Wellington, FL – March 18, 2016 – Laura Graves and Verdades have made it a long way on a makeshift freestyle. But after two years of traveling to the world’s major competitions, Graves knew it was time for a change. She debuted a new freestyle drawing from a very fitting movie Friday night at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival 10 CDI4*, and the reception was positive: she won the Grand Prix Freestyle, presented by Havensafe Farm, with a score of 79.475 percent.
“The music we have been riding to for the last couple of years was a $500 piece of music that I bought last minute when we were trying to qualify for Gladstone in 2014,” Graves said. “We morphed it and ended up cutting it up, moving things, and making it work, but it wasn’t really made for him. There had not been a time where it was really appropriate to develop a new freestyle, but this year I wanted something that was his. This horse deserves that.”
Graves turned to freestyle designer Terry Ciotti Gallo, who developed a freestyle based on Graves’ original idea.
“It was nice, but it wasn’t IT,” Graves said. “So Betsy (Juliano), a dear friend and supporter of mine, and Debbie (McDonald), my mom, my boyfriend, and I sat around a table to meet with Terry. She played us something, and we all got goosebumps. I said, ‘I don’t care what it is – that is the music.’”
The finished piece draws heavily from the movie “Rudy,” based on a true story about an unlikely football player who aspired to play for Notre Dame.
“Everyone in his life, his dad, his siblings, his friends, were telling him he was crazy and that he would never make it,” Graves explained. “My final centerline, which is with my favorite music, is from when they let Rudy play in the final game at Notre Dame. Even though it’s not the idea I had, it’s the perfect story.”
Graves and Verdades embody the all-American underdog story themselves, and their partnership is the result of Graves’ years of dreaming and working toward making herself and “Diddy” the best they could be. Their story – Graves’ decision to quit her job as a hairdresser to pursue her dressage dreams, Verdades’ recovery from a serious jaw injury, the horse’s many quirks and fears that could only be overcome by Graves’ patient persistence – became a familiar one to the dressage community after their rapid rise to international attention in 2014.
Throughout the process, Graves has taken on the majority of Verdades’ care, which she sees as an important factor in the gelding’s confidence in her. Along with the trophy for her win in the class, she was awarded Friday night’s groom’s award, reserved for the groom of the winning horse. While she does sometimes have help at major events, she was going it alone for the Freestyle.
“He’s a really quirky horse, and not everybody sees it all the time,” Graves noted. “When you least expect it, he’ll just explode. He’s afraid literally of his own shadow, so nights like tonight are particularly difficult for us. It’s the only way he’s been so successful, to have his person. We’ve been through a lot. Luckily for both of us it’s been together.”
Now, in 2016, they have their sights set on successfully representing the U.S. Rio Olympic Games in August. Graves plans to make some tweaks to her freestyle after riding it in competition for the first time, and the challenging choreography, including passage half-pass and two-tempis on a circle immediately followed by one-tempis on a diagonal line, should give the pair plenty of room to show off their strengths.
Joining Graves at the top of the Grand Prix Freestyle class Friday night was another 28-year-old U.S. athlete with a very promising horse. Kasey Perry-Glass rode Goerklintgaards Dublet to themes from Lord of the Rings, earning a score of 75.75 percent in the horse’s international Grand Prix Freestyle debut.
“I didn’t know what to expect from him tonight,” Perry-Glass said. “I knew once the music started, that would be the horse I was going to have – if he was going to get hot, that was when it would start. The consistent training with Debbie (McDonald) and support from her has really helped with confidence and my confidence.”
She added, “I was really proud of him. I came out crying – he’s just so awesome. I’m so lucky to have him. We’re growing up together and respecting each other more and more and learning from each other. I can’t ask for more.”
Another young rising star filled out the top three in the class, as Juan Matute Jr. rode Don Diego Ymas to third place. The 18-year-old, riding for Spain, earned a score of 73.225 percent.
“It was very exciting, especially coming in right after Laura with her score of almost 80,” Matute said. “I enjoyed the test a lot. I think it was pretty much mistake free, which is a big deal for us right now. Little by little we have been building the confidence in the ring in Grand Prix. Tonight was the highlight so far of the season with Don Diego. I am very happy and very excited.”
Results: Adequan Global Dressage Festival 10 CDI4*
CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle
Judges: E: Foy – USA/H: Eisenhardt – GER/C: Matthiesen – DEN/M: Lopes – POR/B: Nivelle – GER
1. Graves, Laura/USA/Verdades/79.475
2. Perry-Glass, Kasey/USA/Goerklintgaards Dublet/75.750
3. Matute Jr, Juan/ESP/Don Diego Ymas/73.225
4. Francis, Shelly/USA/Danilo/72.350
5. Fraser, Brittany/CAN/All In/71.425
6. Pavicic, Karen/CAN/Don Daiquiri/71.100
7. Wallenstein, Ricardo/POR/Bem Me Quer/67.575
8. Strasser, Evi/CAN/Renaissance Tyme/67.425
9. Tzinberg, Ellesse/PHI/Pavarotti/64.425