Ride of Your Life

Vet­eran show jumper Laura Kraut re­flects on her suc­cess­ful ca­reer and how she rose to the top of the sport.

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Tri­cia Con­a­han

PH

What are some words that de­scribe what show jump­ing means to you?

LK

Com­pet­i­tive­ness. Thrill. Joy. Pride.

PH

Have those feel­ings changed for you over the years?

LK

For sure those feel­ings have changed. The anx­i­ety and the ner­vous­ness—the ap­pre­hen­sion that I felt when I was first jump­ing against the best rid­ers in the world—go away as your con­fi­dence in­creases. But I still feel the same ex­cite­ment about go­ing in the jump-off at Aachen or any of those

top shows. It’s the same thrill of be­ing at a show the first day, get­ting ready to com­pete, watch­ing other horses and go­ing in the ring.

PH

When did you re­al­ize you would be suc­cess­ful?

LK

I never wor­ried about be­ing suc­cess­ful be­cause in this sport if you base suc­cess on your vic­to­ries you will be dis­ap­pointed. The win ra­tio is very low in the jumpers. You are lucky to win one in 20 classes at the up­per level. So you base your suc­cess on your horses, their progress and your own feel­ing of how you are rid­ing.

PH

To what do you at­tribute your suc­cess?

LK

De­ter­mi­na­tion. I never doubted where I was go­ing. I wasn’t sure when I was go­ing to get there and I wasn’t be­ing cocky or ar­ro­gant. But it just never en­tered my mind that I wouldn’t do this.

Also, I’ve never ever been one to have a tem­per, par­tic­u­larly with the horses. I think that is very im­por­tant when com- pet­ing and train­ing young horses. You have to stay very level. I don’t have a lot of big highs, no lows. I like to stay some­where in the mid­dle. When I win the big class, I am happy and ex­cited, not over the moon. When I have a bad round, I don’t go home and bury my head in the sand. I just think what I am go­ing to do to fix it.

PH

What is the most im­por­tant thing you have learned about your­self over the years?

LK

Prob­a­bly that I have the abil­ity to phase out all that is go­ing on around me. When some­thing im­por­tant is hap­pen­ing, like a Na­tions Cup or the Olympics, I don’t get hor­rif­i­cally ner­vous. For what­ever rea­son, I am able to fo­cus and go in and get the job done.

PH

What was the hard­est part of this sport for you?

LK

I’ve al­ways en­joyed peo­ple, but I was shy when I was young. One of the hard things to learn to do is go sell your­self, be out there, be tough. As a woman in this sport you are deal­ing with a lot of men, es­pe­cially in Europe. I had to over­come my ba­sic shy­ness. I am one of those peo­ple who would rather not cause a con­flict. I would rather have the prob­lem than some­one else. But in the end, that is not very use­ful in busi­ness. I have had to learn to be a bit of a tougher per­son. I still work on that be­cause it doesn’t come nat­u­rally to me.

PH

What is your fitness rou­tine?

LK

In Florida, I work out with a per­sonal trainer three days a week. In Europe, I work out in the gym pretty much ev­ery day. The sched­ule in Europe is less gru­el­ing, as there are fewer hours that I am at the show. I run, I do el­lipti- cal, I bike, do weights, ev­ery­thing. I like it even though there are times when I have to make my­self do it. As you get older, it be­comes more and more dif­fi­cult to bounce back if you have a fall. Your body doesn’t re­act the same. So if you stay good and fit, hope­fully the wis­dom you get with age out­rides the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in your body!

PH

When you dis­cov­ered Cedric in Bel­gium in 2005, why did you de­cide to buy him?

LK

Hon­estly, I didn’t know he would be as spe­cial as he was. I loved the way he jumped. I got on him and I didn’t do more than 20 jumps. There was some­thing about him I liked and I said I would buy him. I didn’t know he would go to the Olympics.

Cedric was a very spooky, very scared horse. He had a huge heart and could be very brave, but some­times his brav­ery would fall by the way­side. He was afraid of walls and water. He had a lot of is­sues. I wasn’t sure he would over­come that to be­come a top in­ter­na­tional horse and yet he did. He even­tu­ally started to set­tle in and be­came about 85 per­cent de­pend­able. It took eight years. Even up to the end, when he was 19, he was still tricky to ride.

