Since being named to the U.S dressage team, Laura Graves has utilized some time away from the competition ring to focus on the details with Verdades since trainer Debbie McDonald has been on hand at the farm in Belgium for some last-minute assistance.
After that it’s been lots of packing. The horses drove to Liége, Belgium, early Monday morning to catch a flight with a number of European mounts. The riders left Amsterdam, the Netherlands later that day and reconvened with their mounts in Rio.
It’s a whole different mindset when going with horses than if we were just going as athletes. There’s a whole new level of stress, so I think that until that stress subsides, we won’t allow the real excitement to settle in. Our first priority is making sure that these horses have a perfect trip.
The eventers all got in safe and sound [Saturday] night, so we hope our horses do the same—that they all fly well and everything’s on time, then we’re be able to start enjoying it, and settling into the venue which looks really beautiful. Until those horses are safely on the ground in Rio I don’t think any of us will let our anxiety level drop. We can’t do it without them, and they’re the priority.
Verdades enjoying some therapeutic time as he prepares for Rio.
I would say I’m most looking forward to the opening ceremonies which sounds funny, but the competition is the same test we ride everywhere and hopefully all the top horses are fit and ready to compete for the best competition possible. But for me what will make it different than any other experience will be experiencing the Olympic part of it, which is the opening ceremonies, the athlete’s village and hopefully getting to see some of the other sports. I’m a big fan of gymnastics—the busy sports, gymnastics and swimming, things that I understand and can follow.
The U.S. dressage contingent!
We will be performing as a unit, so [any sight-seeing] will be whatever the team wants to do and works best for everyone. Well see how transportation works out and how long it takes us to get to the different venues, if we have time to even do that. We’re all super hands-on with horses, so I do gather that a lot of time will be spent sitting in front of horses’ stalls.
I guess I don’t think about [it being the Olympics] too much. My biggest stress management strategy is making lists. A lot of my stress comes from feeling like I’m going to forget something or not be prepared so I write everything down.
I just have these notebooks—[Sunday] morning I threw out six pages that I’d finished or didn’t need anymore and started a fresh one for our last day before we leave. It includes things I have to do: laundry, people I have to call, things I should do before I get on a plane, things don’t forget to pack, or if I need to charge my laptop—whatever it is, I put it on the list. Everything, even if it’s very small, that way I can hopefully get a few hours of sleep at night.
For sure I do [feel pressure to repeat my performance at the WEG]. I think it’s always harder to go in being successful and people expecting things out of you. But I’ve learned since WEG that if you let that control the way you ride, you aren’t as successful, so I ride with the mindset that I’m always going to give it my best effort and my horse is trained and I’m trained and we’ll give it the best we can. Anything can happen and we all know that.
Since Rotterdam my horse had a good outing there, so our basic plan was to keep him fit and happy. He hasn’t been having terribly long sessions, just working mostly on the transitions from the test. He’s very well schooled and knows all the tricks—it’s about riding my corners properly and my transitions properly where we’re losing points.
We’re all really prepared, and the horses look great, and we’re looking forward to it.
In this series, the Chronicle followed six riders as they sought to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We checked in with them every few weeks as they pursued a team spot, seeing how they got their horses ready and prepared mentally.
We also followed: