Laura Graves, Fresh From Olympic Triumph, Sets Omaha World Cup Final as Next Goal

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Laura Graves and Verdades in the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Verdades in the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Aug. 18. 2016

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Laura Graves, fresh from her Olympic triumph, plans to aim Verdades for the World Cup Final in Omaha next year after a long break for the horse she rode as the top finishing American in Rio de Janeiro.

Laura of Geneva, Florida said the 14-year-old KWPN gelding she has raised from a foal will get a “big, well deserved” rest after the Olympics in which the pair was top placed of the Americans that won the team bronze medal for the first time since 2004.

The 2015 U.S. national championship pair produced personal best results to place fifth in both the Grand Prix at 78.071 per cent and the Grand Prix Special at 80.644 per cent

However, the duo’s biggest success came in the Grand Prix Freestyle where the score of 85.196 per cent was also a personal best and put them into fourth place and eclipsed their fifth place at the World Games in 2014 that established the pair as one of the top combinations in the world.

Laura, 29 years old, told dressage-news.com she was proud of the horse she calls “Diddy” and the training that enabled them to improve progressively over the three rides in Rio.

“I owe it all to Debbie (McDonald) who sacrificed so much time away from–literally months–to be wherever Kasey (Perry-Glass) and I needed her or wanted her,” she said.

Debbie McDonald elated at the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle performed by Laura Graves and Verdades. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Debbie McDonald elated at the Olympic Grand Prix Freestyle performed by Laura Graves and Verdades. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

That meant competing in Compiègne, France in May, then Roosendaal, Netherlands and finally Rotterdam more than a month later in a successful campaign to be selected to the United States team along with Kasey of Wellington, Florida and Dublet, Allison Brock also of Wellington and Rosevelt, all Olympic rookies, and Steffen Peters of San Diego, California on Legolas to compete in his fourth Games.

And she also singled out Elizabeth Juliano, a major supporter of U.S. dressage, “who was a big part of making that possible for me.”

“I keep watching the video of the medals being placed around our necks,” she said, “it was a huge wave of emotions for me as I realized all of my childhood dreams coming true.”

After competing Verdades at national levels in 2010 then CDI small tour, the partnership began Grand Prix in February, 2014. The pair barely squeaked into the national championships that year but emerged as reserve champions to establish themselves as one of the best in the country and made the World Games team for Normandy. They placed fifth in the Freestyle, the best for the Americans.

Laura and Verdades made their sole appearance at a World Cup Final placing fourth in the Freestyle at Las Vegas in 2015. Later that year, they won team and individual silver at the Pan American Games in Toronto that earned the United States a team start in the Rio Olympics.

At Rio, Laura and Verdades was one of the top combinations behind only double Olympic individual gold medal pair Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, history’s winningest Olympian of any equestrian discipline Isabell Werth on Weihegold OLD and 2012 team silver and 2016 team gold and individual bronze medal pair Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados FRH.

Laura said she has no plans with Verdades for the rest of the year but will compete at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington next January through March in Wellington where Debbie McDonald is also based in winter.

“I would love the opportunity to ride in another World Cup, and in our home country,” she said of the annual championship that is decided by the Freestyle and is scheduled for Mar. 29-April 2. The North American League of Canada and the United States gets only two starting places in the Final of 18 combinations.

The World Cup has been won by only two Americans–Debbie McDonald on Brentina in 2003 and Steffen Peters on Ravel in 2009.

After the World Cup, she said, plans are uncertain as Verdades will be 15 years old–not old by competition horse standards–but aside from the World Cup being staged in Omaha, Nebraska for the first time there are no international or continental championships in 2015 in which Americans can participate.

The next world championships are scheduled for 2016, though the venue at this time appears to be between Tryon, North Carolina or Samorin, Slovakia.