Topping a talented field of seasoned international competitors, Laura Graves (USA) and Verdades returned to their winning ways in the FEI Grand Prix CDI 5*, presented by Diamante Farms, at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF). Competition at AGDF 5 continues tomorrow with the FEI Intermediaire I CDI 1*, presented by Kirk Arabians, at 8 a.m., the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI 3*, presented by Wellington Equestrian Realty, at 2:50 p.m., followed by the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI 5*, presented by Diamante Farms, for “Friday Night Stars” beginning at 7:00pm.
Graves and Verdades were the final ride in the class of 30 entries and received a 76.440%. Steffen Peters (USA) and Legolas 92 collected second place with a 74.100%, while Mikala Gundersen (DEN) and My Lady earned third with a 71.760%.
Graves and Verdades have been a force in Large Tour competition over the past two years and are one of the strongest combinations for the United States. An uncharacteristic performance at the last CDI competition at AGDF pushed Graves back to the drawing board and motivated a re-evaluation on behalf of her and her support team.
“Tonight’s performance was a big relief for us actually,” Graves said. “We’ve been pushing to a point in our training, adding power, and he’s developing so fast, I think faster than he probably was ready for. Picking up the pieces from our last show, we just wanted to give him a really good experience in here today.”
She continued, “We’re just hoping to come into the 5* this week and let him feel comfortable again. I could not be happier with how we got through today’s test and now (we are) moving on to the Special on Saturday, which is normally a good test for him. We’re hoping to just do the same so he feels really good going into the super big competitions we have later on this year.”
The pair’s test was fluid and relaxed, a reaction Graves was hoping to achieve from the notoriously hot 2002 Dutch Warmblood gelding (Florett AS x Liwilarda). As they have progressed in the depth and understanding of their training together, Graves found herself looking back to the basics to help “Diddy” regain confidence in the ring.
“Actually today, our goal was to really ride him down. We wanted him to feel like he could stretch the whole time and just stay relaxed. That’s what we were going for. He’s developed such an idea of what he’s supposed to do at these shows now. We take his boots off, and he gets excited. He hears the audience, and he gets excited. These things didn’t used to mean much to him, but now he knows what he gets to do,” she elaborated. “He’s getting almost over-excited now. We have to make him feel confident and level him out. Tonight it was a really good experience for him. He was great.”
Alongside, Graves and Verdades, their Pan American Games teammates Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 had a strong showing in their first Grand Prix competition on the East Coast this year. The experienced pair dazzled the crowd, but Peters felt that they did leave points on the table with a costly mistake.
“He’s more supple now. There’s usually, especially today, less tension. The walk is more relaxed, but at the same time he does wonderful piaffe and passage work. Unfortunately today the one-tempi was expensive,” commented Peters. “He was at a 76% and it dropped us down to a 74%. I’m not sure if it would have been close enough to get to Laura, but what is exciting is that [the United States has] two horses that can do 76% and higher. Ideally, we need one more for Rio, where we average 76%, because then we have a chance at a medal. You know, it was a good show, not as good as two weeks ago, but they’re not machines. You always have the understanding that little mistakes are going to happen.”
Gundersen and My Lady were a dominating combination on the 2015 AGDF circuit last year and have returned to the Global International Ring for the CDI 5* this week in their second showing at AGDF this season.
“I don’t change much in our program with her. I keep riding everyday and the treadmill is what is really keeping her super fit because she’s on the treadmill everyday at an incline, and it keeps building her strength so I don’t have to ride her so hard. She goes in the cold water spa every day and this horse, she just has a really good life,” she laughed.
“We work on suppleness and through-ness everyday and we work on a program where I start out riding her round and forward to help get some of her energy out and then we get to some collected work, then really collected work, but I really try to let her be,” she explained, detailing their weekly program with My Lady. “We spend a lot of time in the walk.”