PH

Cedric re­tired from com­pe­ti­tion last year. Do you still ride him?

LK

Ab­so­lutely not! He’s en­joy­ing his life in the field with his friends, in­clud­ing Lau­ren Hough’s Quick Study.

PH

What makes you a good leader in this in­dus­try?

LK

I am not afraid to speak my mind. If I re­ally be­lieve in some­thing, I say it and peo­ple know I ac­tu­ally mean it. When I teach the kids, I try to al­ways

put a pos­i­tive light on it, but I am go­ing to tell them what I think they’ve done wrong. Most of the stu­dents ap­pre­ci­ate that.

PH

What one thing would you change about your­self?

LK

I would tell my­self to not worry so much. I am a big wor­rier, but I’m get­ting bet­ter. I used to worry about things that I had no con­trol over. Now I try to worry less. I worry about what I can do some­thing about and not all the rest.

PH

Did be­com­ing a mother im­pact your ca­reer?

LK

It def­i­nitely changed me be­cause un­til then all I had ever done is eat, sleep and breathe horses. Then sud­denly I had some­thing else to put my mind on. Iron­i­cally, about the time Bobby was born and then turn­ing 1, that was when my ca­reer made a piv­otal turn. Was that a co­in­ci­dence? I don’t re­mem­ber a day when I had a rev­e­la­tion that hav­ing my son had helped me, but through the years, as he was grow­ing up, we were jug­gling hav­ing a son, his go­ing to school and me go­ing to Europe. He was ob­vi­ously my num­ber one pri­or­ity and maybe that helped me be a bit calmer and more grounded about the com­pe­ti­tion.

I do think he changed my life and al­ways for the bet­ter.

PH

How does it feel to win at the top of this sport?

LK

It’s al­ways fun. And there are mo­ments of pure ela­tion: You had to go in and set a blis­ter­ing time to beat some­one, and you pull it off. Or it’s your last chance to make a team, and you go in and get it done. It’s win­ning a Na­tions Cup, be­ing part of a team and all pulling to­gether. It’s why we all do this sport.

PH

How tough is it to lose?

LK

If you are go­ing to be in this sport, you need to be bet­ter at los­ing than win­ning. Some­times you want to kick your­self for about an hour. But you just need to think: “I should have done this. Next time I am go­ing to do that.” I try to put los­ing in the closet as quickly as pos­si­ble.

PH

How do you con­tinue to learn?

LK

I am 52, I have rid­den ev­ery day from the time I was 5 or 6 years old. I’ve been rid­ing for more than 45 years. On oc­ca­sion, train­ers Katie and Henry Pru­dent come and give me a burst of en­ergy and new ideas. A new horse in­spires you. I find there are lots of rea­sons to stay ex­cited.

I am also for­tu­nate to be based part of the year in Europe. I am sur­rounded by a lot of dif­fer­ent rid­ers all the time. I am al­ways study­ing and watch­ing. A lot of the rid­ers at the top level are very happy to ex­change ideas. It’s kind of a big fam­ily of rid­ers. Ev­ery­one is al­ways learn­ing and lis­ten­ing. There is tremen­dous ca­ma­raderie among the rid­ers. In that way it keeps it fresh.

PH

What have you learned in your ca­reer that you would share with young pro­fes­sion­als?

LK

I knew from the be­gin­ning what I was do­ing for the rest of my life. I’m part of a small per­cent­age of peo­ple who can say that. So I be­lieve that if you know what you want, if you are lucky enough to have a pas­sion, then work as hard as you can and don’t give up.

PH

Is there a quote or say­ing that par­tic­u­larly speaks to you?

LK

Nick Skel­ton has had many vic­to­ries and many losses. He has been in this in­dus­try for so long and has had the same ups and downs we all have. When I have had a bad day, we talk about it for a minute. And then he will just say, “Never mind.” And that puts it back to the im­por­tance that the event was sup­posed to have. That is Nick’s ap­proach and I try to live by it.

Laura Kraut and Cedric com­pete at the Devon Horse Show in 2012.

Laura shows as a ju­nior aboard the pony Plain and Fancy.

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