Minutes prior to Laura Crowl’s significant other popping the question, she requested a picture with someone else. She had just won the GAIG/USDF Region 2 adult amateur first level championship on her green 5-year-old mare Hana, and she wanted a celebration shot with one of her trainers, George Williams.
The 26-year-old from Lexington, Ky., was trying to convince Williams to squeeze into her awards shot, but other people—in on her boyfriend Ben Bright’s plan—urged her to include Bright as well. “He came over and stood beside the horse. He looked up at me, and I think he said, ‘I have another award for you.’
“I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ I was so confused,” said Crowl with a laugh. “He [told me later] I started to walk away on my horse. So he got down on one knee, and I was like, ‘Oh… oh my God it is happening right now!’
“Honestly I kind of got tunnel vision,” she continued. “I heard someone say, ‘Oh my God he’s proposing.’ And that’s the last thing I heard from anybody else.”
With eyes only on Bright as he knelt down, Crowl shimmied off the Dutch Warmblood mare (UB-40—Jolien E) and let go of the reins to embrace her new fiancé. But the mare didn’t let the unexpected freedom go to her head, despite this being only her first year competing. In fact, she only quietly stretched her neck to snag a nibble of nearby straw bales.
“She’s actually developed into quite a calm, inquisitive young lady,” said Crowl.
But this equine-human pair’s first encounter wasn’t as romantic. As a 3-year-old with only 30 days under tack, Hana introduced her more challenging side to her new mom by nipping at her hand—not putting a ring on it. “I was like, ‘Oh this is off to a good start,’ ” recalled Crowl.
But the loving, or not so loving, bite didn’t faze Crowl, who trains with Williams and Kristin Posner. Since her middle school years, Crowl has worked with youngsters, making them up herself so that she could compete.
“I can’t really afford to go out and buy the top end $50,000, $100,000 horses,” said Crowl. “So I have to buy them young and cheap and put the work in myself in order to be competitive.
“Plus I think you get a lot more knowledge when you’re the one bringing them along yourself,” she continued. “You get to see a lot more of the inner workings of [teaching] a flying change than if you simply got on the horse and were able do the flying change.”
Part of Crowl’s learning and growing lessons for Hana didn’t involve an arena. Hana’s scenery included beginner novice events and hacks to continually expose her to different environments. But this year Hana showed that her strengths lie in the lettered ring.
“When she walks out of the dressage ring, she’s always really proud of herself,” said Crowl. “She’s got a good expression and her ears are forward. Sometimes when she leaves [the ring after jumping], she’ll be a little bit like, ‘What just happened? I’m so confused.’ Whereas for dressage, she walks out and feels confident. You can just tell from her demeanor that she enjoyed it more, and she likes to be pretty.”
But don’t expect Crowl to become solely a dressage queen. With four horses, Crowl splits her time between dressage, show jumping and eventing—exposing them to different disciplines when need be, as she did with Hana.
“I grew up in Pony Club, so most of my experience was with Pony Club,” she said. “We just kind of always did everything in Pony Club. You played mounted games. You rode dressage. You did the show jumping and the eventing. So I guess I kind of started with quite a diverse background, and that’s how I treated the majority of my horses.”
Early on she fell in love with mounted games, and she competed on the U.S. Pony Clubs International Games Team in 2007, represented the United States in the 2010 International Mounted Games Association World Team Championships (Switzerland), and then performed in a games exhibition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.) in 2010.
But she didn’t stop there. Around 2012, Crowl took up a second interest: western. With her own cutting horse she competed in non-professional classes. Recently, while also maintaining her love for eventing and dressage, Crowl started exploring the world of show jumping with her low amateur-owner jumper Barclay B.
“I honestly try to balance it out pretty evenly, so I’ll have a dressage show, I’ll do a jumper show, and then I’ll go do an event—and then it kind of repeats based on what’s available,” she said. “I genuinely like characteristics of all of three, which is probably why I’m an eventer to begin with. I think each one kind of has its own joy. Cross-country is obviously the adrenaline rush, and when you have a beautiful lengthen in the dressage test, that’s an adrenaline rush. And when you go out and you do your jump-off in the jumper ring, that’s an adrenaline rush. So all three of those things you can find aspects of each one that just kind of light a fire. I think it helps if you just genuinely love horses.”
Since graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2016 as a biology major, Crowl has taken a breather, bartending before she applies to graduate school. With either a master’s or PhD in her future, Crowl hopes to specialize in physiology—specifically using animal models to study human diseases. With a ring on her finger, a regional tricolor and numerous disciplines already checked off, what else does the young amateur have left to try?
“I’ve always been interested in polo,” she said with a smile.