BY RENNIE DYBALL
Junior rider Djuna-Bear Lauder has had many show ring successes competing in the 3’6″ Junior Hunters and the Children’s Jumpers. But it was a recent not-so-spectacular moment in the ring that she considers the most memorable.
At the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival in July, Djuna was coming out of the ring after making some mistakes on her Small Junior Hunter, Deja Blue (“DJ”). Tori Colvin, of all people, had been watching her round.
“I was embarrassed and being hard on myself,” Djuna, 14, tells The Plaid Horse. She tearfully talked over the round with trainer Carleton Brooks and they made a plan for Djuna’s next round. That’s when Colvin came over. “My heart was going a thousand miles an hour,” Djuna recalls with a laugh. “Tori is one of my biggest inspirations—I look up to her so much. So, she started talking to me and she was just so kind. She said that tough rounds happen to everyone and she told me, ‘You may not see my bad rounds, but I have them, like everyone else. It happens to all the good riders.’ Being hard on myself was one of my biggest flaws, so hearing that from Tori, it meant a lot. Like, the greatest thing that ever happened.”
It’s a mature perspective for a 14-year-old, but also not a surprising one if you know her.
“Djuna is always eager to learn. She is wise beyond her years and sees the value in all of her experiences, both on and off the horses,” says trainer Traci Brooks. “She takes the time to think through things that happen and how to improve, and asks excellent questions in her quest for more knowledge.”
Djuna (who’s got riding in her blood—her maternal grandfather Howard Stein trained with Joe Fargis) began riding at Traci and Carleton Brooks’s Balmoral near her home in Southern California before she was three years old. Her lessons in “the big girl ring” began when she was nearly five. “I’ve always been really social, and being five years old and making friends with the big kids, I just loved it.”
In addition to being social from a young age, she was also tough from the start. “I had a pony named Mowgli and we cantered out of the ring by mistake and he tripped,” Djuna recalls. “We rolled over into these bushes and he looked like a beetle flipped on its back. It was a mess. Traci comes running over and I got up and said, ‘I want to do it again.’ I’ve never been timid about anything having to do with horses.”
One of the biggest stepping stones in her riding education, Djuna says, came on a pony named Dust Bunny. The pony took her from the Crossrails division into the Short Stirrup, and ultimately into the Small Pony Hunters.
“He taught me everything that I needed to know for each level as we stepped up. He’s always been my favorite because of his personality. He was like a drag queen,” she says with a laugh. “You’d get on him and feel like, ‘I got this. I might get bucked off at the end of this round, but we got this.’ He would always lighten your mood.”
Today, Djuna’s accomplishments (see sidebar) reflect both her bravery and all those hours spent in the saddle moving up the ranks. At home, she rides anywhere from two to seven horses or ponies each time she’s at the barn. Djuna’s hunters Deja Blue and Miller’s Cove have claimed numerous championships and reserve championships, both with her in the Small Junior Hunters as well as in the professional hunter divisions. She’s successfully dabbled in derbies and medal classes on Capitulum II (“Moose”), found top placings in the Children’s Jumpers, and she’s being asked to catch-ride ponies, including one at Pony Finals.
“Djuna is a talented, thoughtful, and effective rider,” adds Traci. “Her attitude, determination, and work ethic serve her well in the sport.”
Djuna’s newest horse, Calamity Jane Rumel (“Cali”), will be her partner to move up from the High Children’s Jumpers to the Junior Jumpers, and she plans on taking both DJ and Clooney to all of the Indoor finals this fall.
“My goals are to put in consistent rounds that I’m proud of,” she says. “Even if that means I don’t win.”
I JUST WANT MY HORSES TO KNOW I LOVE THEM
Djuna lights up when she talks about her horses and their personalities. “Clooney is the friendliest horse you’ll ever meet, with an adorable, humble personality.
He knows he’s handsome but he’s not very showy,” she says. He also knew just what to do when Djuna faced a disappointment on the Desert Circuit last winter in Thermal, CA.
After getting in trouble with her parents for incomplete homework, “I had to go home from the horse show a day early, which was so disappointing,” Djuna says. “I sat in Clooney’s stall, crying, and he just gave me kisses. He melts my heart. With
all of my horses, I don’t care if they love me. I just want them to know I love them.”
For DJ’s part, “he’s different from Clooney. He knows he’s a freaky mover and such a good horse. He’s not humble! When Carleton’s on DJ, I like seeing him walk. He walks with a purpose, holding his head up and bobbing his head. He has the greatest, proudest walk. And if he sees me giving Clooney kisses, he’ll get jealous. He’s a massive personality.”
As for the human personalities at her barn, Djuna says she admires both of her trainers in their own ways: “You cannot go anywhere with Traci without someone coming up to her and chatting with her. She’s so charismatic and so smart. She’s my second mom. And Carleton cares so much for the horses. He understands them and they get the best care. Carleton is really special. He’s my mentor.”
An ideal mentor, given Djuna’s own career aspirations. After college, she hopes to ultimately become a professional—and to not only ride, but know her animals inside and out.
“I want to get to the point where I know so much about the horses, like Carleton,” she says. “I want to know the grain by heart, and to be able to communicate with the horses just by looking into their eyes.”
When you’re a teenager prone to being hard on yourself, the illusion of perfection on social media doesn’t make life at the barn easier. But Djuna took notice when her barn posted a “perfect” picture of their former Conformation Hunter, Pritchard Hill.
Balmoral’s caption read: “For every photo like the one of Pritchard Hill there are 400 others where we hit delete. So much of what we all see is the photo of the perfect moment in time, video footage edited to perfection … The grass isn’t greener and someone else’s situation isn’t better just because it appears that way online. Our horses aren’t always perfect, our rides aren’t always flawless. Our mission going forward is to show more of the story on social media … We challenge you to share your real, too.”
Djuna took her barn up on that challenge, posting an enviable jumping photo of herself with Moose, alongside an awkward chipping photo. “1 good picture = 1,000 bad ones @balmoralfarm #teambalmoral,” Djuna captioned the shots.
“I wanted to be a role model,” she says of posting the photos. “I wanted to be really brave for once and share how it’s okay to have those moments. It’s a horrible picture! People made fun of it. But I’m not taking that down. When people see those photos online, they act like they’ve never had one of those jumps.”
But just like Tori Colvin, Djuna knows better.
“I’m human, so I’m not perfect,” Djuna says with a shrug. “When I’m hard on myself, I talk to Carleton and Traci. Sometimes I cry. But I am working on learning how to channel these feelings. Taking a deep breath with my horse always helps.”
And while she showed for several weeks this summer at GLEF, far away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Djuna learned to appreciate the quiet moments with her horses even more.
“Clooney and DJ, they’re pretty perfect. But Moose and I, we’re both trying to get somewhere,” she says. “It’s been the best feeling just walking around the show park, through the trails and up the hills. Just taking time alone with my horse, not all braided up with my coat and my hairnet and my boots. Moose and I are both a work in progress.”
“Watching Tori show in the 4′ Performance, and get a rail and be okay with it, was more than enough encouragement for me,” she adds. “It happens, it’s not the end of the world. Part of riding is learning to be okay with that. That’s my biggest takeaway from this sport: Everything’s gonna be okay. And if it’s not okay, then you’re not finished yet.”
Photos © Andrew Ryback Photography
*This story was originally published in the September 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
About the Author: Rennie Dyball is the author of several books, including The Plaid Horse’s middle grade novel series, Show Strides. She’s also a contributing writer for TPH and a ghostwriter for celebrity books. Rennie lives in Maryland and competes in hunters and equitation.
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