When Lauren Bishop was just 5-years-old, she didn’t ask for toys or a Barbie doll for Christmas. She asked her mother for riding lesson and she has been on the back of a horse ever since.
“I was only planning on doing some riding and hanging out,” Bishop said. “I was never expecting to do what I am doing now.”
What the 13-year-old seventh grader at Farmington Middle School is referring to is riding dressage programs with her horse Khemo and winning a National Championships.
“She downplays her achievements a lot,” said Sara Bishop, Lauren’s mother. “But she beat out hundreds and hundreds of others just to get to nationals. These are the best of the best riders in the country.”
Dressage riding is a competition in which the horse performs special movements in response to signals from the riders. The rider and the horse work collectively as a team to do patterns. Each rider goes out individually but everyone does the same pattern.
In order to get to nationals, Bishop had to compete at a state competition, then do well at regionals.
“I was almost too late turning in my paperwork,” Bishop said. “But I just had this feeling that this was going to be my year. Khemo and I did real well at regionals.”
Bishop’s national victory did not just happened in the matter of weeks or months. It took years of practice, dedication and hard work.
“This is not something you can learn in a year,” Bishop said. “There is always something new you can learn to connect.”
Although she went to her first show at the age of six, Bishop’s equestrian prowess really began in 2011 when she started riding at Herbst Farm and was introduced to her horse Khemo.
“When Lauren switched to this barn (Herbst Farms), they wanted her to try Khemo,” Sara said. “He really didn’t have a rider. He was new here. Lauren was new. It was Kassidy Herbst who pinned those two together. She just had a feeling the two would be right for each other.”
According to Sara, Herbst was definitely right. In fact, many of the judges – whether Bishop wins or loses – say Khemo and the Farmington youth are a good match.
But not everyone was convinced at first. Kristi Herbst thought Khemo was going to be too strong for the young rider.
“I didn’t think he was the right horse for her,” Herbst said. “But my daughter Kassidy told me to have some faith.”
But for Bishop, it only took her one time of riding Khemo before she knew he was the right horse for her.
“I was always timid to ride other horses,” Bishop said. “But once I rode Khemo, I just kind of opened up. We formed a bond, and I have never stopped riding him.”
Although the rider and horse share a special bond, it doesn’t mean they don’t argue and get mad at each other.
“There are days I get in the car crying because of him,” Bishop said. “Then not even a month later he does everything perfect.”
According to Bishop, the two have also had their shares of ups and downs at shows before, but Bishop looks at those moments as learning experience.
“The times we have not done so good, it teaches us a lot,” Bishop said. “We learn what we need to look for the next time.”
Like many riders, Bishop has come to rely on her horse not just as an instrument she uses in her sport but as an equal partner.
“What people don’t realize is they have to work as a team,” Bishop said. “When you are working with a 950-pound animal, you have to work together.”
When the time comes and Bishop is readying herself and her steed for competition, the middle school student begins her regiment by first cutting down all other activities and concentrates her efforts on her partner and their routine.
“I cut down on dancing and volleyball and come to the barn at least five days a week and work on everything I need to have ready for the show.” Bishop said. “Then when I get home, I get my clothes, boots and cleaning supplies ready.”
But according to Bishop, the hardest part of the sport is consistency. Khemo and she need to make sure everything is done just perfect, and sometimes this is where some problems may lie.
“Consistency is probably the hardest part,” Bishop said. “You usually have a warm up routine and after you master it, I will forget about it or Khemo will.”
With all the work and practice that is required of this sport, many still don’t look at Dressage Riding as a sport. They don’t believe it can be all that difficult.
“A lot of people think it’s easy,” Bishop said. “The main goal is to make it look easy, but it really isn’t.”
With the start of a new season just around the corner, Bishop will soon be preparing herself for her next equestrian adventure.
“We are gone a lot when we go on our horse adventures,” said her mom. “But we will remember these days.”
Craig Vaughn is a reporter with the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org