By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Kristin Lee
All it takes is one good horse to change your life. For California-based hunter and equitation judge Lauren Scott, the horse who shaped the trajectory of her future in and out of the sport was Something’s Brewing, known as Brew. An unassuming Quarter Horse who stood just 15.1 hands tall, Brew opened doors for Lauren she didn’t even knock on.
Lauren started her riding education at Foxfield Riding School in Westlake Village, California, at age 6. “Foxfield is a very special place that started the likes of riders like Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum,” Lauren said. “I’m where I am today because Foxfield taught me about being a horseman first and foremost, as well as being a rider, and I learned to respect the traditions of our sport.”
Hooked from her first lesson on a little Appaloosa pony named Precious, Lauren finally found an extracurricular activity that she was enthusiastic about. Within six months of that first “precious lesson,” Lauren and her family dipped their toes into the world of horse ownership by half leasing a pony. She quickly moved from ponies to horses. When Lauren was 10 years old, Brew was purchased to be her children’s hunter horse and the fairytale story began.
“The first time I threw a leg over Brew, we instantly had a connection,” Lauren said. “He truly was a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing animal.” Although he was small in stature, barely bigger than a pony, he always seemed larger than life to Lauren. Purchased as an all-round horse that could show in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings, Brew seemed to be best suited as a hunter. At least, that’s what Lauren and her trainers thought at the beginning.
Full of spunk and attitude, Brew was quite the character. “He loved his job. If he jumped into a line really well, he would land and squeal in the corner. I definitely laughed around a lot of courses with him,” Lauren said.
Lauren and Brew were immediately successful partners in the show ring, clinching a championship at their first show together at Pebble Beach. But two years into their partnership, Brew broke his coffin bone. He made it through rehab and back into the show ring only to once again come up injured two years later.
“Brew re-fractured the same coffin bone and this time it healed fibrously. The vets said he would never be able to jump anything larger than three feet again, as the bone wouldn’t be able to withstand the concussion of impact from bigger jumps,” Lauren said.
Lauren dutifully brought Brew back to work following the vet’s rehab guidelines, but Brew was miserable and, frankly, she was too. “He was a horse who would whinny every time he saw our trailer pull in and would trot into the trailer. Brew would watch my new horse load up and act depressed and hang his head when we pulled out to head to the next show,” Lauren said. “It broke my heart.”
One day when it was time to go to a show with her new horse, Lauren had had enough of the sad scene of Brew longingly looking at the trailer. “I was getting to the point that I didn’t enjoy horse shows or riding that much,” Lauren said. “I told my dad, ‘I want to take Brew to the show today.’ He looked at me like I was crazy since we hadn’t jumped anything higher than three feet in a year, but Dad went along with my request.”
That trailer ride was the start of an amazing comeback story for Brew and Lauren. “We won our first class back in the ring together that morning, the USET Talent Search, which was 3’6 to 3’9. At 15 years old, I had my partner back and we were ready to tackle the junior equitation classes together,” Lauren said. In fact, the duo won three finals in subsequent years.
After the first show back, Lauren’s jumper trainer, Judy Martin, suggested putting Brew in the junior jumpers the next week. Lauren agreed, and they kept jumping bigger and bigger. By the time Lauren was 17, she started doing the grand prix on Brew.
“We kept moving him up because everything I asked him to do, he did. I could have pointed him to a house and he would have jumped it. I don’t know if he would have done what he did for anyone other than me,” Lauren said. “Having grown up together, we knew everything about each other and anticipated each other’s every move.”
Although Brew was only 15.1 hands, he literally rose to the occasion each time he entered the ring. “Brew loved the energy of his ‘fans’ around the show ring. The more people around the ring, the bigger he would puff up. He easily grew another six inches when he stepped into the show ring,” Lauren said.
Brew’s build frequently led observers to underestimate his athletic prowess prior to entering the grand prix ring. People often looked at Lauren like she was nuts as she would walk into the show ring on this tiny, fat Quarter Horse to jump obstacles bigger than Brew.
One’s of Lauren’s favorite “you can’t judge a book by its cover” stories is when she and Brew did a developing riders clinic with Markus Beerbaum. During the participant introductions, Lauren said she had owned Brew for 10 years and they currently did the grand prix. After everyone introduced themselves, it was time to tack up and start the clinic.
“I was the first person back in the ring and my dad said Markus looked like a deer in the headlights when I walked into the ring, like, ‘Yeah right, you’re kidding me,’” Lauren said. Although Markus made Brew go first over smaller jumps the first day, by the end of the clinic Brew had won Markus over. In fact, Markus let the others jump around first and then raised the jumps for Lauren and Brew to finish up the clinic.
A Cautionary Tale
On July 5, 2000, Lauren’s fairytale became a nightmare when she lost Brew and her young horse Savvy to a tragedy that could have been avoided. While on vacation, Lauren’s phone rang at 7 a.m. with the call every horse owner dreads: Her horses were sick, really sick. Once the vet arrived she sent both horses to the hospital.
Savvy was in organ failure when he arrived at the hospital and was euthanized shortly after arrival. But Brew had always been a fighter — he fought all day until his heart rate spiked at 250 beats per minute and he collapsed. Although he had been all heart his entire life, his heart wasn’t enough to get him out of this predicament and he too had to be euthanized. By 2 p.m., Lauren had lost both her horses.
The vet said the symptoms were either caused by blister beetles or oleander poisoning. “We went home, grabbed a hay sample and contacted the state. Before the end of the day, my barn was quarantined and the feed room was sealed with caution tape preventing anyone from entering. Nearly every bale of hay tested positive for oleander, even though the pieces of oleander weren’t visible to the naked eye,” Lauren said. The state seized all the hay and removed it so it could be burned and disposed of properly.
Following the tragedy, Lauren and her family became educated on the effects of oleanders on horses and people. “Oleander is toxic in all forms: leaves, branches, smoke from it, literally everything. A toxin used in rat poison, it causes hemorrhaging and this is how my horses lost their lives, because it was baled into their hay. Half a leaf can kill a horse, so I beg everyone to know where their hay comes from,” Lauren said.
Beyond teaching Lauren to know her feed dealers and where her hay was coming from, Brew taught her what courage and perseverance was. “I had an amazing 10 years before we lost him so tragically. He taught me there is an otherworldly bond we can have with these animals and it’s so special,” Lauren said.
The connection that Lauren and Brew shared is why she stuck with the sport. Lauren hung out her shingle and had her own training business for several years; however, after a variety of non-horse-related accidents and getting married, Lauren decided to shift her focus and become a full-time hunter and equitation judge. “My husband isn’t horsey at all, so I wanted to add some normalcy to my life, while still being a part of the horse industry I love so much,” she said. “Judging allows me to still be active, but I’m not ‘on-call’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Ever since her days at Foxfield, Lauren has respected her elders and how they gave back to the sport via training and judging. “I was taught to hold them in high regard because they were such wonderful horsemen and -women who were taking their time to share their knowledge, traditions and history of our sport. I knew one day I wanted to give back to that same sport, too,” she said. “What will become of our sport, if we don’t step up and fill the shoes of the judges and horsemen who are entering their retirement years?”
Lauren relishes the opportunity to see the best in the sport from her seat in the judge’s booth. “Each day you watch at least one horse that is so special it makes you want to ride or compete again,” she said. “Judging makes me appreciate my journey with Brew more now than I did at the time.”
Photos by Kristin Lee Photography, www.kristinleephotography.com, unless noted otherwise