By Lyssette Williams
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
It’s hard not to be dazzled by the long list of accolades and international appearances that United States show jumping team rider Lauren Hough has managed to accomplish in her life so far. From multiple championships in her junior career in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings to representing Team USA at seven FEI World Cup finals, over 40 Nations Cup appearances around the world to winning medals at three Pan American Games and being an Olympic and World Equestrian Games team member, there’s little that Lauren hasn’t done. Through it all, Lauren has remained humbled by her experiences and eager to learn more from her horses and other professionals in the industry.
Lauren spent her childhood growing up in Morgan Hill, California. Riding before she could walk, horses were always center stage in Lauren’s life. She can’t remember a time she didn’t ride or want to be around them.
“My whole family has been involved in the horse industry — not just my parents, but my grandparents and aunts also,” Lauren said. “I think even if I wasn’t from a family of professionals, I would have found my way to horses. I may not have accomplished as much without my family’s knowledge and support, but horses would still be an integral part of my life.”
Lauren’s parents, Linda and Champ Hough, are both well-regarded and accomplished horse professionals. Linda is a Hunter Hall of Fame trainer and rider, and Champ earned a bronze medal in eventing at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. For decades, Linda and Champ meticulously ran Sutton Place, their show stable on the West Coast. It was there that Lauren started her riding education on a small pony named Duchess.
“My parents fostered and supported my love of riding,” Lauren said. “I never felt pressured to ride or to win. I am incredibly lucky to have grown up on the farm, to have had the riding opportunities I’ve had, and learned from the best in the industry.”
Lauren’s show career started in the pony ring, racking up consistent wins and championships aboard ponies Swan Song and Blitzen. Both were registered small, but they taught Lauren big lessons in patience and horsemanship.
“Blitzen was a super-sweet bay mare that we got from Molly Ashe,” Lauren said. “She had a caretaking type of personality and nurtured me in the early years. The other pony we leased was a beautiful grey mare named Swan Song. I won everything with her, but she was very mean!”
Like most juniors, Lauren rode in the hunters and equitation, but the jumper ring was calling her. “I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil,” Lauren said. “My first junior jumper was a chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Choice Property. We were a very successful team, and I knew my future was ultimately in the jumpers.”
Lauren rode to several top finishes in the ASPCA Maclay and AHSA Medal, and won the USET Talent Search – East. She was also on the Zone 10 gold medal-winning junior jumper team, and at age 15, Lauren was named the Pacific Coast Horse Show Association Grand Prix Rookie of the Year. Refusing to rest on her laurels, Lauren branched out and became a catch-rider for professional trainers to further hone her horsemanship and riding skills.
“When my junior career was over, I knew it was time to leave the United States and see the world,” Lauren said. “I moved to Holland and worked for Henk Nooren, who is still a close friend and mentor to this day. I started my own business in the Spring of 1998 — Lauren Hough, Inc.”
In 2000, Lauren donned the United States Team red jacket at her first Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. Aboard 9-year-old gelding Clasiko, she finished 12th individually and 14th in the team competition.
“It was such an honor to represent the United States in the Olympics,” Lauren said. “The Olympics has always been my life goal, and I’m super proud of Clasiko’s performance. I was 23 years old and didn’t really take in what was happening. I didn’t have time to live in the moment as I went through it. Looking back, that Olympic experience really shaped my career, and I would love another chance to go to the Olympics, enjoy the experience and win medals for my country.”
A Global Show World
Lauren’s desire to be at the top of the sport and climb the FEI rankings led her to a transatlantic move back to Europe in 2009. Once there, she showed full time on the European Grand Prix circuit from spring through fall.
“Laura Kraut and I were some of the first American riders to make Europe our base — now it’s the norm,” Lauren said. “I wanted to challenge myself and expose myself to the best riders in the world. When I’d win, I knew I was really winning against the world’s best talents.”
Out of all the countries and venues she’s competed at, her favorite horse show in the world is CHIO Aachen, held each summer in Germany. The show holds nine days of world-class equestrian events for show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving and vaulting.
“There’s no place like it in the world,” Lauren reminisced. “The arena, the crowd, the energy of competition sinks into you. It can be pouring down rain, and you don’t feel tired or bogged down, you feel electrified. I’ve competed there at least 10 times in my career, and the closing ceremony on Sunday still gives me goosebumps!”
Taking advantage of the increase in quality jumping competitions and the rapidly globalizing world, Lauren’s business is currently dual-country based. Located in Wellington, Florida, and England for the summer and fall months.
