By TPH Editor Lauren Mauldin
How does one define the formula that makes for a successful rider? Many would start with natural talent. An eye that leads them to perfect distances, poise in the saddle. There also needs to be an innate ability to connect with these animals, to inspire them to perform when they’d rather be nibbling on hay. Of course, hard work cannot be overlooked. There is no amount of skill that can overcome laziness. And we can’t forget the resources needed to play at the top levels, the comprehensive support this sport requires.
Now, what could happen if a rider possessed all of these elements? The talent, work ethic, love of the horse and support. That would be an exciting rider to watch. That would be someone to keep your eye on.
That would be Lauren Little.
The fourteen-year-old California native hasn’t been showing as long as many of her competitors. When you watch her win in the 3’3″ juniors, Low Children’s Jumpers and equitation, it’s hard to believe she’s only been showing on the circuit for a little over two years. A horse lover since birth, Lauren’s family noticed her connection with animals since she was a baby. Even though Lauren was the only horse lover in the family, she started taking lessons at ten years old and quickly began spending as much time as she could in the barn. “I had lessons five days a week over the summer,” Lauren said. “I would wake up early, and try to hack whatever horses my trainer would let me. Even though I wasn’t showing, riding was my life.”
Starting in IEA, Lauren showed at her local barn for a year before her parents agreed to pursue her passion more vigorously. She debuted on the rated circuit in 2017 in the short stirrup ring when she was twelve, and instantly got the bug. “I loved the horse show environment,” Lauren explained. “It’s fun being out there early. You feel accomplished. When I had my first good round without any chips, I was so happy. Knowing it was the real start of my riding career felt amazing.”
Just a little over two years later, Lauren now shows in all three rings with her horses. Trained by Cassandra Karazissis at Little Brook, a private farm Lauren and her friend, Della Walker, share together, you would never guess she’s still relatively new to the junior hunters. Weekends spent at the horse shows have brought Lauren numerous wins across the west coast including Reserve Champion in the 3’3″ Small Junior Hunters at the West Coast USEF Junior Hunter National Championships.
Some of this success can certainly be attributed to Lauren’s innate talent, which continues to impress her trainer. “She has a natural eye,” Cassandra praised. “She knows exactly where she is at all times, and the horses love her.”
Natural feel or not, Lauren has put the work in to get this far in a short time. Though she is gifted in many ways, any equestrian knows that things don’t always come easy. The equitation horse Lauren previously leased, Nom de Guerre, was a key teacher for her learning to adapt to different horses. “Nom was hard for her in the beginning,” Cassandra explained, “because he was so different from her other horses.” Realizing what a good opportunity it was, Lauren pushed through despite some tough, early lessons in the lease. He taught her leg and hand connection, which is key with any horse she rides in the future. “Being a good rider means you can ride all different types and figure out what the horse underneath you likes,” Cassandra said. Lauren’s desire to constantly be around horses pushes her to figure out how she can ride them to perform at their best. Their happiness fuels her to continue to work through any challenges she meets.
Lauren’s current partners in the show ring are Surf’s Up, her large junior hunter, It’s Coolman, her small junior, and Ultra D’Eclipse, her jumper. She also just started a new partnership with the equitation horse, Timon, owned by Nick Haness. Affectionately known as “Cappy,” Lauren’s devotion to Surf’s Up is clear in how she gushes over the gray gelding. “He’s never done me wrong, and he jumps so well. He’s always in it to win it, and is so fun to ride,” she said. When asked her favorite thing about any of her horses, it wasn’t about the ribbons they’ve won, but rather how “smushy” they are and how much she enjoys spending time with them. “I like to snuggle them. I like to squish their face, play with their nose, sit in the stall and love on them,” she said.
There’s good reason to love on them. Coolman helped Lauren achieve her biggest accomplishment to date—a win in the classic at Junior Hunter Finals. Going into the event, her first time competing, Lauren couldn’t help but be nervous. “I went in with no expectations,” she said. “I was doing it for me and my horse, and no one else.
When I ended up doing well, I was really happy knowing that I achieved such a cool thing.”
Though she might have entered the finals with no expectations, Cassandra appreciates how competitive Lauren is. “Every time she gives it 100%,” she said of the junior. When heading into a class she wants to do well in, hunter classics especially, Lauren can’t help but feel nervous. “I go over my course a solid 5,000 times,” she stated. “What makes me feel better is going through the course over and over and over, and then the nerves become good instead of bad.” Those good nerves help Lauren perform at her best—especially under pressure. She loves the adrenaline of competing and recognizes that even though high stakes might feel uncomfortable in the moment, they ultimately bring out the best in her riding.
Good nerves or bad, Lauren has never stopped loving the horse show environment that hooked her on her first short stirrup trip. Horse shows are where she has made her closest friends, and she looks forward to catching up with them on different circuits where they share their passions and goals. This sportsmanlike behavior doesn’t go unnoticed. “She is so kind and friendly to all her competitors,” Cassandra said. “She wants other people to do well. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to do well herself, but she truly wants people to be successful and happy.”
