USA’s Laura Graves and Verdades Make Top 10 in First World Games

5 years ago ilse Comments Off on USA’s Laura Graves and Verdades Make Top 10 in First World Games
Laura Graves and Verdades, ecstatic after the Grand Prix at their first Championship © Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Verdades, ecstatic after the Grand Prix at their first championship, the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By ILSE SCHWARZ

CAEN, France, Aug. 26, 2014–It must seem somewhat surreal for the 27-year-old Laura Graves that she finished in the top 10 in the World Equestrian Games Grand Prix in Normandy, France.

She did not ride Verdades at an international Grand Prix until February, 2014, just three months after becoming the U.S. Dressage Federation Intermediare 2 champion, a national show.

A mere six months later, Laura of the tiny Florida community of Geneva outside Orlando, posted a personal best score of 74.841 per cent for 10th place. With Steffen Peters of San Diego, California on Legolas who scored 75.843 per cent for eighth, Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho on Wizard and Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida on Calecto V she gave a big boost to America’s unexpected fourth place finish in the team competition behind the European powerhouses of Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Laura Graves on Verdades in the World Games team Grand Prix. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dresage-news.com
Laura Graves on Verdades in the World Games team Grand Prix. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dresage-news.com

To add to this triumph, Laura has owned Verdades, or “Diddy,” as she affectionately calls the 12-year-old KWPN gelding since he was a foal and she was a mere 15 years old herself. She has trained him herself. She is quick to credit her trainers who have helped her along the way, most recently Debbie McDonald, this simply adds to her charm.

Even her journey into the national selection trials is a fairytale.

Laura competed on this year’s Florida circuit but didn’t make it into the top 15 in the nation for the United States championships that were scheduled for Gladstone, New Jersey in June. She made a last-minute dash to a CDI3* in Kentucky that was a her last shot to get into the national championships.  She had to wait for  three or four riders to drop out before she was invited.

When Laura arrived in Gladstone most people had no idea who she was.

She and Verdades turned out to be a breath of fresh air, that someone unknown could  finish second ahead of the seasoned competitors and behind only Steffen Peters on Legolas, who took the national title.

Verdades being ridden by Laura Graves in the Grand Prix at the World Equestrian Games. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Verdades being ridden by Laura Graves in the Grand Prix at the World Equestrian Games. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The result assured her and Steffen a place on the American team for the WEG.

Fast forward through two European competitions, including the premier World Equestrian Festival at Aachen, Germany where she and Diddy fulfilled the promise shown in Gladstone.

Verdades likes to know his surroundings and there had not been much time allocated for horses and riders to school in the huge soccer stadium in Caen that had been converted to the world championship dressage venue.

So come competition day, he was a little on edge entering the arena and certainly wasn’t interested in going anywhere near the large TV cameras in front of the judges boxes at C. Laura chose not make a big deal about it.

She showed sweeping trot half passes, big loose passage and secure piaffe.

Then Diddy spooked in the walk, normally an area where she can earn good marks. Laura reached down, patted and reassured him and they continued.

He obviously took confidence from the reassurance as the remainder of the test was mistake-free and grew in confidence with a highlight being well executed pirouettes. Through the whole test, horse and rider showed what is quickly becoming their trademark–complete harmony.

Laura sits beautifully in the saddle, her aids are quiet and effective and the whole picture is simply a pleasure to watch. If this is any indication of where American dressage is heading, it is certainly going to be in good shape.

Laura Graves is eloquent in the press meeting right after her ride © Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
Laura Graves is eloquent meeting the news media after her first world championship ride. © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

When asked about her ride, Laura admitted: “Diddy was nervous in the stadium and it showed in the walk today. He has so many marks to give in the walk that it was a shame. There was limited time to school in the ring and it showed today.

“Apart from that he really listened. He gets confidence from me, that is why I patted him after the spook rather than drove him forwards. We have a relationship of trust, I have known him for 12 years.”

Have you realized that you just rode at the World Equestrian Games on Team USA?

“When I made the team in New Jersey, my friends kept asking me how it felt. To be honest I kind of expected fireworks and rainbows falling from the sky. That didn’t happen until today so that is pretty exciting.”

While warming up for her ride Tuesday, Laura was asked if she was nervous.

“No, I don’t get nervous,” she replied. “I just have a pain in my stomach.”

Debbie McDonald quipped, “That’s what nerves feel like.”

Debbie was a last-minute addition to the team trainers’ group. When Adrienne made the team it was possible to convince her to come as Debbie coaches two of the four riders.

Robert Dover, the U.S. chef d’equipe, has been wonderful, she said, but “to have my trainer here just added to the feeling of confidence. I have been training with Debbie since November.”

How has Debbie helped there was an unexpected answer.

“One of the first and most important things she did was change my bits,” said Laura. “Diddy fractured his jaw in 2011. He got it caught between the bars in his stall and made a real mess of his face. He had major surgery and had screws and pins put everywhere.

“At this stage, everything that can be removed is out and he still has quite a few pins left in his jaw. He also continues to have a huge hole in his gum, so the contact was the big thing that we were able to really address.”

The time in Europe hasn’t changed her system of training but helped make it secure.

It is easy when you see famous riders doing this and that to wonder if you should be doing the same, but Laura has learned to trust herself and her judgement. Both Robert and Debbie have supported her approach. Even if they suggest something and Laura says, “no, I don’t think that is the right thing” they back off, saying “you know the horse best. It may come back to bite you in the butt but go for it.” She smiled as she said this.

The other thing she has found reassuring is to see that even the best riders make mistakes and don’t always have perfect schooling days.

When asked about the footing in the WEG Grand Prix competition arena, she said there were “concerns and we were being very proactive with the care of the horses  legs. However, all of the rain yesterday was just what it needed. it was perfect today.”

Steffen Peters also commented about Laura and Verdades, “to be inspired by top riders is one thing but to be inspired by your team mates is another thing entirely.”

Steffen Peters and Legolas leading the United States to fourth place in the World Equestrian Games Nations Cup. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Steffen Peters and Legolas leading the United States to fourth place in the World Equestrian Games Nations Cup. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com