The USA’s number-one dressage combination Laura Graves and Verdades proved their prowess beyond doubt with an astonishing performance in the Grand Prix Freestyle CDIW, presented by U.S. Trust & Bank of America Merrill Lynch. They scored 84.975% during “Friday Night Stars” under the floodlights in week eight’s headline class of the 2018 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, Florida. It is the highest score ever achieved at AGDF.

Second-placed Adrienne Lyle rode Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Juliano’s Salvino to another record: the highest score in her long international career, 78.275%. She rode to music made for her former top ride, Wizard. Juan Matute Guimon put a couple of glitches aside to log 73.8%, good enough for third on his father’s Don Diego Ymas, by Don Frederico. The 20-year-old Spanish rider became a U.S. citizen two weeks ago; he’ll remain riding for Spain in 2018 before deciding whether to switch nationalities for competitive purposes.

Graves has now performed an extraordinary ‘triple double’ on the 16-year-old son of Florett As, having won both the grand prix and freestyle classes in all three weeks they have competed at AGDF this season. It came close to Graves’ best ever score of 85.307%, achieved to stand reserve champion at the FEI World Cup Final in April 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska.

“It was fun to come out every ride and have some new things to talk about with my coach Debbie McDonald,” said Graves, who is ranked number four in the world. “I had some brilliant lightbulb moments for myself with my own riding tonight, which is super exciting. We don’t go in there just to tack on miles; there’s always a purpose, and tonight was no different.”

Graves is “groom-less” for the week, so her fellow team bronze medalist from the Rio Olympics, Kasey Perry-Glass, has been helping and was awarded the $500 grooms’ award from Adequan®.

Graves has fully embraced the FEI’s new degree of difficulty calculating system, and her test leveraged the degree of difficulty score to the max. It included four double pirouettes linked together by huge tempi changes straight down the center line. If it weren’t for a spook near the judge at C just after one of the pirouettes, the score would have been even higher.

“I’m still learning to ride this horse when he’s as hot as he is,” said Graves. “He’s super duper hot in this atmosphere and it’s a bigger atmosphere than some of the indoor shows. And when we do three shows here under the lights, the structure and repetitiveness really gets him fired up. It gives me a lot to work with, but I always embrace difficult experiences because it puts me a little ahead of the game for next time, hopefully.”

Praiseworthy Standard of Riding

Lyle was returning to the AGDF’s “Friday Night Stars” for the first time in four years — the last time she rode Wizard on the circuit. “I was dying to get back out there,” she said. “It was Salvino’s first time under the lights doing a freestyle, so that’s a big unknown, but I was completely thrilled with how he handled everything — he was probably even more relaxed and easy going than in the [grand prix] test. I wanted to give him a good experience, give him confidence, and make it something he’d enjoy in the future. I think we accomplished that.”

Matute Guimon’s bold riding — he began with an extended canter down the center line straight out of the first halt — was richly rewarded, despite a few sticky moments in the piaffe.

“I was surprised and happy with the score and placing; it was quite an electric test,” he admitted. “But it felt fresh and active with a lot of expression, and it was a goal to add more impulsion and competitive attitude. We were really trying to go for it.”

On the question of which flag to ride under, he added: “It’s a huge, emotional decision that will determine the future of my career. It’s very difficult because I love Spain and am very attached to it, but at the same time I did grow up here and have actually lived in the U.S more than half my life and have been given so many opportunities here.”

Judge at C Anne Gribbons praised the standard of riding, and the winner in particular: “I was very proud of the two American horses and I think they were outstanding,” she said. “In Verdades’ first two movements he was tense, but then he was ‘on’. I think this was probably Laura’s best freestyle overall; in the piaffe the horse got it together, he sat down and really did a good job. And Salvino is amazing for being so green. He’s very calm and happy in his skin. This is very promising for the team to have these horses.”

The class was the final FEI World Cup qualifier in North America, and confirms qualification for both Graves and Shelly Francis. The Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz has secured the spot for non-league riders.

