Gold, Silver & Bronze Years for Laura Graves & Verdades Setting Historic Standards–Part 2 of 3
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Oct. 30, 2018
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Laua Graves gives all the credit to Verdades that she calls an “American Valegro” for an international career leading to No. 1 in the world and helped revitalize dressage in the United States.
From the first world championship in 2014 Laura and Verdades have electrified dressage at home and become a force at the top of the sport with an Olympic team bronze, Pan American Games team gold and individual freestyle silver and, unprecdented for an American, team and individual silver at the Tryon World Equestrian Games last month.
Icing on the cake for Laura and the KWPN gelding was to become the first American combination to become No. 1 in the world, toppling Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD from the top of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) world rankings at the end of September. The German superstar and Weihegold had been perched atop the standings for 23 months.
Laura and Verdades, who will be 17 years old come the New Year, will still be No. 1 when the standings for the end of October are released later this week.
“When you start like I did in 2014 when I was at the bottom of the pack,” she told dressage-news.com, “you maybe think to yourself a little bit what might be possible. I’ve believed in this horse… what we’re achieving now has been possible.
“That really hasn’t changed except that I can express it to the world and when I finish a ride I can pump my fist or raise the roof or whatever. I know how special he is and I know what he’s like to watch and to see other people appreciating him. That is really what brings me joy.”
And what made it so special from the beginning was a partnership built by a teenager on a foal bought off a video from the Netherlands, leaving home in Vermont to be a working student in Florida as a step in their career and taking another job to make ends meet. A Cinderella story.
Laura, now 31 years old, takes no credit for the sucess that flowered a few months before the 2014 WEG when she began training with Debbie McDonald, who on Brentina had been a star on the world stage–Olympic team bronze, team silver and team bronze at two WEGs, team and individual gold at Pan American Games and the first American combination to become World Cup champion.
“I try not to let it go to my head,” Laura said of her success that coincided with the development of the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, a circuit of seven weeks of CDIs with prize money the best in the world.
“I don’t think it’s so much me but I do credit my horse with reviving this sport in America. After what he did in Normandy and what he has continued to do year after year after year, he really is the American Valegro.
“He’s a very special horse to watch, a special horse to be around it gives us all the motivation to come and fill the stands at events like the WEG. And to be the connection to a horse we’ve never met. He has that way about him.
“I will take full responsibility for it,” she laughs, “on his behalf .”
You give him all the credit?
“Sure, if you saw me on another horse it’s not going to ever be the same.”
The goal after the 2015 Pan Ams for Verdades was the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that required a hefty schedule at the winter-long Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida–about three hours south of Laura’s home in the Orlando area community of Geneva.
It wasn’t enough to win eight straight competitions at Global–CDI5*, CDI4* and the Nations Cup–to make the team for the Olympics. The pair then had to go to Europe for three more shows over two months, including two Nations Cups before heading back west and home. Then the long haul to Rio de Janeiro.
Verdades was not affected by the jet-setting schedule.
Laura and Verdades led the U.S. in both the Grand Prix and the Special for team bronze for the first Olympic dressage medal for the Americans since 2004.
Verdades’ reputation as getting younger was growing.
“No one’s really sure what kind of Kool-Aid he’s drinking,” was Laura’s light-hearted response recently. “But it’s a bit of a joke. Everyone says he still looks like he’s six, and they just can’t believe it. He loves what he does. The more he does this the more he knows what he’s going to do…
“He’s just so smart and so clever, it makes him even sweeter to ride, to be honest, because he doesn’t get sour, he doesn’t get rude about it, he doesn’t anticipate things… he’s just amazing. He’s a person.”
The World Cup Final in 2017 was a lure, in Omaha, Nebraska for the first time. The duo’s performance at the Final centered on the musical performance was the best at the annual championship for an American since Steffen Peters and Ravel captured the title in 2009, also in Las Vegas. Debbie McDonald on Brentina was the pathfinder becoming World Cup champion in 2003.
Isabell Werth, as she has shown often in championships in the past three decades, and her 2016 Olympic mount Weihegold took the rider’s third World Cup title.
However, Laura and Verdades set new standards in 2017–becoming only the second American to join the exclusive 80 per cent club for a Grand Prix score that they set at Global in Wellington. The other U.S. combination was Steffen and Ravel.
With no senior international championships for the Americas for the rest of the year, the pair again competed in Europe.
After leading the United States to an upset Nations Cup victory over the Netherlands at Rotterdam, Laura and Verdades rocked the status quo even more at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, considered by many to be a virtual world championships of five international disciplines. The American pair beat Isabell and Weihegold on their home turf in the Grand Prix Special, the first time that the then-world No. 1 pair had been bested since the 2016 Olympics.
Verdades was showing no signs of slowing down so after a 2018 Wellington Global schedule of six competitions for six victories that was enough to qualify for the World Cup Final in Paris–to again challenge Isabell and Weihegold as the defending champion.
Laura and Verdades delivered again in the French capital–winning the Grand Prix but coming up short in the Freestyle, to be the . Isabell added a fourth title to her trophy room, alongside 10 Olympic medals that are the most of any equestrian.
The World Equestrian Games at home five months later was a massive success for Laura and “Diddy,” as she calls Verdades.
Only once before had the United States won team silver at a world championship, in 2002 in Spain, but never before had an American taken individual silver which was achieved by Laura and Verdades.
Laura doesn’t talk about her personal success but puts Verdades at the center of her decisions.
“Right now, I would say certainly my drive is not to push him to Tokyo,” said Laura of the 2020 Olympics when Verdades will be 18 years old, not unusual these days with one of the most outstanding partnerships being Anky van Grunsven who rode Salinero at the age of 18 at the 2012 Olympics .
“This horse will never get pushed a day in his life. For everything he’s done for me after this he’ll have a break in the field, and he literally does go out in the field until he starts to be naughty enough to come in. And if that day when he’s naughty he doesn’t come then he doesn’t come in. I don’t foresee that happening. If he does get frisky like his normal self then we have to put him back to work.
“Then we come up with a game plan for next year. We take it day by day. We owe that to him.”
Part 3: Laura Graves’ Life on “Pause” While Verdades Decides His Future