Laura Graves on Verdades Lives Her Dream Placing Fifth in World Games Freestyle

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Laura Graves and Verdades on their way to becoming only the second American combination ever to achieve a score of more than 80 per cent in a championship. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Verdades on their way to becoming only the second American combination ever to achieve a score of more than 80 per cent in a championship. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

CAEN, France, Aug. 29, 2014–The dream that Laura Graves has had since she was a kid came true Friday when the pair became only the fourth duo from the United States to post a score above 80 per cent in a world championship, a feat that placed them fifth in the World Games Grand Prix Freestyle.

The pair scored 82.036 per cent that has only ever been exceeded by Steffen Peters on Ravel that won two individual bronze medals at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky four years ago. Friday, Steffen of San Diego, California and Legolas, his latest top Big Tour mount, were awarded 77.321 per cent for 10th place.

Debbie McDonad on Brentina posted 82.70 per cent and Lisa Wilcox on Relevant logged 82.64 per cent in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the WEG in Jerez, Spain in 2002 where the United States won the team silver medal.

However, on a day when seven of the 15 horses and riders in the Grand Prix Freestyle scored better than 80 per cent–the victorious Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro were above 90 per cent–the performance by the 27-year-old rider and her Verdades electrified the soccer stadium packed with 20,000 spectators.

Laura, from the tiny community of Geneva outside Orlando in Florida, let herself enjoy the ride on the 12-year-old KWPN gelding. In the Grand Prix at the start of the week the team included Laura and Verdades, Steffen and Legolas, Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho and Wizard and Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida on Calecto V finished in a surprising fourth place. The pair improved in the Grand Prix Special Wednesday and qualified from the 100 combinations that began the World Games dressage to make it into the final 15 Freestyle.

Laura Graves on Verdades in the World Equestrian Games Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves on Verdades in the World Equestrian Games Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“What has happened here over the last few days has been something I have dreamed about since I was a little girl,” Laura told dressage-news.com. “To have accomplished it all with a horse who is so special to me is something that I will cherish forever.

“Though I tend to be a very realistic person, I have always felt in my soul that Diddy is one of the best. There were some very tough times when that statement made me feel foolish, but to come to Normandy and have my boy appreciated by the world makes me very proud.”

The very tough times have come on the amazing journey that Laura and Verdades have made since her mother bought Verdadds as a foal from a sales video sent by a Dutch dealer.

Verdades (Florett AS x Goya) was competed by Laura through the levels until the cold winters of her home state of Vermont drove her to Florida and its year round sub-tropical climate. She was a working student with Anne Gribbons, but had to waitress and work other jobs at night to make ends meet while she pursued her dream.

She went out on her own with the support of her boyfriend, Curt, renting a six-stall barn to take in boarders and give riding lessons to make ends meet.

At the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, three hours south of her base, she and Verdades began their CDI Grand Prix career in February. The pair squeaked into the United States championships where eight combinations would be selected to go to Europe to vie for one of the four places on the team for the WEG.

The pair that were virtually unknown, finished as reserve U.S. champion to Steffen and Legolas and assured themselves a place on the American team for Normandy. At events in Fritzens, Austria and Aachen, Germany, the world’s premier horse show, they justified their place on the team.

Now, they have also borne out the hope by Steffen Peters that another American combination will emerge to lead the country’s teams as he has done for the past decade.

Laura has not let the pressure of the world championships get to her.

“I try to turn it all off but a little bit today I let myself enjoy it because he’s had such a good two test earlier in the week,” she said. “I did let myself look up and take it all in and everyone was just cheering and he just walked in like he’s done it a thousand times.”

Laura will keep her current freestyhke but plans to increase the degree of difficulty to improve the potential for higher marks.

The main goal now is to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

“I am planning to take really good care of this horse,” she said, “he is for the long term.”

Steffen Peters on Legolas in the World Equestrian Games Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2014 Ken Braddikck/dressage-news.com
Steffen Peters on Legolas in the World Equestrian Games Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2014 Ken Braddikck/dressage-news.com

Steffen competed Legolas in their first global championship for a freestyle mark of 77.321 per cent and said of his ride:

“The piaffe and passage were great. When he’s this excited the walk can be difficult but he was great.”

“It (the atmosphere) was good, the crowd was very energetic and wonderful. My hat goes off to Legolas. It’s been a hard three days and he’s still energetic. This is one the best Freestyles he’s ever done and to do that at a major competition like the World Games is fabulous.”

Although he has talked of competing the spectacular young Rosamunde at next year’s Pan American Games to seek a place for the United States at the 2016 Olympics, he is open to riding the 12-year-old Westfalen gelding in the continental championships of mixed big and small tour combinations. Grand Prix pairs get a two per cent bonus.

Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that Laura Graves and Verdades were only the second American combination to score better than 80 per cent. In addition to Steffen Peters on Ravel, two other combinations performed the feat–Debbie McDonald on Brentina with 82.70 per cent and Lisa Wilcox on Relevant with 82.64 per cent in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain in 2002.