Aug. 29—Caen, France
Most riders who achieve a top five placing at a major championship dream and plan for the competition all year. They lay out their show schedule months in advance; they consider when their horse might peak in his fitness; they plan travel.
Laura Graves? She only found out she was coming to Europe a few months ago—in fact just a few days before her horse’s plane left. And she had no expectations for her placing here at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
But Graves has worked her way up through the week, going from 10th after the Grand Prix to eighth after the Special to fifth after today’s freestyle. She was placed immediately behind Wednesday’s bronze medalist, Kristina Sprehe of Germany on Desperados, and over Austria’s Victoria Max-Theurer on Augustin OLD. Because they announced Graves’ score (82.03%) in French when she left the arena, she wasn’t even certain what it was for a bit.
“It makes everything a little more playful instead of just pressure,” Graves said. “When you’re at the bottom, and I feel like I’ve been at the bottom for a long time, there’s no pressure because no one expects you to do well. There’s nowhere to go but up. Once you start doing well then there does become some pressure to keep performing. Hopefully I’ll wait until next year to feel that pressure. I want to just enjoy this moment.”
As new as she is to the scene, Graves is receiving an amazing reception on her first European tour. Upon walking into the stadium both today and in the Grand Prix Special, the crowd cheered loudly for her and Verdades.
“It was amazing [riding into the stadium],” she said. “My horse was just so cool walking in there today. That was the most amazing feeling, more than the spectators, I could feel how excited they were, and he just walked in like, ‘OK here we are.’ ”
Though Graves admitted her horse was a little lazy in his first passages, she quickly revved him up for the latter parts of her test.
“Obviously there’s still quite a bit of polish,” she said. “He’s a trained Grand Prix horse now, but it’s adding in the difficult things—actually being able to do the passage half-pass, which is so difficult, but really to compete at this level, everybody has it in their test, so it’s almost a requirement.”
Their test, set to music found by Yvonne Barteau and tweaked by Marlene Whitaker, also features two-tempis on a half circle.
“There are things my horse does really well that are maybe difficult for the others,” said Graves. “He gets those [two-tempis on a half circle] maybe 90 percent of the time, so that’s something I feel comfortable putting in. To others it looks like a degree of difficulty, but for us it’s actually not. I was happy with that. We went for the extended canter, and he actually came back right away, which is a good feeling.”
Graves is already receiving calls from people wanting to buy Verdades.
“I refuse to hear numbers because he’s never for sale,” she said.
Top 10 Finish For Legolas 92
Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 earned a 77.32 percent for 10th in today’s freestyle.
“A lot of things worked out great, especially the difficult parts—going from the extended canter to the pirouette and then the piaffe," he said. "When he’s as excited as he was today, the walk can be difficult, but today he walked beautifully, very relaxed. I could push him very easily in the extended walk, and the collected walk was great. I could relax for a moment myself, and then he came nicely in piaffe as well. Overall it was a great freestyle.”
The horse had a momentary loss of straightness in the one-tempis, leading to some errors.
“You always hope on a freestyle you get closer to 80 percent, but we [left] that up to Laura today,” said Peters. “But a 77 percent at the World Games, there’s nothing wrong with that. For Legolas to stay as good as he was in the Grand Prix and Special, that’s a good feeling to move forward.”
Want to know how the winners fared in today’s freestyle? Read all about Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro.
Want to know what else is happening in other disciplines here at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? Visit the Chronicle's hub page! Only curious about dressage? Read all about that on the dressage specific page.