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August 27, 2014

Laura Graves Makes A Big Splash In World Games Grand Prix Special

Laura Graves couldn't contain her joy after her eight-placed Grand Prix Special test on Verdades. Photo by Lisa Slade

Caen, France—Aug. 27  

Steffen Peters has been the king of U.S. dressage for many years, but even he saw that he might have to turn over his crown. After yesterday’s Grand Prix, Steffen Peters mentioned that a time could soon come that Laura Graves and Verdades surpass him and Legolas 92 with the scores.

That day came sooner than Peters perhaps expected today in the Grand Prix Special at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Graves put in a mistake-free test for 77.15 percent, the highest U.S. placing and an unbelievable eighth-placed finish in the Special. 

Why is it unbelievable? Graves and Verdades, a horse she’s had since he was a yearling and brought up herself, only started in Grand Prix CDIs earlier this year. The pair barely qualified for the World Games selection trials. Graves is a virtual unknown on the international circuit, with only the Verden CDI*** (Austria) and Aachen CDIO***** (Germany) under her belt.

And, as U.S. Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover said earlier today, “Ours is a ‘who beats who where’ sport.”

Laura Graves and Verdades on their way to 
eighth in the Grand Prix Special at the
Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Photo by Lisa Slade

But despite those factors, Graves and her own Verdades walked out of the ring to a score that placed them ahead of many in a strong field. She couldn’t contain her smile as she left the ring, and nor could Dover or her own trainer Debbie McDonald.

“You’re a little bit deaf in the moment,” said Graves of the cheers that followed her out. “You’re still in your own head and trying to talk to your horse and tell him how great it was. I wasn’t even concerned with the score—just with the ride. Then to find out it was so high is great; it’s the icing on the cake.

“There was a point in the ride at the end of my canter extensions where I just kind of let go and thought ‘Well, that’s it, that was pretty good,’ ” Graves added. “I knew I had more to go, but we’d completed all the really hard stuff. The pirouettes are usually pretty strong for him, so once we have the first three-quarters out of the way, it’s a big relief to come to the pirouettes and then go down that final trot line.” 

(Did you know? Laura Graves is blogging for the Chronicle's website. Read all her blogs here.)

The day before, after the U.S. team had finished an impressive fourth behind world powers Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands, Graves had reflected on the moment. “It just keeps feeling like the next step,” Graves said. “This is the big boom I was waiting for.

"People asked me [at the selection trials] in New Jersey, ‘You’re on the team! Aren’t you so excited?’ You kind of expect fireworks and rainbows and all this stuff falling from the sky. Now this is the big bang for me. It’s very fun. To be here on a team is a whole different feeling than being anywhere as an individual.”

Peters wasn’t far behind Graves in the Special; he and Legolas placed 10th. Four Wind Farm’s Legolas improved over yesterday’s ride, nailing the one-tempi changes across the diagonal and on the centerline. Their placings left them out of the individual medals, but both Graves and Peters will ride again in the Grand Prix freestyle.

“It’s always been the hardest test for him,” said Peters of the Special. “It was tricky in the warm-up because he didn’t want to stop after nine changes. I was really reinforcing the nine. Seeing these two American flags making it into the Grand Prix freestyle is awesome.”

The third American rider to qualify for the Special, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, didn’t have the ride she wanted today. Her score of 69.20 percent reflected mistakes in the two- and one-tempis and the piaffe and a stumble in the first extended trot.

“He was not himself out there today. I’m not sure what was bothering him,” said Lyle. “He felt OK in the warm up. He was a little testy, but what can you do? He was super for the team, so I’m happy about that.” 

You can read all about Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro's massively impressive win in the Special here

See the full results from the Grand Prix Special.

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. Find scores and results on the Normandy 2014 page.

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