Laura Kraut, the Humble Star

With Zeremonie at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games
Credit : Scoopdyga

Tuesday 19 February - 10h17 | Ian Clayton

Laura Kraut, the Humble Star

True to form, American rider Laura Kraut paid tribute to her horse yesterday after this past weekend’s CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of the United States in Florida. “Confu jumped a spectacular clear round to help… secure the bronze medal,” Kraut wrote on Instagram about her 12-year-old grey gelding. And indeed, it was just the latest in a long list of flawless rides for the South Carolina native on various partners. Athlete, Olympic champion, parent, partner and teacher, Laura Kraut has reached the top of her sport with grace, humility and steely determination. Combining talent, intuition, ambition and decency, the American has established herself as one of the best show jumping riders on the planet. And in Kraut’s case, the sky seems to be no limit. Below, part 1 of a profile of Laura Kraut originally published in Grand Prix heroes magazine in September, 2017.

 - Laura Kraut, the Humble Star

Laura Kraut and Nick Skelton at the London 2012 Olympics
Credit : Scoopdyga

When Laura Kraut calls at four o’clock on a recent Monday afternoon, the 51-year-old [now 54 – ed.] show jumping star is at home, at the farm of partner Nick Skelton in Alcester, England about 15 kilometres west of William Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Three days earlier, Kraut was across the Irish Sea competing at the historic Dublin Horse Show, where the 2008 Team Olympic champion anchored the United States to victory in the CSIO 5* Longines Nations Cup qualifier on 10-year-old grey gelding Confu (Holst, Contact Me x Cambridge), lifting the prestigious Aga Khan trophy at the city’s RDS Arena.

It has been a busy Monday for the American rider. After getting back from the Irish capital around midnight, Kraut and 59-year-old Skelton, himself an Individual gold medallist in Rio last year, went to the nearby gym of Skelton’s racehorse trainer son Dan at 6:30 a.m. to work out (a five-kilometre run on the treadmill). Later in the morning, the Camden, South Carolina native rode six horses — she estimates having worked with 20,000 so far in her life. Then, at noon, it was time to pack for the upcoming Longines CSI 5* in St. Moritz and ship her horses off to Switzerland, where she will be joining them two days later. After lunch, a discussion with a visitor to the farm about a sponsorship and a few moments to look over the photos she will comment on for this article.

Over the phone, Kraut’s friendly, thoughtful personality comes through clearly — “a model professional”, as the FEI TV commentator described her in Dublin. And her good humour gives nothing away of the difficulties she has dealt with over the past week. Kraut had been feeling “terribly unwell” in the days leading up to the Nations Cup, the commentator remarked while watching her on Friday: “Three days ago, she was too ill to ride horses here, and she has just performed like that. That was something else.”

Back in England now, feeling better, Kraut confirms that the morning trip to the gym has given her some fresh energy to start the week. “We go almost every day when we’re home,” she says. “It’s nice for us to be able to come home and have a routine, and I like to do it first thing in the morning because otherwise I won’t do it. [laughs] But I think our lives are normally so not a routine that it’s nice to come back and do that.” Indeed, Kraut’s long career, like Skelton’s, has been anything but routine, apart from her consistent spot in the select group at the top of her sport. After this latest win in Ireland, U.S. Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland lauded that consistency in his comments on Kraut and teammates Lauren Hough, Lillie Keenan and Beezie Madden: “It went down to the last round, but we had riders who ride under pressure very well. All four riders were unbelievable today; they were aware of the pressure, but as great riders do, they rose to the occasion.” Continued below. 

