WELLINGTON, Fla.--Laura Graves, riding Verdades in their third "Friday Night Stars" competition on Feb. 24, won the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W, scoring 81.903 percent.
"Tonight he was hot, maybe hotter than he's been the past two shows, so that was a bit challenging, and we have yet to ride a completely clean freestyle this year," said Graves of Wellington, Fla. "That's definitely a focus going into March, but this horse does a fantastic job even when he's hot and maybe a little spooky. He never lets me down, and he gets really excited when he's about to go in. He knows when it's his turn, and I love that about him."
This is Graves' and Verdades' fifth score in a row of 80 percent or higher in FEI Large Tour competition.
Placing second and third to Graves in the Freestyle were her fellow 2016 Olympic teammates and bronze medalists, Kasey Perry-Glass of Wellington riding Dublet and Steffen Peters of San Diego, Calif., riding Rosamunde.
"It's so fun to have everyone back together and to see friendly faces,” said Graves. “We are all so competitive. We're all out there riding for two spots for the FEI World Cup Finals. It doesn't affect our relationships outside of that. It's amazing to have friends that can compete against each other and want the best for each other. I just wish Steffen didn't live in California."
"I WAS expecting a little bit of a nervous horse today,” said Perry-Glass. “My trainer Debbie McDonald and I have been working tirelessly on his relaxation, and he proved it tonight. All of our hard work and dedication is to that, to his happiness in the ring. He showed me tonight that he has more in him and that he loves his job. I really liked our piaffe passage tour. Everything about the test was fun for me."
"Debbie and I have been working really hard on his performance in the ring, and it just seems to get better and better," said Perry-Glass. "We are slowly getting there and I try not to pressure him too hard. He's still growing. But to win tonight, it felt good. It felt like I could finally breathe.”
"My choreography was created by Adrienne Lyle," said Perry-Glass. "She did the whole thing, and I'm so blessed to have her as a friend. Tom Hunt did my music. He is also the creator of Charlotte Dujardin's music. I've been working with him for four years now. He just wanted something very special for Dublet, and I think he nailed it."
Along with the freestyle victory, their score also puts Perry-Glass and Dublet on the road to their first FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Omaha, Neb., at the end of the month.
"I am so excited for Omaha," said Perry-Glass. "I get to hopefully go with two of my Olympic teammates, and this is my first FEI World Cup so I'm over the moon about it. It wouldn't be possible without Debbie McDonald, or my mom and husband and my dad. I'm just very lucky. I have a really good horse, and they all just make it a very positive experience for me."
"Of course Rosie still had more energy than I was hoping for, but it was controllable," said Peters. "The flying changes were better this time. There was a bit of an exuberant transition to the canter in the beginning, but what a good girl. She tried extremely hard."
Commenting on the possibility of a competition spot for the 2017 FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha, Peters said "We’ll see what happens from here. The bottom line is, those are two extremely exciting World Cup candidates. If we happen to get a wild card, in that case, 'Rosie' and I will be ready."
ARLENE PAGE of Wellington and Dr. House 2 won the FEI Grand Prix Special CDI-W on Saturday, Feb. 25, scoring 71.629 percent.
"You have to like it when you ride a good, clean test,” said Page. “I'm discovering how honest my horse is, and this is the first time I've ridden him in a CDI, so it's show time. It was a good feeling that I could count on him to do what he knows and offer to help. That's the key thing."
This was also Page's first FEI Grand Prix Special with "Housie."
"I've already discovered that the horse gets to the ring and wants to help," said Page. "He's not in any way looking to avoid doing his job. Whatever you see in the ring is a very honest reflection of where he is with his training."
Katie Poag on Zonnekoning was second with a 71.294 percent, and Canadian Jill Irving rode Arthur to third on a score of 68.059 percent.