It was 6:30 on a Saturday morning when I heard a gentle knock on the door. The damp Florida breeze poured in as I opened the door to see a bleary-eyed Laura Graves, clutching a cup of coffee with a sweet smile and a soft “good morning”.
Laura had only gone to bed a few hours ago. The night before, she’d qualified for the World Cup in Gothenburg on Verdades, “and by the time I took care of him, got home, and cooked dinner, it was already 1 a.m.” And yet here she was, not a complaint to be heard, ready to give it her all yet again – this time for the cover shoot of this NOËLLE FLOYD Magazine.
“Most professional models wouldn’t show up with that amount of sleep!” our photographer, Pooya Nabei, laughed, but I knew better. This woman is relentless. She has clawed her way up to the top of an elite (and sometimes elitist), expensive sport since quitting her job as a hairdresser to pursue dressage full time. She is the spirit of so many women who refuse to back down, continue to show up, and fight to make a face and a name for themselves in every aspect of their lives: at work, at home, in society, as mothers, as friends, as athletes, as entrepreneurs.
As Laura nursed her morning coffee under the nimble hands of the makeup artist, we chatted quietly and warmly like old friends – she asks me about producing the magazine and about an upcoming out of state move, and I ask her about the realities of having been the number one dressage rider in the world in 2018. How does that affect your daily life – or does it? For Laura, it means not being able to go to the grocery store in Wellington without running into someone who wants something from you. It means making the flight with your horse in a few weeks’ time from Miami to Gothenburg because nobody can take better care of your horse than you can. It means that as soon as you leave this photoshoot, you go back to your home farm and ride a couple more horses before the sun goes down.
But don’t misunderstand; Laura was not complaining. There is nothing about this confident, genuine woman’s demeanor that indicates she feels sorry for herself. Like so many of us have experienced in our own lives, she’s fought just to be here and be taken seriously – so she wouldn’t spend an ounce of energy complaining about the expectations that come as a result of the achievements she’s earned with ‘Diddy’.
But as Laura and I chatted, I realized that her success hasn’t necessarily afforded her much job security. Laura might be the best in the business, but her work isn’t over. I’m sure that I am not the only person surprised to learn that there isn’t a line out the door of people wanting to buy horses for Laura Graves. She’s still struggling with what comes next, and Laura’s brave enough to admit that she’s scared.
Laura has the same worries about her future that I have, that you have, that all women looking to excel in their careers have. How will she afford to continue on? Where does her boyfriend fit in? Will kids derail her career? What does she really want? Is happiness the same as success?
Whether you’re Laura Graves or an amateur rider who struggles to ride twice a week while balancing your kids, your job, your family, and your sanity, these questions linger. The insecurity that you’re doing enough, saying enough, and being enough are a constant, silent weight. But they don’t have to be silent – we can start a conversation. If Laura can admit her insecurities, so can I. The financial, mental, and physical demands this sport places on all of us makes no sense on paper. It’s borderline crazy.
But remember the Nike commercial that went viral just a few months ago? “Show them what crazy can do,” it said to millions of women. Stories like Laura’s – that of overwhelming uncertainty coupled with a fighting spirit – are the ones that count the most when it comes to building a community of women who hoist each other up, cheer each other on, and say, ‘Watch her do this’.
In the latest issue of NOËLLE FLOYD Magazine, we explore what makes Laura, Laura — an incredible athlete full of strength and uncertainty and grace and humility. What comes next after her only FEI partner retires? The truth may surprise you.
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Feature photo by Kristina Bennett.