A Dressage Champion Keeps Her Promise – USET Foundation

A Dressage Champion Keeps Her Promise

Laura Graves has set aside her dream of an Olympic return to do what’s best for her long-time equine partner, Verdades.

It was a difficult decision, but one Laura Graves had to make.

On Jan. 9, Laura announced on Instagram she’d chosen to retire Verdades, the mount she’d ridden to numerous CDI wins, a USEF Equestrian of the Year Award and an Olympic bronze medal in 2016.

“I’ve always promised that I would do my best to listen and make the right choice for him when this time came,” Laura shared in her post. “It became clear in recent weeks that he was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020.”

So, Laura set aside her dreams of another Olympic medal in Tokyo this year to do what was best for “Diddy,” 18, her trusted partner and friend with whom she’s been through so much over the years.

From a difficult beginning, to a second chance, to a seemingly meteoric rise to becoming the first American horse and rider to be No. 1 on the FEI Dressage World Ranking list, Laura and Diddy built an unbreakable bond.

“This horse,” Laura said in her tribute, “not only achieved every goal we ever set, but he fulfilled dreams I never knew I had. Every time I sit in his saddle, I continue to feel honored and humbled that he allowed me to be his person.”

Spotting a Diamond in the Rough

To most equestrian fans, it probably appeared that Laura and Diddy burst onto the scene in 2014 out of absolutely nowhere.

But their journey to the top had started long before then.

Laura first laid eyes on Diddy as a 3-week-old in a VHS tape she received from an agent who was helping her find a young foal from Europe. Diddy wasn’t her first choice, but after a series of events, Laura’s parents ended up purchasing him for their daughter.

When Diddy arrived in the U.S. at six months old, he was unruly and overwhelming for 15-year-old Laura — a far cry from the superstar dressage horse she was hoping for. He spooked easily and was intense, flighty and difficult to manage.

As the two began their riding relationship, Laura, now 32, recounts various tumbles from the gelding, some of which resulted in serious injuries, including a broken back.

Battered and bruised from their challenges, Laura almost abandoned her dreams of developing a successful competitive partnership with Diddy. But something compelled her to give him a second chance.

The Will to Succeed

Someone told Laura that the gelding had the potential to become an international-caliber horse if she could get his unruliness under control. So, Laura, who was working in a hair salon in Vermont at the time, decided to risk it all for the chance to represent Team USA. She left her job and moved to Florida with nothing but a young horse and a dream.

She found a position as a working student, an arrangement that allowed her to work in exchange for lessons and training with Diddy. She poured all her energy into her horse. And then, she decided to ask U.S. Dressage Team coaches to scout her at a competition.

Convinced no one had shown up to watch, Laura was making her way back to the barn when Debbie McDonald ran up to her. Laura recalled: “She said, ‘I watched you ride. Whenever you can come for a lesson, I’ll be available for you.’”

Photo by Annan Hepner

A Star in the Making

That moment led to mind-boggling progress. Six months later, Laura and Diddy competed at the National Championships — and finished second, just behind dressage legend Steffen Peters.

Within one year, Laura and Diddy had gone from being relatively unknown on the dressage scene to being one of the top pairs in the world.

“I knew very early on that riding horses was in my soul,” Laura told platinumperformance.com. “But when things are difficult and when you’re young, it’s easy to choose a smoother path. And that’s what I did for a little bit, but my heart couldn’t keep me away. Whatever I did, whether it was hair or makeup or horses, I was determined to be the very best at it.”

What Comes Next

And she was. And that means Diddy’s retirement leaves Team USA without one of its strongest duos heading into the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“This decision was not taken lightly, but was made in Verdades’ best interests,” Laura said in a statement released by U.S. Equestrian.

Though her partner’s competitive days are behind him, Laura has no plans to leave the sport any time soon.

“(I’m) very much looking forward to the next chapter of my career with a stable full of young horses,” Laura said.

Laura might never find another horse quite like Diddy, but based on her championship history, she very well might find herself atop the medals podium again soon.


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