Laura Graves & Verdades Awarded Big Sponsorship by Deloitte to Prepare for 2016 Olympics

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Laura Graves with Verdades and Judy Sloan of Deloitte. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves with Verdades and Judy Sloan of Deloitte. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Apr. 4, 2015–Laura Graves and Verdades have been awarded one of the biggest commercial sponsorship deals in United States dressage with the global Deloitte accounting firm that will fund full-time training and travel for the top-ranked American partnership to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I am overwhelmed by this support that allows me to make a game plan to get to Rio and win in Rio regardless of what else is going on in my life,” said the 27-year-old rider with coach Debbie McDonald declaring it a “game changer” for American dressage.

Judith Sloan, a principal of the auditing and accounting firm that had 2014 revenues of more than $34 billion from operations in more than 150 countries and territories, announced the sponsorship arrangement that was the first for Deloitte in equestrian sports. The firm has been a major sponsor of top sports, including the U.S. Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association.

Laura, she said at the small gathering at the Havensafe Farm of Elizabeth Juliano, a major supporter of U.S. dressage, “represents the values that Deloitte looks for in people–sportsmanship, teamwork and excellence that directly correlates to athletes especially in equestrian disciplines where another living being is a partner. Laura is the embodiment of what we’re looking for–grit and determination and striving for excellence.”

“It makes my shadowing of Debbie much more possible,” Laura said of the U.S. Olympic and World Games medalist and the first American ever to capture the World Cup title who is her personal trainer as well the U.S. Developing coach that taks her across the country and throughout Europe.

The announcement of the sponsorship deal for the rider came the same week Laura of Geneva, Florida and the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding were ranked No. 10 in the world, the top American combination in the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) rankings.

Laura’s parents bought “Diddy,” as Verdades is called, from a video of the then-foal and she competed the horse through the levels. The duo placed fifth at last year’s World Equestrian Games just six months after starting their Grand Prix career.

Laura and Verdades head to Las Vegas next weekend to compete in their first World Cup Final.

Verdades will keep his name and not add “Deloitte” or some other tag that is common in commercial sponsorship such as the horses ridden by Edward Gal that have the prefix “Glock” for the Austrian gunmaker owner.

Verdades wary of the banner behind Laura Graves, Debbie McDonald and Judy Sloan. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Verdades wary of the banner behind Laura Graves, Debbie McDonald and Judy Sloan. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The impact on Laura’s career and American dressage, Debbie McDonald, said is a “game changer.”

For much of the past decade, Steffen Peters of San Diego, California has been the top American rider, with Ravel at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and 2010 World Games as well as the 2009 World Cup title, then with Legolas at the 2014 World Games and the latest mount, the developing Rosamunde, all three horses owned by Four Winds Farm of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang.

Laura’s success in the past year brought with it an issue of sustaining development as she operates a relatively small equestrian training and teaching business near Orlando that could not cover the high costs of coaching and travel that are vital at the highest levels of the sport.

Unlike most countries in the world, United States sports receive no government funding and relies on donations from individuals and corporations for support, a large portion going to the expensive transportation of horses.

Now, with financial support for Laura, the United States could go to Rio with its highest scoring team ever with Steffen and either Rosamunde or Legolas and Laura with Verdades that could be capable of scores in the high 70 per cent range. The U.S. has not won an Olympic medal since team bronze at Athens in 2004.

Judith Sloan said that conversations within Deloitte about their first equestrian sponsorship was directed more at people internally than the exposure to the outside world.

The company, she said, was focused on talent development, like equestrian sports.

She had followed Laura’s career since 2009 when the rider moved from Vermont to Florida and was moving through national levels to international competition.

As an athlete sponsored by Deloitte, Laura will get exposure and the opportunity to tell her story to leadership conferences and to Deloitte’s clients.

“Everything I do, I approach at being the best at it,” Laura said, “a mirror image of the standard of excellence, taking the time   to do our very, very best. This gives me the opportunity of being even better so I can hopefully be the best in the world one day.”

The goal, she said, was to be at her best at the Olympics and to help bring a medal home to the United States.

Having the sponsorship, Laura said, “makes you take a step back from everything and really focus on what’s important to you in this sport.”

Her clients were extremely supportive and, she believed, they would support her further development

Debbie said that in many conversations with Laura the past couple of years she had told her she had to “somewhat selfish” and devote the time to training to move even beyond the “amazing things” already achieved with what she said was “one of the best horses in the world.”

Deloitte’s support was game changer for Laura and provided “a very strong possibility of medaling” at Rio.