American rider Laura Graves kinda surprised everyone in 2014 with her lovely way of dressage riding. Then she made it to the U.S. team for the World Equestrian Games and finished fifth in the Grand Prix Freestyle with her KWPN gelding Verdades. Now she’s one of the four members of the U.S. dressage team for the Olympics in Rio and CHIO Rotterdam has been a great preparation for her.
‘Coming here and winning the Special is a good way to prepare myself‘, she laughs. ‘Now I’ve learned that Verdades likes certain stadiums and that he doesn’t like other ones. He’s very particular. This one is similar to Aachen. The feel, the distance, the crowd, he likes that. I don’t think he would have liked it if he had been in the arena of the 3* competition. Everything is close, it’s a strange feeling over there. From the first day I rode him in this stadium I knew it was good because I knew he liked it.’ On Thursday Laura was second behind Hans Peter Minderhoud but on Saturday she won the Grand Prix Special and got a silver medal with the team. ‘It was really good’, she says about her last test. ‘He felt a little bit funny at the short side with the shadows because of the way the sun was coming down at that time. But he still went through and didn’t made any mistakes. He loves to go in there. If I can get him to love it and listen then we have a good test.‘
And learning to love Diddy, as Laura calls her big brown friend, wasn’t that easy. The Graves family bought Diddy when he was six months old. They asked Steve Wolgemuth to go foal shopping and he send them a video from a young filly located in the Netherlands. Diddy moved to the U.S. but they didn’t knew he would be so sensitive. Through the years Laura even wanted to sell him because he was so hard to handle but finally they connected. Their road to fame almost reads as a fairytale because Laura gave everything up to follow her dream. And it sure worked out. ‘I think I know him so well because I had him his whole life but there are still some surprises. I got him when he was a baby. I broke him and I brought him to Grand Prix myself. It’s an advantage but sometimes it’s also a disadvantage because you’re so certain of something and it makes you sometimes a little unable to change your mind. Sometimes it’s better to change and try something new. Sometimes I think ‘he doesn’t likes that’ or ‘he doesn’t do that’ but when you try it he actually does it. For that it’s good to have a team around you that has your best interest in mind and encourages you to make good choices.’
For the prize giving in Rotterdam Laura could borrow a horse from the school there. ‘His name is Drummer and he’s blind‘, she says. ‘I was happy I could borrow him. It’s not that Verdades gets dangerous but he overdoes it by making extreme moves. So I don’t want him to hurt himself.’ We sure know Verdades knows how to move in the ring but how would Laura describe him? It’s a really a nice horse. He’s just so funny. You go to the barn and the other horses will just eat their hay but if he hears my voice he will start banging on the door, sticking his head out and saying ‘come to my stall’. He just wants attention all the time. He’s either sleeping or he wants to come out. On or off. That’s it. He’s a nice horse to work around. His ears are always up. He likes people, he likes to be groomed and likes to travel. He’s easy at the shows. I trust anybody to take him for a walk. He gets excited in the arena but that’s the good kind of energy for us now.’
Laura is very close with the other American dressage riders as they train and live together. ‘It’s a really good group of people and we’re all really close. It’s excited and also sad for those who didn’t made it. We are so lucky to be in this group this year. We go to dinner, we let all the grooms get along, everybody is so friendly. You couldn’t ask for a better group. It’s a nice feeling all the time.’ Surrounded by her team mates and stable team Laura will prepare herself to shine in Rio. ‘Keeping Diddy health will be our only goal. He’ll have a little break, then we’ll train and rest before the flight.’