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Laura Graves, Team USA’s Top-Ranked Dressage Rider, To Miss Tokyo After Horse’s Retirement

By Chrös McDougall | Jan. 10, 2020, 4:09 p.m. (ET)

Laura Graves rides Verdades during the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final on April 6, 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Team USA will be without one of its top equestrians when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 kick off later this year. Laura Graves, a 2016 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist in team dressage who is ranked No. 7 in the world, announced this week that her horse Verdades is retiring.

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

Verdades is an 18-year-old Dutch warmblood, and he’s been with Graves, 32, for most of that time. Graves and her family discovered the horse through a video when he was just three weeks old, according to a story on the FEI website, and he arrived at her Vermont stable at 6 months old.

Initially a difficult and ill-tempered horse, Verdades was such a challenge that at one point Graves tried selling him. Instead, she gave it another shot and, under the tutelage of U.S. Olympian Debbie McDonald, they developed into one of the world’s best combinations.

Their breakout came in 2014, when they finished fifth in the grand prix freestyle at the World Equestrian Games.

They went on to win team gold and individual silver the next year at the Pan American Games in Toronto, and then were part of the bronze-medal U.S. Olympic team in Rio while placing fourth in the individual competition. The bronze medal result matched the best finish for Team USA in dressage since 1948.

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Since Rio they continued to have success, winning two silver medals at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and reaching the world No. 1 ranking. That made them the first U.S. partnership to hold that position.

With the Tokyo Games nearing, however, Graves decided not to push it.

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

Graves continued: “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.”

Though Graves will not compete in Tokyo, she’s not retiring. She said she’s “very much looking forward to the next chapter of my career with a stable full of young horses.”

The U.S., meanwhile, must fill its three-person dressage team without her. Based on the most recent rankings, the next three U.S. riders are No. 11 Kasey Perry-Glass, riding Goerklintgaards Dublet; No. 20 Adrienne Lyle with Salvino, and No. 27 Shelly Francis with Danilo.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul


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Laura Graves