Wellington, Fla.—March 28
Just as Laura Graves and her fellow competitors were getting ready to start warming up for the individual freestyle at the Wellington Nations Cup CDIO*** on Friday, March 27, a flash of lightning had them running for shelter as the skies opened up. Officials at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Fla.) were forced to postpone the final event of the competition due to the storm, and the riders would have to wait until Saturday afternoon to present their tests to the judges.
The extra downtime, combined with the cool, post-rain weather, proved just the right formula for Laura Graves and Verdades. The pair, who helped USA Team I win the team Nations Cup CDIO earlier in the week, won the class and brought home their third freestyle blue in three weeks of competition.
Despite an unexpected mishap when her rein caught in her stirrup in the canter half-pass, Graves performed a beautiful CDIO Grand Prix freestyle test with “Diddy,” scoring an impressive 80.17 percent in what is quickly becoming known as their signature event.
With her score in the freestyle, Graves became the second ever rider to score above 80 percent at the Global Dressage Festival. The first was Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven, aboard Don Auriello last year.
Before the rain hit Friday night, Graves was concerned about Diddy’s energy level waning after two days of competing, so she decided not to ride him that morning in order to keep him fresh. And when the class was postponed, Diddy was left to enjoy an entire day relaxing out of the tack.
“He got the day completely off and then it was really cool today, and when I got on him this morning, I was like, ‘This could be good!’ ” said Graves, 27. “In the ride, I felt he was very consistent.
“We had one little hiccup in our right canter half-pass where my rein actually got hooked around my foot, and my spur, I think,” she continued. “I went to give my right rein and I couldn’t because my hand was stuck, so I had to kind of move my leg and untangle myself. I got it out before the end of half-pass, which was very lucky. [We were] going back towards A, but my horse could not have cared less about it. I’m thankful that he has matured this far in his life that he will allow me to handle situations like that, and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
The CDIO event featured 11 small tour and four large tour combinations representing the United States, Canada, Germany, Guatemala and Puerto Rico.
Second in the Grand Prix freestyle was Chris Von Martels riding Zilverstar, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Rousseau—Hutricia), in the Intermediaire I ring to score 75.60 percent. Fellow Canadian Belinda Trussell placed third aboard Robyn Eames’ Anton, a 15-year-old German Sport Horse (Antaeus—Shirley, Melit), with a Grand Prix score of 75.47 percent.
“I was happy that [Anton] is in a place in his life where he is very confident and understands his job and he’s happy to do it,” said Trussell, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “It’s nice that he has that confidence going into the ring at this stage. Sometimes going into these competitions, you don’t always know if [earning a top placing is] possible because it is really tough competition, and for Canada to have second and third place is really a big deal for us, so it’s great.”
“I’m totally thrilled to have the great results that we have had this weekend,” added Von Martels, who earlier in the week served as part of Canada Team I to claim the silver medal in the Wellington Nations Cup CDIO***. “[Zilverstar has] been so consistent through the whole show season. I feel that there is always room for improvement, but I feel that we’re on a good path at the moment, and as long as we can keep going in that direction we will be quite happy.”
Graves has won every freestyle competition she’s entered at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival this season. She made her post-Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France), debut in Florida earlier this month after taking a break to focus on training.
Since then, she and her 13-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Florett AS—Liwilarda, Goya), have claimed victory in the AGDF Palm Beach Dressage Derby Grand Prix freestyle, the AGDF Week 10 Grand Prix and Grand Prix freestyle, and helped the United States to the Nations Cup gold before topping the freestyle as an individual.
The Wellington Nations Cup served as Graves’ final performance before traveling to Las Vegas in April to represent the United States once again in the Reem Accra FEI World Cup Final. In the meantime, she and Diddy are headed home to Plymouth, Fla., to prepare with coaches Robert Dover and Debbie McDonald.