Laura Graves

Laura Graves, U.S.’ top dressage rider, to miss Olympics

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Laura Graves, the U.S.’ top dressage rider and an Olympic medal contender, will miss the Tokyo Games after retiring her Rio Olympic bronze-medal horse Verdades.

“With the retirement of my longtime partner, Verdades (Diddy), it will no longer be possible for me to pursue a place on the team that will represent the United States in Tokyo,” Graves said in a statement via U.S. Equestrian. “This decision was not taken lightly, but was made in Verdades’ best interests.”

Graves, 32, announced earlier this week that “it became clear in recent weeks that [Verdades] was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020.”

Verdades, an 18-year-old KWPN gelding, has been with Graves since he was 6 months old. Horses can live well into their 30s, and while there is no maximum age for a horse competing in the Olympics, 18 is generally considered senior, or close to it.

With Verdades, Graves helped the U.S. earn team bronze in Rio. its first dressage medal since 2004 and matching its best finish since the 1948 London Games. Graves also finished fourth individually, just missing the second-ever U.S. individual dressage medal.

Then in 2018, Graves and Verdades earned team and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games, essentially the world championships for the sport that take place every four years. Graves became the first U.S. dressage rider to move into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

“Diddy helped me reach goals and milestones that at times, I didn’t think were possible,” Graves said. “As I look back on all of our success, I continue to be moved by the support of the community, and the country, who invested in our journey throughout the years. Participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics is one of my fondest memories with Diddy, and I know the team is in good hands with the combinations who will represent our country this summer. We will be supporting and cheering them on every step of the way.”

Graves and Verdades dropped to seventh in the most recent world rankings. The next-highest U.S. rider is No. 11 Kasey Perry-Glass with Goerklintgaards Dublet.

Graves’ absence creates an opening for the three-rider U.S. Olympic team expected to be named in the spring. The current No. 3 American in the world rankings, excluding Graves, is Shelly Francis, a 61-year-old who could become the oldest U.S. Olympic competitor in any sport since 1904, excluding art competitions.

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Laura Graves retires Olympic bronze medal horse Verdades

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Less than seven months before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, U.S. dressage rider Laura Graves has retired her 2016 Rio bronze medal horse Verdades.

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

Verdades, an 18-year-old KWPN gelding also known as “Diddy,” has been with Graves since he was 6 months old. Horses can live well into their 30s, and while there is no maximum age for a horse competing in the Olympics, 18 is generally considered senior, or close to it.

Graves brought Diddy up through the ranks herself, which is uncommon at the Olympic level.

“This horse not only achieved every goal we ever set, but he fulfilled dreams that I never knew I had,” she wrote on Instagram. “Not always the easiest, it was his generous heart and incredible sense of loyalty that made him one of a kind.”

The duo took the U.S. dressage world by storm at the 2014 dressage national championships and made their World Equestrian Games debut later that year in Normandy. They finished fifth in the Grand Prix Freestyle and went on to take team gold and individual silver at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Graves and Diddy helped push the U.S. to team bronze, and they finished just out of the individual medals in fourth place.

Since their Cinderella Olympics, the pair have been a staple on the U.S. Dressage Team, picking up double silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C., behind dominant German equestrian Isabell Werth. They peaked at No. 1 in the world dressage rankings in October of 2018.

The following spring, they were runners up to Werth yet again at the 2019 FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Gothenburg in what would become their last competition together.

Team USA earned a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with their silver medal at the last World Equestrian Games, but the U.S. will have to ride without one of their most successful pairs. Since Verdades is the only horse Graves has ever competed internationally, Graves’ Olympic future is unknown.

View this post on Instagram

It is with both a heavy heart and a grateful mind that today, I announce the retirement of my great friend, Diddy. I've always promised that I would do my best to listen and make the right choice for him when this time came. It became clear in recent weeks that he was not going to be able to return to his usual top form in 2020. While nothing makes me happier than watching him play in his field and take him for hacks, it is still a very new and very sad realization for me that this journey has reached its end. This horse not only achieved every goal we ever set, but he fulfilled dreams that I never knew I had. Not always the easiest, it was his generous heart and incredible sense of loyalty that made him one of a kind. Every time I sit in his saddle, I continue to feel honored and humble that he allowed me to be his person. We have travelled the world together, many times over and cut our teeth at some the world's greatest competitions. While it will not be the same loading up the trailer without him, I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of my career with a stable full of young horses. I would like to express a deep love and appreciation for so many people, without whom, this horse would never had made his way to the world stage. My family, especially my mom, who selected Diddy with her keen eye and supported us even when everyone said we were crazy. My soon to be husband, Curt who is always my biggest fan and never questions my need to care for our animals. Debbie McDonald who gave us time when no one else would and believed in our ability to be great. Betsy Juliano who has been by my side through the ups and downs of this rollercoaster and made so much possible for me. Emmalie Clapp my amazing groom who always cares for my horses like her own. Our talented and dedicated team of veterinarians and farriers who kept this boy in top shape for so many years. Robert Dover, Hallye Griffin, US Equestrian and the USET for giving us the opportunity to represent the USA. Lastly, the biggest thank you to Verdades, Diddy, Diddyman, Bugs, my buddy for the joy you have brought to so many.

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