Kieffer will be part of the U.S. Eventing Team at the Olympics for the first time in her career. Here’s what she had to say about her riding career and her journey to Rio.
How and when did you first get into equestrian?
I was just a horse-crazy little girl as most are, so my parents gave me riding lessons for my 6th birthday and then I was hooked from there.
Can you describe what it took to become an Olympic athlete?
Without having a horse-deep background family, I just rode whatever I could get my hands on. I was fortunate to end up at a very good stable in Indiana that gave me a lot of opportunities to ride, and then I rode what I could and that got me introduced to other people. And as with any sport, you just have to work really, really hard to be successful. I spent any free time I had practicing riding.
Did you set goals for yourself, and was making the Olympics ever one of them?
From the beginning, I wanted to go to the Olympics. That was always the big goal with the riding. You have to have smaller goals along the way, little stepping stone goals, but going to the Olympics was always the goal.
What’s it like trying to develop a relationship and a trust with a horse?
I’m sure a lot of kids have pets, and [those pets] all have their own personality. As a rider, you kind of have to figure out your horse’s personality and what makes them tick, what makes them happy, and what makes them perform their best. It can take a long time — three, four, five, six years — to develop a really strong partnership to compete at the Olympic level.
Which horse will you ride in Rio?
Her name is Veronica. The first time I rode her was 2011, but I’ve been competing with her consistently since 2013.
What’s your relationship with U.S. coach and gold medalist David O’Connor?
I went to a clinic that Karen and David O’Connor were putting on when I was 17, and that’s where I met them. I actually became what’s called a working student for them and moved out east. I’ve been a working student in training with David for 11 years now, so we know each other pretty well. He pretty much taught me everything I know. It’s great having that long of a partnership with someone because they kind of know your strengths and weaknesses. He’s seen me in a competitive atmosphere for many years and knows how to prep me best to be at my most competitive at the right time.
What’s your mindset for the Games?
I think I’ll be excited once I get there. I’m actually really excited to be in the athlete village and see all the other athletes. But with this sport there’s yourself and another partner, and so there’s still a lot of time for something to go wrong between now and then. I’m trying to mentally prepare, but at the same time there’s a long way between now and getting to the Olympics. Certainly we’ve been in a lot of high-pressure situations so we’ve got to treat the Olympics like any other big competition and not let it turn into something impossible in our heads.
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