Graves and Verdades can next be seen in public during week 12 of the AGDF, when they will give a demo of their spectacularly technical freestyle. Lyle and Salvino are working on a new arrangement with Terry Gallo, who is also responsible for Graves’ music. If it is ready, Lyle will debut the new routine in competition in week 12.

The iconic Palm Beach Dressage Derby exhibition class, presented by Yeguada de Ymas, culminated during the break in the freestyle. Germany’s Christoph Koschel, the defending champion, retained his title. The senior team championships medalist has achieved the remarkable feat of not only successfully defending his Palm Beach Dressage Derby trophy, to his list of Derby wins that include the Hamburg and Munich classes, too.

The king of Derby classes: Germany’s Christoph Koschel retains his title in the Palm Beach Dressage Derby contest.
“It was challenging and a lot of fun,” he said of his ride in the final on Fausto, a 10-year-old bay gelding by Fidertanz normally ridden by Karen Pavicic. Both Koschel and Canada’s Brittany Fraser made it through to the final in the afternoon’s head-to-head knockout-style contest, beating Juan Matute Guimon and Olivia LaGoy-Weltz (USA) in the process. In all rounds, riders have just five minutes to familiarize themselves with an unknown horse before they perform a prix st georges test.

“This is what horse sport is about,” added Koschel, whose 66.588% edged out Fraser’s 65.206%. “It’s a very short period of time to build a partnership, but it’s great for the audience to watch. We need more classes like this to help make the sport exciting and accessible. I really liked the horse even though he was spooky to start with. And if I rode him again, I’d definitely choose smaller spurs as he was more sensitive than I was expecting!”

Canada’s Dvorak 2nd in Intermediate I

In the Intermediate I CDI3* class, presented by ProElite®, the top two from yesterday’s Prix St Georges contest were reversed, with victory on this occasion going to the USA’s Jan Ebeling on Sergio Leone with 68.529%. Canada’s Tom Dvorak was just 0.19% behind on Cyrus.

Ebeling has been competing Sergio Leone less than a year, and they have a dozen FEI small tour results to their name. He is owned by Ann Romney, who also owned Ebeling’s Olympic ride Rafalca. This was the 10-year-old Sir Donnerhall x Stedinger son’s second international win.

In the FEI Prix St Georges CDI1*, only one combination breached the 70% tidemark; Spain’s Pablo Gomez Molina rode the Yeguada de Ymas’ 10-year-old mare Finest Ymas, a Westfalian by For Compliment, to 70.245%. This was their first ever CDI class. Another European rider, Germany’s Michael Klimke, filled second with 68.824% on Harmony Sporthorses’ Harmony’s Diabolo, who is just eight years old. The son of Kristina Sprehe’s Olympic stallion Desperados was performing only his third FEI test. The top American, Tina Konyot, finished third on Diamantino II, who is also by Desperados. They scored 68.382%.

Gomez Molina, 24, said: “I’m so proud to hear the national anthem and so happy with ‘Fifi’. It was our first CDI and what better way too start than with a win?”

Action in week eight — Palm Beach Derby week — of the 2018 AGDF continues on Saturday with a full schedule of seven CDI classes, including the highlight class, the Grand Prix Special CDI3*, presented by Peacock Ridge. The AGDF runs through March 31. For more information and results, visit

FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDIW
1. Laura Graves (USA), Verdades 84.975%.
2. Adrienne Lyle (USA), Salvino 78.275%.
3. Juan Matute Guimon (ESP), Don Diego Ymas 73.8%.
4. Ashley Holzer (USA), Radond 73.25%.
5. Chase Hickok (USA), Sagacious HF 72.36%.
6. Yvonne Losos de Muñiz (DOM), Aquamarijn 71.145%.
7. Sahar Daniel Hirosh (ISR), Whitman 67.375%.
8. Ariana Chia (CAN), Teo 66.385%.