“Cedric is like a son for me”

“Cedric is like a son for me” - Laura Kraut, the Humble Star

With Cedric at the 2015 Saut Hermès in Paris
Credit : Scoopdyga

Currently ranked 19th in the Longines world rankings [25th as of February, 2019 – ed.], Laura Kraut has been rising — soaring — to the occasion for years, including a Team silver medal at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen on Miss Independent and a Team gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong alongside Beezie Madden on Authentic, McLain Ward (Sapphire, ex-Safari van’t Merelsnest, BWP, Darco x Hedjaz) and Will Simpson (Carlsson Vom Dach, Holst, Cassini I x Grundyman). For their victory in China over Canada and Switzerland, Kraut’s partner was the small grey gelding Cedric (Holst, Chambertin x Carolus I). Cedric, she says, is “like a son” to her now. And she adds that since his retirement ceremony at Florida’s Winter Equestrian Festival earlier this year, the 19-year-old Holsteiner, owned by Margaret Duprey of Cherry Knoll Farm in Pennsylvania, has been happily relaxing with his girlfriend in a field at Alcester. Kraut visits with him every day while exercising other horses at the Warwickshire farm.

These days, Kraut mainly splits her time between Europe in the summer and the United States (Florida) from December to April, although she plans to travel to Massachusetts the following week to help her real son Bobby get settled in as he begins school at Boston College. Still, over the years, she has criss-crossed much of the rest of the planet for her sport. Calgary, Lexington, Chantilly, Lausanne, Toronto, Barcelona, Rome, London, Cannes, Sydney, Indianapolis, Valkenswaard, La Baule, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Rotterdam, Madrid, Geneva, Antwerp, Belfast, Las Vegas, and Wellington are just some of the locations where Kraut has competed (and won) in individual Grand Prix, on mounts like Cedric, Anthem (KWPN, Dutchboy x Triton), Liberty (ex- Jolinde, KWPN, Libero H x Nimmerdor), Miss Independent (ex-Okretia, KWPN, Kingston x Nimmerdor) and Simba Run (Tb, Rube the Great x Dark Star). Today, with so many far-flung CSI 5* to choose from, the well-being of her horses is more than ever paramount in her planning. “The travel for the horses can be extreme, so we try to keep it as simple as possible for them,” she says. Continued below. 

Growing up at the barn everyday

Growing up at the barn everyday - Laura Kraut, the Humble Star

Laura Kraut on Confu at the Nations Cup in February, 2019
Credit : Sportfot

In any case, amongst all these achievements it is hard to single out any one aspect of Kraut’s sporting career to date. And yet her exceptional success in team competition is worth noting. True to form, speaking of her title-clinching clear round last week in Dublin, she is quick to credit her teammates and Confu himself: “It’s always a nerve-wracking position to be in, but I felt pretty confident that he would go in and try his hardest, and if I didn’t mess it up we’d be okay. [laughs] You know, I’ve been there when Beezie has had to go in and not have a fence down or a time fault; I think for me to have a fence in hand was not so bad…”

This habit of Kraut’s to highlight the contributions of others extends to those who have been instrumental in shaping her development as an athlete, starting with her mother, whose passion for horses was transmitted to her daughters at an early age. In 2009, Carol Kent described in an article for Progressive Show Jumping how Laura and Mary Elizabeth were intensely dedicated to equestrian sports as kids: “There were no cheerleading or no extracurricular school activities for the girls,” she recalled. “It was to the barn each and every day… and I mean every day. The positive result, however, is the fact that they both became riders.” Hall of Fame show jumper and longtime friend Katie Monahan Prudent later played a major role in pushing Kraut’s career to another level, encouraging her to go to Europe and to believe in her Olympic potential.

In fact, Kraut stated in 2013 that Prudent had been the “most influential person” in her professional career. But that distinction does not diminish the impact of others like George H. Morris, the former Chef d’Equipe for the U.S. Show Jumping team. While she was disappointed to not participate in the 2012 London Olympics as a result of the U.S. Trials selection process, which also blocked Ward from riding Sapphire and Madden from riding Simon (KWPN, Mr. Blue x Polydox), Kraut says Morris was a “wonderful” coach and mentor overall. “I just had so much confidence in him,” she explains. “His decisions were always thoughtful, and sometimes we wouldn’t always understand what he was thinking or doing but when it would all work out, you would say, ‘Gosh, he’s a genius. How did he know to do this?’. I still admire him greatly, and miss him because it was fun to always have him with us at the shows.” Stay tuned for part 2 of the profile.

Further reading...