“The world has become a smaller place,” Lauren said. “I’ve competed everywhere in the world except for Africa. We go to Europe like it’s nothing, we hop on planes and we fly horses around without thinking much about it, like it’s getting on the bus to go downtown.”
Traveling all the time can take its toll on even the most seasoned competitors. Lauren’s love for her horses and her belief that their well-being should come first means horse care is a top priority for Lauren and her team. When Lauren’s horses aren’t competing, she believes the more time out of the stable the better, including turnout, hacking and using the treadmill as another form of exercise.
“As a rule, I don’t over-train or over-jump my horses,” Lauren said. “When possible we like to warm up with a nice 20 minutes hack before going into the arena and then I will work on troubleshooting grids or flatwork exercises for a short amount of time. The horses have the space and time to just be horses and are happier for it.”
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, going back to England is a bit more complicated than before so Lauren has spent most of her time stateside and has gone from show to show as restrictions in the States have loosened up. Back in England, Lauren’s former Grand Prix horse Quick Study, lovingly known as Joey, is enjoying a well-deserved retirement with Cedric, aka Monkey, longtime friend and peer Laura Kraut’s 2008 Beijing Olympic mount.
“Monkey and Joey were originally retired at different facilities,” Lauren said. “Laura called and wanted Monkey to spend the winter with us. When Monkey stepped off the trailer, he and Joey locked eyes. They recognized each other instantly and called out happily. They traveled all over the world together during their careers and now they’re inseparable.”
Reflection Provides Clarity
While the pandemic brought horse shows to a halt at the beginning of 2020, Lauren was further sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. During the five months she was out of the saddle, Lauren was able to spend more time at home in Wellington, Florida.
“I really enjoyed the down time because I’m used to always being on the go,” Lauren said. “I enjoy cooking, reading, and I watched Michael Jordan’s ‘The Last Dance’ on Netflix twice! My parents and I are still very close. My mother lives on the property, so I see her every day. She is 76 and still comes to the stable to help — setting jumps and tidying up the barn. My father lives in a nursing home close by and we’ve been able to see him socially distanced.”
Quiet and reflective by nature, Lauren also spent time planning her next steps in her show jumping career and looking at the bigger picture.
“I’ve remained a top competitor in the sport for a long time, and I want to continue staying at the top of my game,” Lauren said. “Keeping my current horses happy and fit is a part of that, but so is producing youngsters that can come up the ranks and go on to do great things.”
One of those youngsters is a 7-year-old bay gelding, N-Ambassador, known as Pudge. “Pudge is homebred,” Lauren said. “His sire is Ameretto D’arco and his dam is Casadora — a mare I rode to a team bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio. We’ll bring him to the United States when he’s 8. Until then, he’ll continue to learn the ropes in Europe.”
In the United States, Lauren has two mares she’s competing at the Grand Prix level for owner Kathleen Kamine: Paloma, a fiery 14-year-old bay Holsteiner mare by Canaletto S out of H Lila M, and Canamera 2, a super-talented 11-year-old bay Holsteiner mare by Clarimo out of K Cathania. Lauren admits she has a soft spot for fiery mares and finds her own calm demeanor works well with them, making for a good partnership. Lauren is also excited about another horse, an 8-year-old stallion named Gemino, owned by Chester Suida, who recently jumped his first four star Grand Prix — and jumped it clear.
“Though I kept myself busy the last several months with teaching and rehabilitation, I really missed riding,” Lauren said. “I got back into the saddle in August.”
When she couldn’t compete, Lauren received help from friends and fellow professionals Peter Wylde and Tori Colvin.
“Peter and I share a stable during the winter, and he competed my horses when I was first injured,” Lauren said. “Tori picked up the rides after Peter went back to New Jersey for the summer. Tori continued helping us during the summer and early fall as we travel from show to show. I plan on keeping Tori as part of our team as I think she is a huge talent for the future to represent Team USA.”
In addition to riding at a high level, Lauren’s grateful for the opportunity to teach a small group of students and is very hands on focused on her coaching.
“I reflected a lot during the pandemic,” Lauren said. “I feel so fortunate to be a part of this sport, to do this for a living. Every day I learn something new, and I really enjoy passing on my knowledge, my experiences, all the things I’ve learned from the great horses and horse people in my life. There is so much more I’d like to accomplish in the riding world. I’m looking forward to the future.”
For more information, visit www.laurenhough.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com, unless noted otherwise