Laura Graves accepted her 2018 USEF Equestrian of the Year award last night in her typical mild and poised manner, but it didn't stop one thing she said from jumping out at me. It's a truth that so many of us relate to, whether we're struggling to complete our first three-foot course at a show or have a WEG silver medal hanging around our necks like Laura.
"I come from a family of athletes, and it wasn’t until I settled into equestrian sport that I really became comfortable with myself," she said. "If it weren’t for the family I found in equestrian sport, I would be just an uncoordinated, awkward girl without very many friends.
"So thank you all for being my friends."
If that's not the perfect embodiment of what equestrian sports are supposed to do for us, I don't know what is. It's a humbling reminder that we all started in bunched up jodhpurs and ill-fitting show shirts, looking down slyly to ensure we were posting on the correct diagonal. Then, a few years later, being pegged as the token "horse girl" in high school and silently debating on whether to embrace such a title or hide that embarrassing passion altogether. And finally merging into adulthood, when friends aren't automatically gifted to you by way of a university class and making career decisions revolves around the secret but burning question, "How will I ride?"
Horses are with us through every awkward, scary, transformative time in our lives – and that's a gift. The bonus? When you become an equestrian, you get an entire supportive community that shares the same (once embarrassing) obsession that you do. It's nice to be reminded that when life becomes turbulent, "home base" is only as far as the nearest four walls of a barn, especially when that reminder comes from someone who could easily parade around as a fierce competitor. That's why my heart sang when Laura (who, with Verdades, was voted 2018 NoelleFloyd.com Dressage Horse and Rider of the Year) kept it real. Fear not, riders. Even Laura Graves has felt like the awkward, uncertain girl.
"There are so many people who make this world turn for me, many who are here tonight: I have my amazing family, Betsy Juliano, Debbie McDonald, my amazing teammates, my vets and farriers. But it’s honestly a bigger community than my little world that turns. It’s all of you who are members, all of you who support equestrian sport, whether it be dressage, jumping, or whatever your sport is, our connection to the horse unites us all,” Laura said in her acceptance speech.
“Murray [Kessler, USEF President] keeps saying, ‘Well, we shouldn’t be surprised’, but honestly I had no idea this was coming, so I am surprised. Thank you to everyone. Today especially is important to me, a big reminder tonight of why I do this and how thankful I am for my horse.”
It's no surprise to us, either. Here's to the uncoordinated, awkward horse girls everywhere.
Photo by Taylor Pence/US Equestrian.
Read more about Laura and Verdades' incredible year.
Feature photo by Sportfot.