Road To The Olympics: Laura Graves Is Looking To Eliminate Mistakes

Jun 10, 2016 - 10:05 AM
Laura Graves is keeping Verdades happy and healthy while trying to improve on their performances.

After the second day of competition in the CDIO5* at Compiégne, France was rained out, Laura Graves rethought her schedule with Verdades. Because of some tension due to atmosphere she elected to compete in the Roosendaal CDI4* (the Netherlands) to iron out the kinks.

They finished second to teammate Steffen Peters with Legolas 92 on a 75.80 percent in the Grand Prix with a mistake. Another costly mistake in the first pirouette in the Grand Prix Special gave them a 74.25 percent, so Graves is looking to improve her test riding before now and the Rotterdam CDIO5* where theyve been named to compete for the U.S. team.

We are all back in Belgium. We got back Sunday evening; the show is actually super close to our place in Belgium. It was like an hour [drive], so it was nice and easy.

For the most part although we get super spoiled being in the Florida crowd because it’s closer than a lot of people travel. When you live in Wellington and show in Wellington, it’s basically as close as it gets. It’s nice here that you can go to a number of different venues. The thing we lack a little bit in Florida is different venues, so here you can drive an hour and hit a number of really high quality venues, which is nice.

I remember two years ago, which was my first year [in Europe], we were able to drive over to Rotterdam and watch before we competed in my first European event, and that was really nice because I had a chance to see a lot of the top riders and kind of get that out of my system. 

I don’t know that any of us actually had [competed at Roosendaal before]. From what I understood it’s under new ownership so they’re kind of renovating a lot of it and it was a nice show, and I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished.

Things are so close, so from your stables to the warm-up to the competition arenas is close. The footing was great. It held up really well with the number of horses on it. It was nice; we had permanent stalls with doors that had the yokes so the horses could hang their heads out. We had access to hot and cold water. It’s the little things that you really appreciate when you’re away from home.

[Roosendaal] was the complete opposite [of Compiégne]. It was like a total lack of atmosphere. There weren’t any stands so the nearest people watching are either leaning along the fence by A or they’re kind of set back at the clubhouse area on a patio, so there wasn’t really a competition atmosphere.

It’s a little tough when you go to a competition with a plan and then based on whatever circumstances you’re unable to complete that. We were still able to ride at Roosendaal, but [coach Debbie McDonald] had to get back to the States, so I was there without her.

Diddy was really good. He was a really solid citizen all week. After the tension we had in France I was hoping we’d have a chance to work through that, and I guess fortunately and unfortunately we just didn’t have that same tension because of the lack of atmosphere. He was just his normal calm, cool, collected self, and I maybe didn’t ride so well. I had a couple of huge errors that cost us a lot of points.

 
With Diddy at Roosendaal. Photo by DigiShots

In the Grand Prix I had a miscount in the zigzag. My mistakes were unfortunate because they were coefficients, so I had a 5 in my zigzag. In the Special I made a mistake—which is really unusual—because I just was going for it. I came down centerline for my pirouettes, which are normally a highlight for my horse, and I just came too hard with my half halt, and he did a perfect walk transition, and I’m like, ‘No! No! No! Canter! Canter!’ and he was like, ‘What? You want me to—oh you want me to go back to canter!’ So he picked up the canter again, and he was really a good sport about it, and obviously that was majorly expensive as well. 

They normally run the classes in reverse world ranking order and this show was just a straight draw, so completely random. I drew first to go which is never ideal, but it was fine. He was really good. A lot of things have improved but in these weeks here before Rotterdam I’m just going to practice my test riding.

I’ve received some feedback from David Strickland who does the score analysis, and it was very encourage to see what we’re capable of. Because sometimes you approach things just from a training perspective and basically the feedback I got was that my horse was well trained. Very capable in every movement, but rather it’s the continuity of our test, so that’s what we’re going to try to fix up here in the next two weeks.

Its Time To Play Strategy

We were all talking about [the plan for Rotterdam, where she’ll compete in the Nations Cup], and we assume in the near future we’ll have a little conference call about it. It’s interesting with this format where you don’t ride every test, so we have to be strategic and think about where we can accumulate the most points, which horses are going to do that for us in which test and that requires some discussion.

It’s kind of more fun this way because you’re not thinking, ‘OK let’s ride really well for the team the first two days, and then I’m on my own.’ This is like, ‘OK it’s not about what I want to do, but where’s my horse going to help the team?’

About Laura Graves And Verdades

Home Base: Orlando, Fla.

“Diddy’s” Stats: 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Florett AS—Liwilarda, Goya) bred by Herveld P. Crum, owned by Laura Graves.

Big Performances In 2015:
1st—Team, Pan American Games (Toronto)
2nd—Individual, Pan American Games (Toronto)
4th—Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final (Nev.)
1st—Dutta Corp./USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship (Fla.)

Obviously my goal now is to have a mistake-free test. Riding a clean test would be our focus and knowing that the scores are really capable of being where we hope. But I’ll focus a lot on the test riding, and we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll get some news here in the next couple of days of what our strategy will be so we each know where to focus our time here preparing for Rotterdam.

I think we probably know in our gut what is smart, but obviously there are a lot of people who we count on for their opinion, and we have a chef [d’equipe Robert Dover], and we each have personal trainers. We have four riders, so we’ll have to discuss it and maybe there’s someone with a perspective better than ours that we haven’t thought of yet. It’s a strategy, so we’ll work it out as a team.

I think we are a very unique team, where there’s nothing that our chef won’t do for us. He always jokes that, ‘You guys can call me any time even if you just have a hangnail,’ and he’s totally serious. He gets there before the horses arrive and helps us set up stalls. He’s busting open bags of shavings, and he’s helping us load and unload equipment. He obviously goes to the office and finds out what arenas are open and whatever we might need, and how soon we’re allowed where, when are we jogging and keeping all of that part of the show running.

Of course he’s ringside, usually standing with our coaches and just supportive. If he sees something that maybe we’re not addressing he’ll mention it, but he’s obviously very respectful of the relationship that got each of us to this point. But he’s with us all day, every day and often most days doing twice as much as any one of us. I don’t know how he does it. 

[After Rotterdam] obviously there’s Aachen [Germany] which we’ll, with our chef and our coaches and everybody, decide what’s happening there based on what’s best for each individual rider and for our team that will be going to Rio. We’re required to name our team by July 1, so it’s shortly after Rotterdam where the information will be passed along to all of the appropriate committees and then onto the next set of committees and hopefully we’ll have something in the days following Rotterdam—that’s our last team observation event.

You know, you can’t look too far ahead. You have to plan for all of those things logistically, but I’m only able to change what’s happening right now, and hopefully predict where it’s to be better for tomorrow, so that’s where my attention is really focused. If I do my work today and tomorrow and so on, that if I’m named to Rio and when that day comes I don’t have to think about what I should have done because I’m doing everything that I should be today.

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We’ll check in with them every few weeks as they pursue a team spot, seeing how they’re getting their horses ready and preparing mentally.

Read all of the Road To The Olympics with Laura Graves

We’re also following:

Show jumper Callan Solem

Eventer Phillip Dutton and his groom Emma Ford

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Dressage rider Kasey Perry-Glass

Eventer Clark Montgomery

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