Verdades USA Horse of Year for 2018 After Rider Laura Graves Named Equestrian of Year

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Laura Graves, Equestrian of the Year, beside the USA Horse of the Year award for 2018 won by Verdades. © 2019 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida, Jan. 12, 2019–Verdades on Saturday night was named USA International Horse of the Year after creating history in 2018 as the lifelong partner of rider Laura Graves who had already been honored as Equestrian of the Year.

The title was awarded to Verdades as a result of a nationwide poll of members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation that the voting results announced two days earlier had declared the 31-year-old Laura Equestrian of the Year.

National Horse of the Year was Cobra, a Mustang gelding that Marsha Hartford-Sapp adopted in 2010 after the wild horse was rejected three times and that she trained to compete at Prix St. Georges dressage as well as Western dressage

Verdades, called “Diddy” by Laura who has owned the KWPN gelding since bought as a yearling in the Netherlands from a video, is 17 years old as of Jan. 1. But at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, the first international dressage  show in the world for 2019, the pair swept the World Cup event showing no signs of slowing down in the pair’s campaign to add that championship to Olympic and World Equestrian and Pan American Games medals.

And the pair were the first in history outside Europe to become No. 1 in the world–for two months in 2018.

“You know as a kid, we all had a dream of what we would grow up to be and to do… a rock star, astronaut, doctor,” Laura told the packed gala dinner attended by her personal coach Debbie McDonald, now the official U.S. team coach and sponsor Elizabeth “Betsy” Juliano.

“I wanted to ride for the U.S. Equestrian Team, which in hindsight is actually more impossible than the others!

“For so many years I worked and dreamed of what it would feel like to achieve that dream. In reality it was so much different. It was so much better.

“It wasn’t about the ribbons and the medals and the scores. It was about the joy, despite hardships, heartbreaks and massive failures, overwhelming joy.

“And not just selfish joy, but the realization that this great horse brings joy to so many.

“And so it’s Verdades tonight that we really thank.

“It has been the greatest pleasure to share his gift with you.”

Verdades being ridden by Laura Graves to celebrate World Equestrian Games individual silver medal. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The award was greeted with loud cheering and a standing ovation from the crowd that celebrated honors for the numerous breeds and divisions that are part of the U.S. federation.

The bay gelding (Florett AS x Goya), whose actual birthday is April 17, lives with Laura and co-owner Curt Maes, her personal and business partner, in the Orlando area community of Geneva about 200 miles/320 km north of Wellington.

Laura who grew up and raised Verdades in Vermont that borders eastern Canada moved to Florida with the horse to pursue training for international competition.

The pair’s first major success was at the 2014 U.S. Festival of Champions to which they were invited only after some other combinations dropped out to make way for what was recognized within the American dressage high performance community as a team prospect. Laura and Verdades were reserve U.S. Grand Prix champion to Steffen Peters and Legolas.

Steffen Peters on Legolas and Laura Graves on Verdades at the 2014 U.S. Championships. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

At the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France three months later Laura and Verdades placed fifth in the Grand Prix Freestyle, the highest placing for an American.

The following year, the duo were on the gold medal team at the Pan American Games in Toronto, and also claimed individual silver.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the American team of Laura and Verdades, Steffen and Legolas, Allison Brock on Rosevelt and Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet capture team bronze, the first Olympic medal for American dressage since 2004.

Laura and Verdades created history at the 2018 WEG at home in Tryon, North Carolina, winning team silver with Kasey and Dublet, Adrienne Lyle and Salvino and Steffen and Suppenkasper as the USA  had done at the 2002 world championships, but then adding individual silver that was unprecedented.

Along the way, the combination had been reserve champion to Germany’s world No. 1 Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD at the 2017 and 2018 World Cup Finals.

As the pair near sixth year at Big Tour, their career has recorded 36 Grand Prix victories on both sides of the Atlantic as of this week.

Laura Graves accepting the USA Horse of the Year award on behalf of Verdades. © 2019 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Marsha Hartford-Sapp whose Mustang Cobra was USA National Horse of the Year and Laura Graves whose Verdades was USA International Horse of the ear. © 2019Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com