She's a 26-year-old Vermont native, former 4-Her, and former working student of Anne Gribbons, that's who. And you'd better get accustomed to hearing her name and that of her horse, Verdades, because I suspect you'll be hearing them a lot in the weeks and years to come.
|Laura Graves and her Verdades finished second in the 2014 US WEG selection trials Grand Prix Special. A highlight was the Dutch Warmblood gelding's rhythmic, relaxed piaffe and balanced piaffe-passage transitions. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Graves, who now calls Geneva, FL, home, trains with Olympian Debbie McDonald. She bought her 2002 Dutch Warmblood gelding (by Florett) as a weanling in the Netherlands based on a video. And she and "Diddy" displaced many better-known names -- Olympian Tina Konyot on Calecto V, Olympian Lisa Wilcox on Denzello, and Olympian Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, to name just three -- to place second in the Grand Prix Special with a score of 74.549 percent. The competition was part of the 2014 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions presented by the Dutta Corp.
"My horse was there for me. He was really, really there for me," said Graves afterward. "This [riding at the high-performance level] has always been my dream, and I'm very fortunate to have this horse who is helping me fulfill my dream."
Graves admitted to some show nerves, saying she didn't watch the other competitors in the class and "hid in my stall" beforehand to escape the hubbub at the USET Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, NJ.
|Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, winners of the Grand Prix Special. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
The only competitor who could best Graves today was Captain America, Steffen Peters, and two-time USEF national Grand Prix champion Legolas 92, owned by Four Winds Farm. After a winning yet not bobble-free Grand Prix test on Thursday, Peters, of San Diego, CA, put in an improved (yet still not mistake-free) effort to clinch the Special with a score of 75.647 percent aboard the 12-year-old Westfalen gelding.
Peters' test was not without a moment of anxiety. Following his final halt and salute, the judge at C, Anne Gribbons, stepped into the arena and began to examine Legolas's bits. Gribbons was joined by the technical delegate, Elisabeth Williams. Shortly after, the two women exited the arena and Peters gave the crowd a thumbs-up. He explained later that the judge at B, Gary Rockwell, had asked Gribbons to check the bits. Fortunately nothing was found to be awry.
|Technical delegate Elisabeth Williams and judge Anne Gribbons inspect Legolas's bits after Steffen Peters concluded his GP Special test. All was deemed OK. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
"I wish we could have put in a clean test," Peters admitted afterward, but "I was happy we got the changes; those are always extremely difficult with Legolas. His pirouettes were good, and his half-passes felt wonderful. It certainly wasn't a bad test but not what I wanted to take from here to Europe. We'll polish it, and hopefully by Aachen we'll have all of it in place. Robert [Dover], Shannon [Peters, Steffen's wife], and I have a very good plan; we're going to polish it for Aachen and then hopefully take it a step up for Normandy."
Finishing a strong third was the darling of the 2012 Olympic Games, Rafalca, whose connection with co-owner Anne Romney (wife of 2012 US presidential candidate Mitt Romney) made for a perfect storm during the run-up to the London Games. The reliable 17-year-old Oldenburg mare, also co-owned by Beth Meyer and Amy Roberts Ebeling, finished second in Thursday's Grand Prix and scored 74.294 in today's Special with longtime rider Jan Ebeling, of Moorpark, CA.
|Olympic veterans Jan Ebeling and Rafalca passage to third place in the Grand Prix Special. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
If anything, Rafalca looks stronger and fitter than she did in London. Ebeling said: "She's having a good week. She is fit and she feels great, and being beaten by someone like her is absolutely wonderful," he said, smiling at Graves. "I've always said we want more younger riders coming up. It's exciting -- good riders, good horses, good backgrounds, good training. This is what our sport needs."
Ebeling admitted to some relief at not being a staple on "The Colbert Report" and in the mainstream media this time around. Of the pre-Olympics media circus, he said, "It was a bit more attention than I asked for."
London Olympics individual competitors Adrienne Lyle, Ketchum, ID, on Wizard, a 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Peggy Thomas, placed fourth in the GP Special with 73.412 percent.
Tomorrow we'll wrap up the WEG selection process with the always eagerly anticipated Grand Prix Freestyle, which commences at 2:35 p.m. EDT and which will be streamed live via the USEF Network. For purposes of determining the 2014 USEF National Grand Prix champion (and the short list for the 2014 US dressage WEG team), the Grand Prix score is worth 45 percent, with the Special accounting for 40 percent and the Freestyle, 15.