8 Ways Dressage Rider Laura Graves Proves You Don’t Need a Big Team Behind You to Do Big Things

Laura Graves, a DTO featured trainer, is a modern day Cinderella story of sorts. Actually, her story is Cinderellaish, as is her demeanor. Cinderella was just a regular girl who turned into a princess without losing her humility and kindness. She is one of us.

In an era where the concept of hard work is often thought to be lost on today’s equestrian talent, it’s refreshing to see a rider who is notorious for doing all of her own barn work and horse care. If dedication in all aspects of your craft is the mark of a true professional, then 2016 Rio Olympic Games team dressage bronze medalist Laura Graves fits the bill to a T.

Laura and the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood Verdades claimed their second victory of the 2017 season in the pair’s first competition since Rio, with a win during Thursday’s FEI Grand Prix CDI-W presented by Yeguada de Ymas, as well as during the “Friday Night Stars” FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival on Friday, January 27th. Not only did Laura top Friday’s leaderboard with a score of 80.72 percent, but she also received Friday’s Owner and Groom award.

Laura is used to wearing the hat of owner, groom, and rider and—more often than not—all at the same time. She attributes her impressive work ethic to her extreme Type-A personality, adding that she likes to do most things herself.

Laura didn’t have the financial support of sponsors in the beginning of her career, so she made the most of the opportunities she had, including taking the chance to develop a horse that many deemed to be too unmanageable and too unpredictable to train for the top levels. At the start of 2014, the duo wasn’t even ranked in the top 700. Six months later, Laura and Verdades found themselves among the top 10 horse and riders in the world after a 5th place finish at the World Equestrian Games that same year.

It’s been a difficult road, but the time Laura dedicated to learning “Diddy” inside and out has resulted in a whirlwind seven-year journey that captured the heart of a nation and witnessed the rise of one of the world’s leading dressage combinations.

In an interview with CNN, Graves compared her journey with Diddy to a fairy-tale. “I was Cinderella and all it takes is Prince Charming to turn your whole life around. I’ve always had my Prince Charming—just maybe he was a frog for a while. But I think it’s important to remember how hard Cinderella worked before she caught a break.”

Read on for eight of the many ways this modern day equestrian Cinderella proves that you don’t always have to have a big team in order to accomplish big things:

1. After relocating to Florida to focus on Diddy’s development, Laura found a stable she could work at in exchange for lessons while she trained with U.S. Olympic dressage rider Debbie McDonald. (P.S. She likes to clean her own stalls!)

2. Laura told Allure magazine that her background in cosmetology helps her in multiple aspects of her day-to-day horse care. One bath time tip she lives by: Don’t wash your horse with shampoo and soap every day. Like people, too much of these products can often leave horses’ skin dry and irritated.

3. Along with cosmetology, the experience of acting as her own groom also informs the products that Laura uses on her horses. Keeping the health and quality of her horses’ coats in mind, she loves to use natural coconut oil on their muzzles.

4. She always braids her own horses’ manes and tails. However, because grooms stayed at the official Olympic venue and athletes were required to stay off-site, Rio was the first time Laura allowed a fellow team member to braid her horses.

5. As we all know, performance matters most, but an immaculately turned out horse doesn’t hurt either. Laura prides herself on her ability to clip her horses evenly and without marks.

6. It was just last year in 2016 that Laura enlisted the help of a professional groom for the first time: enter super-groom Alex Levine-Nevel.

7. After every show, Laura comes back to the barn to show her appreciation for her horses’ work by personally treating them to apples and carrots.

8. The motivation behind Laura’s approach to her career is perfectly summarized in a conversation she had with Jeff Haden of Inc. magazine: “You can see an amazing reflection of who we are as people in horses. That’s how I look at my sport and my business. You only get back what you put in.”

Photography by Erin Gilmore for Noelle Floyd and Noelle Floyd Style

Source: Ollie Williams for CNN, Seunghee Suh for Allure Magazine, and Jeff Hayden for Inc. Magazine

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