A few moments of boredom at a European horse show went a long way toward the creation of one of the strongest duos in U.S. show jumping.
As Laura Kraut recalls, she was at a show in Belgium in 2005 with Dutch rider Emile Hendrix, watching a grand prix class of more than 100 entries.
“I was bored to tears. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t understand a word of what was being said,” she said.
“Then I happened to glance into the arena where they were showing young horses over low fences, and this horse caught my eye.”
The horse was a rather small 7-year old gray, and he was quite green.
“I watched him jump and was intrigued. He jumped like a deer—graceful and athletic,” said Kraut.
She was no longer bored. She was on a mission.
“I showed him to Emile, and luckily he knew who had him and arranged for me to ride him,” said Kraut.
“I jumped maybe 15 or 20 jumps, and I was sold. He did jump like a deer. He was so light you couldn’t feel him take off or land. He had no technique, though, and Emile thought I was crazy. I just had a feeling about him.”
It’s safe to say that now, neither Hendrix nor anyone else thinks Kraut’s selection of Cedric that day was less than brilliant. Since Kraut acquired him nearly six years ago, he’s proven to be a fierce competitor, whether it’s setting down a careful, clear round for a Nations Cup or blazing over a jump-off course.
“When I first saw him, I looked at Laura, and I said, ‘He’s a freak,’ ” recalled U.S. Chef d’Equipe George Morris. “He would chip at the jump, he wouldn’t go to one end of the ring, he’d bunny hop jumps, and I said, ‘Laura, this horse is a freak, so take your time and don’t get frustrated.’ And the first year, he was frustrating. I remember at Dublin he wouldn’t go into one end of the ring the whole horse show. But he’s a great horse. All that horse needed was mileage.”
Kraut’s careful development of Cedric paid off in early 2008, when they won the selection trials for the Olympic Games in Hong Kong. At the time, he was still not as reliable as Kraut would have liked. She said after the trials,
“I don’t know if he’s an Olympic horse, but he’s grown up a lot through this experience.”
Kraut carefully added to Cedric’s mileage and confidence during the summer of 2008, and in August, they helped the U.S. team take gold.
“It was a risk, putting Cedric on the team, because even though he was so talented, he was quite green,” said Morris. “It could have gone either way. But he rose to the occasion.”
Since then he’s added layers of maturity and experience to the raw talent. Kraut starts the year showing him in Florida at the Winter Equestrian Festival, then bases herself out of England and spends the summer and fall showing in Europe. She makes the rich Global Champions Tour a priority for her schedule.
This year, Cedric jumped clear in the first two rounds of the selection trials for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and was promptly named to the short list. He followed that up by winning the $150,000 CN U.S. Open Grand Prix and placing second in the $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix in Florida.
As they prepared in Europe for the WEG, Cedric and Kraut jumped double clean as the anchors of the U.S. team in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) that won the Meydan Nations Cup and helped the team place third in the Meydan Nations Cup at Aachen (Germany).
But Cedric’s most impressive summer performances came on the Global Champions Tour, where he won in Chantilly, France, on July 25 and at Valkenswaard, the Netherlands, on Aug. 14. “Winning those classes back-to-back like that was very, very exciting,” said Kraut. “It was an unbelievable thrill.”
Kraut credited those wins to the fact that she finally let Cedric go in the jump-offs rather than playing it safe. “He’s finally grown up, and I can rely on him and trust him all the way through,” she said. “Even in 2009 I was worried to take too big of a risk with him because I didn’t want to scare him. He is such a careful horse, and I was feeling that I had to protect him. Now, if I make a big mistake, he would recover. He’s comfortable and confident now.
“Now that he’s older and mature, he is very easy to turn. For a long time, he was quite wild—very spooky, flighty and unpredictable. I’m glad he’s finally become more consistent and predictable,” she added.
Naturally, she had hoped that those wins would portend a good result at the WEG, but the U.S. team finished out of contention.
“It was a sad week for us, though certainly Cedric’s Nations Cup rounds were not a disgrace,” Kraut said.
Cedric had just one rail in the first round of the Nations Cup and the only clear U.S. round on the second day.
“We had four magnificent horses, great riders and bad luck,” she said.
She plans to spend 2011 carefully managing him to peak at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“He’ll be only 14 then, still young for a horse of this caliber,” she said, “and, I think, better than ever.”