people’s horses. Everything has to be perfect and there is no room for error. It is important to always be on the same page as others, especially when it comes to taking care of a living animal. The most important quality in communicating with people is keeping the lines of communication open. That also applies to everyday life.
DT: What do you feel are the most important elements of success for high-performance dressage horses?
LK: For me the most important elements are the quality of the horse and his/her gaits, work ethic and a good mind. All of my horses are hot in the arena and want to work for me. By “hot” I mean active and forward, but not crazy. My horses know that once I give them the rein on the buckle they are done, and I normally go out of the arena and cool them out on the track or in the field. I want them to know once we are done training, that’s it and that they get rewarded for a good session. They look forward to it at the end of my rides. I think over time that consistency and repetition of this element of the training session allow my horses to maintain and/or develop their relaxed attitude and willingness to step it up when asked.
DT: How important is it to you to train a young horse from the beginning to Grand Prix?
LK: I love starting with a blank canvas and painting my own work of art. I feel when you have a horse already trained, you have to compromise your own training methods because the horse may not understand your way and you may not understand his. I also feel there is a much stronger bond with a horse you have trained yourself.
DT: How or what do you want your students to feel after a training session?
LK: I want my students to feel like they have accomplished their goal for the lesson. I want them to have a better understanding of something they were having issues with and feel confident and excited for the next lesson.
DT: What are the common denominators in your training method?
LK: Making it a pleasurable experience for the horse, ensuring that the rider has patience and making sure that the work makes sense for the horse and that there is an overall end goal. It is important in my training for the horse to have fun and for me to not overdo it. When I ride I think of it as dance practice. The horse is my dance partner and we both need to have fun doing it.
DT: When you are training your horses and there is a moment of resistance, what do you recommend as a solution?
LK: My horses are all similar in that when they come to a point of resistance I take a second and halt, let them relax and do something else. I will then go back to the movement I was doing with a fresh attitude. I don’t want to overface my horses and force them into something if they are resistant. I want to create confidence in my horses and willingness to work.