CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Starting at an early age, Laura Graves saw her passion for horses all the way to the 2016 Olympic stage where she won a bronze medal, the moment she “truly made it.”

Laura Graves’s passion for horses started when she was a young girl who spent hours after school working with a pony. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 29-year-old won a bronze medal as part of the USA’s dressage team — the crowning achievement in an equestrian career built on hard work, commitment and some sacrifice.  

A parent’s role

Like many girls, Laura played soccer and other sports, but horses were her passion. Her parents were not riders themselves, and she credits them for providing the opportunity to explore her interest.

“It’s easy to want your daughter to dance or do the sport you did, but if she has the drive to do something else, the best thing a parent can do is nurture that interest, even if it means learning something yourself.”

The cost of success

“…it is empowering to take gender out of the equation, since physical strength doesn’t necessarily make you better in equestrian.”

Dressage is expensive and requires a considerable amount of time and effort to reach and remain at the top. Laura says at times she feels like there is a lot of sacrifice involved with chasing your dream. “When you become obsessed with how to achieve your goals, it can weigh on the people closest to you.”

At the same time, though, she says, “It’s just not a choice for me.” The feeling of having truly made it when she won that Olympic medal was overwhelmingly rewarding.

Confidence and the gender gap

Unlike every other Olympic sport, men and women compete together in equestrian. The number one ranked rider is a woman, and both genders participate as equals in every aspect of the sport. Laura says it is empowering to take gender out of the equation, since physical strength doesn’t necessarily make you better in equestrian. 

It’s a sense of equality that makes its way into her in everyday life. “I am accustomed to being an equal, and there isn’t anything in me anymore that makes me hesitate in how I speak to others.”

She says that kind of confidence can be shocking to some, but advocates for other young women to stand up for themselves. “We all have a competitive edge inside of us. You should be fair, follow the rules and do your best, but you should never apologize for being good at what you do.”

Photo: Courtesy of Shannon Brinkman Photo/US Equestrian