Gladstone, N.J.—June 15
Laura Graves never thought she’d be faced with the decision of whether to show at one European show or two on her way to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France, but that’s exactly the choice she’ll be making after finishing as the reserve champion at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions.
Graves, 26, and her 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Verdades were second only to veteran Steffen Peters and Legolas in the Grand Prix freestyle today as well as in the overall competition. Now both riders have guaranteed their spots on the U.S. dressage team for the World Games this summer, barring major catastrophe. While other riders on the short list are required to compete at two competitions in Europe—the Fritzens CDI (Austria) and the Aachen CDI (Germany)—as part of the selection procedure, Graves and Peters only need to ride in one.
"I'm open to suggestions," Graves said, when asked what she was going to do. "I'm a total rookie, so I'm open to advice. I have no experience in Europe."
“Diddy” is a horse Graves, Geneva, Fla., has had since he was a weanling, riding and training him up the levels under the tutelage of FEI five-star judge and former U.S. dressage technical advisor Anne Gribbons. Graves, who now trains with Debbie McDonald, has come a long way with her mount, but she’s quick to admit she has plenty more to learn, particularly when it comes to managing a horse over the championship competition format.
“I’m obviously completely thrilled with my horse. He exceeded all my expectations and then some," she said. "He’s a novice horse; it was his first three-day competition. I’m looking forward to having a team of experienced riders as well as a team vet and a team coach who can help us learn how to best prepare and manage him during long periods of stressful competition."
Graves came into the competition at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions ranked well below almost every other Grand Prix rider on the 2014 Tim Dutta National Grand Prix Championship/WEG Selection Trial ranking list and with considerably less experience in the Grand Prix ring than this year’s overall Grand Prix champion Steffen Peters, who won all three Grand Prix tests at the Festival aboard Legolas. Peters, San Diego, had some advice for Graves as she heads to her first World Equestrian Games, and it’s advice he'll apply to his own WEG preparations.
“We shouldn’t just say, ‘Now we’re going to Aachen and to the World Games,’ and then on that particular day ride like there’s no tomorrow,” Peters explained. “We need to train as if we’re already at Aachen, as if we’re already at the World Games, and I guarantee the little extra adrenaline will take care of the rest.
Peters said Legolas has gotten more rideable in the warm-up, which makes him more confident in the tests.
“I’m thrilled that I don’t have to compromise so much in the warm-up,” he said. “He would get so keyed up that you could only ride one line of one-tempis, and then you’d just hope you could repeat it in the test. Now I’m finally at the point where you can school it a bit more in the warm-up. We’re in a very good place from here to go to Europe.”
The top eight finishers at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions will all get the opportunity to travel to Europe to compete for the remaining spots on the U.S. team for the World Games. In addition to Peters and Graves, Jan Ebeling and Rafalca, Adriene Lyle and Wizard, Tina Konyot and Calecto V, Caroline Roffman and Her Highness O, Shelly Francis and Doktor, and Lisa Wilcox and Denzello will all board a KLM flight for Amsterdam on June 18.
Peters also captured the championship in the Intermediare I division aboard the 7-year-old mare Rosamunde, who will also make the trip to Europe for the experience. He made a clean sweep of all the classes in the division, including the freestyle, which was Rosamunde’s second ever.
“I've had a chance to do one in California, and that worked out great,” Peters said. “Today was even better. I don’t think we need to show it, or get a chance to show it, in Europe. What she did here today was absolutely phenomenal, very clean, expressive, and she felt supple. It just was one of those things you have to be thrilled with.”
To learn more about the selection procedure for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and read in-depth coverage of the U.S. Dressage Festival Of Champions, check out the July 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.