The 2016 season was a standout year for three-day eventer Lauren Kieffer. Winning the Rolex/USEF CCI4* National Championship and earning a spot on Team USA for the 2016 Rio Olympics were just two of the year’s highlights.

The 29-year-old rider is from a non-equestrian family, but once she sat on a horse at the age of 6, she was hooked and never looked back. And throughout the past 23 years, Lauren has honed not only her skills in the saddle but also the knowledge of how to select an event prospect—even one, Meadowbrook’s Scarlett, that went on to team gold with Lauren at the North American Pan American Games in 2015.

With a depth of knowledge in developing horses, Lauren keeps certain factors in mind when selecting her new mounts. Read on to learn exactly what Lauren looks for in the horses she tries:

NF Style: What type of horse do you look for when you are trying young horses?  And how do they accommodate your riding style?

Lauren Kieffer: I like forward thinking horses that are quick on their feet. I don’t want to be kicking them along the whole ride or feel like they aren’t paying attention to what is in front of them.

I don’t mind them being green and even sometimes stopping at a new question, as long as they don’t try to run out or turn away from the question. I want to know that they will study problems.

What are five important factors that each horse must have?

1. They need a good work ethic. I will take train-ability over flash every day. It doesn’t matter how fancy or scopey they are if they don’t show up for work when it counts.

2. A great walk.

3. A great canter.

4. They have to be careful. I like to see them hit a rail just to see what they do when they come jump it again. If they don’t correct their mistake, I’m not interested.

5. Good feet. Our sport requires so much fitness and leg work over all kinds of terrain. If you start with bad feet, you will be battling problems their whole careers.

What was your first impression when you tried Meadowbrook’s Scarlett? Did you know then she would become your Pan American team gold horse?

I was fortunate enough to get Scarlett as a 4-year-old and was able to produce her up the levels myself. I liked her immediately and was lucky that her owner and breeder, Marie le Menestrel, took my word that I thought she would be a top horse.

She was a very spooky young horse but never thought twice about jumping the fence in front of her and loved to compete from the get go.

What is a horse that became completely different later on for you, superseding your initial expectations?

Most of my horses I have produced from the beginning, but one that turned out to be more then I expected was Landmark’s Monte Carlo, owned and bred by Jacqueline Mars. He always was very talented, but as a young horse, he was very very spooky.

It took a long time to develop him, but I believe since I was able to produce him all these years that is why he has made it to the 4* level—and with a lot of success—which is all because we have a long partnership and he trusts me.

What tips do you have for trying horses in a limited amount of time?

Don’t try to convince yourself into liking a horse or to make excuses for their faults. Don’t go into it thinking you can fix them. It is hard to get to know a horse in such a short time but trust your gut, and make sure you bring along someone that you trust their opinion and who knows your riding style and that can take a lot of video for you.

All photos by Shannon Brinkman