Perhaps it’s the environment at Little Brook that fuels Lauren’s unwavering, friendly demeanor. Lauren loves sharing a barn with her friend, Della, and has enjoyed riding with Cassandra, “I really respect her,” she said of her trainer. Rounding out the team is Little Brook’s groom, Guillermo Romero, who Lauren describes as “legendary.” He always does the best for the horses, and is a key part of the team.
Riding in this supportive space of family and friends has allowed the sport to shape this young woman into a fierce competitor of quality character. Lauren’s mother, Renee Little, appreciates the lessons riding has taught her daughter. “It has helped her to be dedicated and to use her “grit” to persevere,” she said. “The long days, competing and traveling have fostered a sense of confidence and independence,” Renee added. Lauren herself admits that riding has taught her how to tough it out when things get hard. “Even if you’re having a horrible day and you don’t want to do it anymore, you keep pushing until you reach your goal,” she said. “That’s the main thing I’ve learned. Keep trying, keep pushing.”
It’s advice she shares for other junior riders as well. Lauren recognizes that being a true equestrian is about the journey, not a ribbon won or an individual achievement. For her, it’s about having a passion for the sport and spending quality time with the horses. “If you do bad in one class, it doesn’t make you a bad rider,” Lauren explained. “Chipping, going long, leaving strides out… that does not make you who you are. That does not establish you as a rider. People get nervous and make mistakes, but it doesn’t change who you are,” she advised.
Lauren’s biggest role models—Jenny Karazissis, McLain Ward, Georgina Bloomberg—all demonstrate a special bond with their horses that she hopes to emulate in a career in the hunters. Above staying consistent, Lauren’s long-term goals include competing in an International Derby, attending Indoors, and competing at the WCHR shows. But above all else, she wants to keep her group of horse friends and stay true to how she defines success in this sport. “I don’t care if you jump 2′ or Grand Prix, if you are putting in the time to be with your horse, you want to learn and grow, I think that’s what makes you a good rider and competitor.”
Seeing how far she’s come in a short time inspires Lauren to keep working hard to achieve her big hunter dreams, but she never forgets how lucky she is to have these opportunities. “Sometimes I have to give myself a reality check if I’m having a horrible day, and I realize it’s such an amazing opportunity to go to all of these top rated shows and compete with all of these great horses and people,” she explained. “Everyone should be thankful for their grooms that get up early to take care of your horse, and your trainers and barn friends who support you. I am so thankful to just be there.”
There’s no doubt that Lauren has so many elements that make for a successful riding career—talent, drive, support. But, maybe even more valuable than her natural feel, is a stellar personality that we need more of in the horse industry. Her positivity flows alongside the next generation of great riders as they share stories at the back gate and over indulge their beloved horses with cookies. With so much going for her, Lauren’s show career could be limitless. One thing is for sure, anyone watching her over the next few years will notice her huge smile that accompanies every ride.
- 2019 USEF Junior Hunter National Championships West Coast: Overall Small Junior Hunter 3’3″ Reserve Champion with It’s Coolman
- Las Vegas National: Low Children’s Jumpers Reserve Champion with Ultra D’Eclipse
- Sunshine Series I: Large Junior Hunter 3’3″ Reserve Champion with Surf’s Up
- Del Mar International: Large Junior Hunter 3’3″ Champion with Surf’s Up
- Del Mar International: 3’3″ Junior Hunter Classic – 1st with Surf’s Up
- Camelot Classic on the Grass: $1,500 Camelot Hunter Challenge – 1st with It’s Coolman
- International Jumping Festival: Low Children’s Jumper Classic – 1st with Ultra D’Eclipse
- Blenheim Fall Tournament: The Plaid Horse Junior Hunter 3’3″ Classic – 1st with Surf’s Up
- Blenheim Fall Tournament: Large Junior Hunter 3’3″ Champion with Surf’s Up
- Blenheim Fall Tournament: Small Junior Hunter 3’3″ Champion with It’s Coolman
- Blenheim Summer Classic: Small Junior 3’3″ Champion with It’s Coolman
- Blenheim Summer Classic: Large Junior 3’3″ Reserve Champion with Surf’s Up
- 2019 Blenheim June Classic III: Large Junior 3’3″ Reserve Champion with Surf’s Up
- 2019 Blenheim June Classic III: Low Children’s Jumpers Reserve Champion with Ultra D’Eclipse
- 2019 Blenheim June Classic II: Large Junior 3’3″ Reserve Champion with Surf’s Up
- 2019 Blenheim June Classic II: The Plaid Horse Junior Hunter 3’3″ Classic – 1st & 2nd with Surf’s Up & It’s Coolman respectively
- Blenheim Equisport Circuit Champion in The Plaid Horse Low Junior Hunter Classic with Surf’s Up
- Blenheim Equisport Circuit Champion in Low Children’s Jumpers with Ultra D’Eclipse
- 2019 AON/USHJA Junior Hunter 3’3″ Classic Winner
All photos © Cathrin Cammett/Showfolio unless otherwise indicated.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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