An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | Oct. 17, 2012

Thoroughbred Airman

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Growing up in the small town of Bar Harbor, Maine, Laurie Lanpher spent her childhood pursuing a passion she shared with her mother, the spirited love of horses. From showing horses at local 4-H club competitions, to galloping through the pine forests of Acadia National Park, Lanpher found a sense of peace riding horses.

Today, Maj. Laurie Lanpher, 628th Comptroller Squadron commander, remains passionate about horse riding and is a competitive equestrian athlete sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Athletics Program. Her love of riding and involvement in the Air Force seem to be a perfect fit.

However, before Lanpher appeared on their radar scopes, the U.S. Air Force Sports Program didn't have any equestrian disciplines on their list of sponsored sports programs.

"Before I could compete in my Air Force dress uniform to represent the Air Force, the equestrian competitions had to be approved by the AFSP Chief," said Lanpher. "The AFSP authorizes any sport represented at the Olympics which includes my discipline. It was a bit unconventional, but I was able to get permission to compete as an Airman."

Today, she is one of only two Airmen competing under the AFSP in the national equestrian circuit.

According to Lanpher, it filled her with pride to wear her uniform while competing on horseback, due to the overwhelming positive reactions and warm compliments she receives, especially from the young men and women who become interested in the military after watching her perform during three-day "eventing" competitions.

Eventing is the triathlon of the equestrian world. The horse and rider are involved in a three-part competition spanning the course of three days.

The first event is dressage, an Olympic sport by itself, often revered as the highest form of horse training. During the dressage phase, judges evaluate the communication between horse and rider through a series of predetermined movements.

"The history of dressage goes back to military cavalry horses," said Lanpher. "Officers would be tested on their training, discipline and ability to control their mounts."

After dressage, the second event, cross country, tests the endurance of the horse. It also challenges the horse's speed and jumping ability over various terrains. Like dressage, this phase requires the horse and rider to work together. The horse and rider must overcome multiple obstacles to include fences, ditches, and water while maintaining a consistent gallop. It is the rider's responsibility to know what pace to keep in order to expend only as much of the horse's energy as necessary.

"The endurance portion is one of the most challenging aspects for both the rider and the horse, but it is also the reason I'm so passionate about this sport" said Lanpher.

The final event in the three-day competition is show jumping. The horse and rider are required to jump a series of stadium fences at various heights in an enclosed arena to test the horses continued stamina and soundness.

After completing all events, all of the teams' scores are tallied and the horse and rider with the lowest score wins.

In the past, Lanpher has won numerous accolades while competing, however, since arriving at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base in May 2012, she has focused mainly on training. Countless hours of preparation go into each event, but Lanpher wouldn't want it any other way. Her show horse, Anniko, has been her partner throughout the majority of her dressage, cross country and fence jumping events. Anniko's breed, the Trakehner, was world renowned in the time of the cavalry horse so she is a perfect partner for this exciting sport.

"The horses have bettered me both as an Airman and equestrian," said Lanpher. "Riding has made me more responsible, empathetic and improved my overall well-being."

In addition, Lanpher admits she finds that her horses have a way of keeping her grounded.

"It doesn't matter how stressed out I get," said Lanpher. "When I'm riding horses, at events or just through the woods, I find clarity in those moments. The weight of my world and any stress I may have falls away. The horses don't complain or fret; they just help balance my life."

Lanpher encourages others to find something to balance the day-to-day stresses in their lives as well.

"Having a hobby is incredibly important to your overall mental health," said Lanpher. "For me, it's horses. I'm so thankful that I'm part of the U.S. Air Force, because they recognize athletics through their sports program, which has allowed me the opportunity to get better at the sport I love."