WELLINGTON, Fla.--Laura Graves and Verdades posted the best score ever given at the Global Dressage Festival, 84.675, to win the FEI World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle on Jan. 26, following up their win in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix the day before.
The Festival is an annual 12-week dressage circuit at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.
Graves, riding Verdades, had ensured an electric start to week three of the Festival, winning the Grand Prix on a score of 79.63 percent on Jan. 25.
The score would have been over 80 percent, achieved twice by them in this test at the 2017 AGDF, but for a leap into canter from passage just before the final halt.
Graves’ riding received nines from all five judges, and the 16-year-old gelding by Florett As was bursting with energy.
“This is my first show out this season,” said Graves, 30. “I was super pleased with my horse, so for the first time back in almost six months to pick up where we left off, and I think maybe improving some things, is just fantastic.”
“I normally wait until the last show of the season to try something new, but this year I decided to try it at the first show," said Graves. "‘Diddy’ gets so hot on the final center line, so I tried bringing him back a little more, but he got even hotter, and when I touched him with my leg he over-reacted.”
GRAVES AND Verdades, who was the 2017 Adequan®/USDF Grand Prix Horse of the Year , are fourth in the world rankings ,and Graves is aiming for the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in April and the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon in September.
“It’s amazing to see two full grand prix going here today, and really impressive to see so many Americans scoring well," said Graves. "Everyone has our eyes on Tryon and another team medal.”
Graves’ coach Debbie MacDonald had another of her students, Adrienne Lyle, riding Salvino, win the FEI CDI3* Grand Prix on the same day.
Not only did the 11-year-old Salvino post a new international grand prix high score of 74.543 percent at just his fourth CDI under Lyle, but Lyle also logged a new career best CDI grand prix score.
She was awarded a nine for the final halt and for her riding from judge Janet Foy of the USA.
Salvino was found in Spain, and his only FEI records before teaming up with Lyle were in young horse classes.
“We hadn’t been in the ring since Aachen [in July],” said Lyle. “We’ve been home in Idaho and then training down here. We debated a little about doing a national show as I felt it had been a long time out of the ring, but so far he’s been really good. He’s solid in his mind that way. He got a little hot going around the ring, but in a good way."
“I was really pleased with his energy and his effort ,and we’re getting to a place now where he can maintain the whole package reliably,” said Lyle. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever sat on quality-wise. He’s got an incredible ability to collect but can also relax; he’s got all the parts you need. If he understands what you want, he does it for you every single time.
Lyle and Salvino will compete in the CDI5* show on Feb. 8-11, and Lyle is creating a new freestyle routine, with the year’s major competition aim being the WEG on home soil.
FOR HER win in the Freestyle the next day, Graves rode a test that is complex and includes a passage half-pass, two-time changes on a curve melting into one-times and ultra-steep trot half-passes.
“He is such a hot horse that I rode him three times today,” said Graves. “We brought him out at lunch time, and with the wind he was a little crazy ,and we were a little concerned as we know what he can be like. But I am excited about this score — and the score from the grand prix.”
Graves created the test, which carries a high degree of difficulty, for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy when she was unexpectedly selected.
“I was thrown into the fish tank that year, so I studied all the other riders’ floorplans," said Graves. "And the music comes from Rudy, a football movie about an underdog kid.”
Although this was their third highest score ever, Graves will be altering the test ahead of the CDI5* AGDF show on Feb. 8-11.
“He’s such a clever horse that he guesses what’s going to happen, which is why we’re going to change it,” she said.
The order of finish was the same as the previous day’s grand prix: Sweden’s seven-time Olympian Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén was second on Paridon Magi with 79.05 percent, while home rider Shelly Francis rode the improving 14-year-old Danilo to third place with 76.15 percent.
Vilhelmson Silfvén had to ride in one of the rain squalls that passed over.
“Magi felt extremely electric, and it’s hard to ride outside when there’s a lot of wind," said Vilhelmson Silfvén. "The rain is okay, but generally the test felt really good. He’s a fun horse to ride in the freestyle because you can do difficult things on him.”
“I’m so happy with my horse," said Francis. "He’s getting much more honest in there. He’s hot, but he’s now using the hot to come to work with me. We had a little mistake in the one tempis, but he came right back to me.”
All three riders are aiming to qualify for the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Paris in April and, ultimately, WEG in Tryon in September.
American judge Janet Foy, who was presiding from C, said: “Two of us judges here are also judging at the World Cup final, plus we’ve done other qualifiers in Europe, and these top three rides were wonderful and would fit right in in Paris.”
Heather Blitz riding Praestemarkens Quatero won the Prix St Georges CDI3* class, adding to their two small tour wins in week one of the Festival.
In this class, Blitz was the only rider to crack 70 percent, scoring 70.324 percent on her own 9-year-old Danish warmblood by Quaterback.
The combination has six wins from their seven CDI small tour starts.