By Jillian Sinclair
Portraits by Mellisa Fuller
In the dynamic world of show jumping, where every stride counts and every jump tells a story, the journey of Lauren Crooks-Brennan stands out as a testament to dedication, passion and unwavering commitment. From her early days as a self-proclaimed barn rat to becoming a respected professional, Lauren’s story is one of triumphs, challenges and the unbreakable bond between a rider and her horses.
“Since I was born, horses have always been a big part of my life,” Lauren shared. She was raised in a family deeply connected to the equestrian world—Lauren’s parents operated a large stable and her grandmother owned a riding school, creating the perfect environment for Lauren’s equine passion to flourish.
With her heart firmly in the equestrian world, Lauren began her journey on the backs of trusted ponies that were passed down from her late grandmother’s program. Those faithful teachers were her parents’ first ponies, too, and were in their 30s when Lauren first learned to ride. “When I was about 2 years old, I could ride them on my own around the ring, and when I was 6, I took one to my first non-rated fun show in our local park,” Lauren said. Her love for riding was evident from a young age, and it was the beginning of a lifelong connection.
Beginning of a Career
Through pivotal moments and key decisions, Lauren’s journey progressed. She found her love for teaching and preparing horses for other riders much earlier than most. When Lauren was 12 years old, she rode her brother’s pony at a local horse show to make sure he was going to behave for her brother, Sean, who had never competed before. After Lauren prepared Sean’s pony in the first few classes of the division, he went on to win all his classes. “That was my first experience preparing someone else’s horse for them and helping get them to the ring,” Lauren said. This marked her initial step into training, igniting a passion that would shape her career.
Another turning point was her victory in a Grand Prix at the age of 22. Riding Porrado, a horse she developed herself, Lauren felt a taste of success at a high level. “We went on that year to win a couple of other big Grand Prix out west, and the taste of winning at that level, especially on a horse that I developed, really solidified my goals to develop more top horses and wanting to win on the biggest stage,” Lauren said.
Not long after her first Grand Prix victory, Lauren was once again given her brother’s horse to ride because her brother had broken his leg. “Our partnership came together quickly, and I had never experienced a horse of this caliber before,” Lauren said. Together, Lauren and Sean’s mare Cincinatti La Silla won a World Cup Qualifier in Kentucky, which was her first big Grand Prix win on the East Coast. “It really fueled my desire to continue competing on the big circuit and showed me what I wanted to achieve in the industry,” she said. “In fact, soon after, my brother and I started Crooks Show Jumping.”
Today, Lauren has built a successful career with programs on the East and West coasts. She and her husband, James Brennan, lead their team with Tom Davison and Liz Denny. Lauren feels her support team is one of the biggest reasons for her success and is extremely grateful to them.
Lauren and James have built a business with their riding talent, core beliefs, and ambition. “For me, joining Crooks Show Jumping was the easiest decision I could have made,” James said. “We’re both very ambitious and share a lot of core beliefs, so the transition was seamless. We’re in really good place with CSJ right now, but we’re still looking to build upon all facets of the business and our riding careers, which makes it very exciting for the future.”
Influences and Mentors
Lauren had many important figures who influenced her journey to becoming a professional. First, she credits her parents for passing on their knowledge of both riding and running a business. “They are still huge influences in all aspects of my life, but they really gave me the horse bug from the beginning,” Lauren said. “They taught me to be a great horsewoman, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
One of her biggest professional mentors was National Show Hunter Hall of Fame member John French. Lauren rode with John for four years while in college at Santa Clara University. She credits much of her development to John and is grateful to still have him as a mentor and friend today. “He is a magician on a horse and a true horseman inside and out,” she said. “I will never forget all that he taught me on and off a horse.”
Norman Dello Joio, Joe Fargis and Jeffery Welles were among the other professionals Lauren trained with before starting her own professional career. These mentorships became invaluable as Lauren and James navigated their careers while embracing parenthood.
Balancing Passion and Parenthood
Parenthood introduced Lauren to new dimensions of her journey. A year into motherhood, she and James are adept at juggling their roles. “We really made a point of trying to separate those two aspects of our lives,” Lauren said, highlighting their commitment to preserving a healthy work-life balance.
Becoming a parent also reshaped her perspective on riding and the equestrian world. “It’s changed how I compartmentalize everything,” Lauren said. “Whether it was a bad class or something that didn’t go as planned, those things really seem smaller now in the grand scheme of things.”
Behind the scenes, Lauren’s dedication shines. Her daily routine involves not just riding, but also focused workouts, reflecting her belief that riders must prioritize their fitness and health. “Since having my son, I’ve been working hard to get back into shape, and I really believe all riders need to focus on their fitness and overall health,” she said. She works out five times a week, in addition to riding, and keeps a very healthy and well-balanced diet.
For Lauren’s horses, a tailored workout plan ensures their physical and mental well-being. “Their riding routines are a mix of different workouts to help maintain fitness, yet keep them feeling fresh and happy,” she shared. She believes turnout is an important part of their overall well-being and makes sure they get a few hours of paddock time a day.
Lauren’s journey is filled with experiences, mentorship and a passion for horse development. To aspiring show jumpers, she imparts wisdom gained from navigating setbacks. “Focusing on having a solid routine at home and before competition is key,” she said, adding she emphasizes controlling the controllable elements and nurturing a positive mindset.
Lauren also recommends attending college to any Junior rider who is deciding what they want to do, regardless of whether they want to turn professional or not. Her degree is in finance, and she credits part of her success to her education.
A Multifaceted Approach
Lauren’s multifaceted background in finance, acquired at Santa Clara University, lends a strategic edge to her equestrian endeavors. “Having a finance degree has helped me make smart business decisions,” she said, highlighting the invaluable intersection of finance and equestrian management. Lauren believes riding during college helped prepare her for her career. “I was always a good student and strived to get good grades, so time management was critical. Being able to organize my work and riding schedules allowed me to be successful in both areas.”
Looking ahead, Lauren envisions maintaining the delicate equilibrium between family and career. “My biggest goal is to have a healthy balance between work and raising my son,” Lauren said. “I want to be very involved in his world, but also maintain the goals of jumping high-level classes and bringing along young horses.” Lauren is also very passionate about growing her business to help students develop as riders with the help of her team.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than bringing a young horse along to win his first Grand Prix or step up into his first big class,” Lauren said. She also enjoys developing a horse that isn’t necessarily young but has unrecognized potential.
“It’s key to try and focus on what good qualities a horse has and make those qualities the best they can be,” Lauren said. “We always try to improve their weak points, but if you focus a lot on that you might start to think negatively about the horse when in fact it has a lot of talents in other areas.”
Her love for working with young horses inspired Lauren to start breeding her retired Grand Prix mares. Her first foal just competed for the first time as a 4-year-old and Lauren is excited about the potential she is already showing.
With an unwavering commitment to her craft and an unbreakable bond with her horses, Lauren’s journey continues to inspire and redefine excellence in show jumping.
For more information, visit www.crooksshowjumping.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, melissafullerphotography33.mypixieset.com