Verdades, Laura Graves’ “Horse of a Lifetime,” Not Ready for Retirement After Historic 2018, Will Pursue World Cup–Part 3 of 3

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Laura Graves at the 2018 Paris World Cup Final. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Dec. 20, 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Verdades, refreshed from a break, is “clearly not ready for retirement” following historic 2018 World Equestrian Games performances that led to the pair becoming the first Americans to be ranked No. 1 in the world and lifetime partner Laura Graves will pursue a World Cup title the duo has twice been runner-up.

Laura had been thinking of the soon-to-be 17-year-old KWPN gelding that she has been a lifetime partner as the past and not the future following 2018 as team and individual silver medalists for the best ever American results in a world championships followed by the top ranking for two months. The pair also hold the American record scores for all three Grand Prix levels of 89.083 per cent for Freestyle, 81.824 for the Special and 81.537 for Grand Prix.

For their successes, both the rider and steed have been nominated by US Equestrian for Equestrian of the Year and Horse of the Year honors. That has led to what may be an unprecedented response by McLain Ward, an all-time jumper rider great with four Olympics, including two gold and one silver team medals; team gold at the 2018 Tryon WEG, silver in 2006 and bronze in 2014, as well as World Cup champion in 2017 and reserve in 2009, and currently ranked No. 3 in the world.

So big an impact has the combination had in the equestrian world beyond dressage and the behind-the-scenes involvement in horse sport governance by the 31-year-old Laura that McLain, himself nominated for 2018 Equestrian of the Year, wrote on his Facebook page:

“It’s a great honor to be nominated for this award as well as being awarded the Stienkraus trophy. It has been an incredible season thanks to our amazing horses, supportive owners, hardworking staff and all of the sport’s wonderful fans.

“As much as I would be honored to win Equestrian of the Year, I think Laura Graves deserves our votes!

“I have watched not only her incredible performances over the last several years in the sporting arena but also her dedication, horsemanship and ambassadorship for horse sports in every aspect of what she does. So get out and vote for Laura!”

McLain Ward on Sapphire that he bought from a video from Belgium that the pair went on to win two Olympic team gold medals, shown here at the 2008 Olympics. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

In addition to the successes in 2018, Laura and Verdades have earned an Olympic team bronze and Pan American Games team gold and individual silver.

The duo will compete at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida beginning next month to seek the three scores required to fill one of the two places reserved for North America at the World Cup final in Gothenburg, Sweden in April. Her team mate and friend Adrienne Lyle on Salvino will also be aiming for the final.

“I am so thankful for everything this special horse has done for me and my career,” said Laura of the gelding that her family bought as a youngster from a video from the Netherlands. “It is obviously a very emotional time as I look back over the years we have grown up together.

“And now that I have started him back in work (and had to bail off of him twice to lunge him!) it is clear he is not ready for retirement!

“But being a realist and a true fan of the sport, my time is also spent focusing on the future. While Diddy has achieved the very top honors, my drive is to produce more horses at this level.

“My passion for the sport runs deeper than the Grand Prix and world championships. Hopefully, if we focus on our jobs and trust our teams, that success is our reward. My joy comes from spending time with the horses from a young age. I love to teach them to be learners and partners in this. I love playing with them and grooming them and getting to know them.

“It is my belief that the future of the sport depends on this passion for the horse. This is not a small commitment, from any perspective. We rely on great owners, trainers, vets, farriers, governing body support and, of course, fantastic horses to keep this dream alive. This seems like a simple enough list, but the truth is, that few are truly prepared to endure the journey.”

After Verdades is no longer competing, she probably won’t be seen on the Big Tour circuit for a couple of years.

Like Charlotte Dujardin and Adrienne Lyle, she likes to make her own horses at the farm in the Orlando community of Geneva, Florida she shares with her personal and business partner, Curt Maes, who is also an owner with Laura of Verdades.

“It’s not that I have a barn of 100 to pick from Prix St. Georges horses and say, ‘OK, I’ll turn you into a Grand Prix horse in two years.’ I’ll be taking my time and finding hopefully something really special. And hopefully you’ll see me on another team.”

Laura said people might think because of her success she was flooded with offers of future superstars but confided that is far from the truth.

Currently, she has her own four-year-old Jojo (Chagall x Krack) that she bought in 2014 with prize money from the Festival of Champions she described as “a bright bay gentle giant” that will take time to develop. “Also, curiously, can be mistaken for Diddy on any given day!” she added.

Fizau, a Westfalen gelding that has been with her since a youngster and is now nine years old and owned by Susan Shattuck, is being aimed for developing Grand Prix competition in 2019.

A new talent in the stable is five-year-old Dutch mare Stella, owned by Dale Nielson and that Laura believes “will be something to watch” and may be in international six-year-old classes next year.

Laura Graves trotting Stella, a Dutch mare that may be ready for international six-year-old competition in 2019. Photo courtesy: Laura Graves

“I will bring each of these horses to their full potential, whatever that may be,” Laura said. “This is the fun part. The problem solving, the light bulb moments, learning to turn LEFT! You know, big milestones for babies. But I do believe that this work, done correctly, is the only way to get to that international ring (or any ring for that matter). I am confident in my system and the people I have surrounded myself with for help and support.”

No matter how good, the lineup will turn out to be, Laura is sure none will measure up to Verdades in her life.

“Hopefully I have something close one day,” she said. “If you can hold a measurement to what I have with this horse it would be something special to watch. But I know in my heart that this is the horse of a lifetime.”

Another aspect of horse sports she ran into when first starting out she and her team mates have helped change, the “ambassadorship” that McLain has witnessed on both medals podiums and just walking around.

“I think people really see the camaraderie that we have at the very top level of the sport,” she said. “Anyone of us, Steffen (Peters), Adrienne (Lyle), Kasey (Perry-Glass), Olivia (LaGoy-Weltz), anybody… you want to stop them in a crowd, they’re going to stop and talk to you and be friendly.

“It’s that kind of behavior is just not tolerated any more, whether it’s the welfare of the horse that we all feel extremely strongly about or whether it’s just your personal conduct. There’s just no room for it in American dressage any more.”

Are marriage and babies in the future?

“We’ll see what this horse does,” Laura responds. “The rest of my life is a bit on pause until he retires…”