Part 2: Laura Kraut, the humble star

Laura Kraut and Anthem in La Baule, France in 2004
Credit : Scoopdyga

Wednesday 20 February - 09h15 | Ian Clayton

Part 2: Laura Kraut, the humble star

Today, part 2 of Grand Prix's profile of American show jumper Laura Kraut. 

“I really love teaching”

“I really love teaching” - Part 2: Laura Kraut, the humble star

Jessica Springsteen and Laura Kraut at Longines Masters of Los Angeles in 2014
Credit : Scoopdyga

Kraut’s connection with her mentor [George Morris, see part 1 here]. continues in other ways. On January 7, 2017, for example, she led a clinic called ‘Nations Cup Instruction’ as part of the USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Florida. As part of the clinic, the veteran competitor analysed the technique of 12 developing riders being coached by Beezie Madden, Anne Kursinski and Lauren Hough in a mock Nations Cup.

As reported, Kraut also gave them general advice distilled from her years of experience in pressure-packed situations. Amongst the various tips: 1) “Put pressure on yourself to get rid of time faults early. Don’t be slow from fence one to two. Even if the jumps are well ridden, the time can be a killer in a Nations Cup, and that can mean the difference between winning and losing.” 2) “Don’t ride your way into a problem. Recognize it and fix it, handle it when you can make the correction before it’s too late.” 3) “Circling is never an option unless death is staring you in the face. Do not circle in front of a fence. Do not circle ever, ever.”

As the Florida clinic demonstrates, teaching is an essential part of who Laura Kraut is. As opposed to Nick Skelton, who draws a distinction between coaching and teaching, and in any case leans toward training horses more than riders — “Laura does all that, I’m not a teacher,” he told The Horse Magazine — Kraut has made teaching an integral part of her career, including for high-profile students like fellow CSI 5* rider Jessica Springsteen, who counts both Kraut and Skelton among her personal heroes. “What draws me to it,” Kraut says, “is if you see the desire or the ambition in someone that I had when I was young, I want to be able to help them and give them the shortcuts that will help them get there quicker. I really love it. Teaching is hard — I’m never worried for them physically, I’m worried that they’re not going to achieve the success that they want. So it’s learning how to deal with their disappointment. The actual teaching them the technical parts of it is very easy. It’s the personal part, the personality and emotions which is the hard part. I’m very competitive, and sometimes I find that I want them to win more than they do.” Continued below.

Thoughts on how to reach the top of the sport

Thoughts on how to reach the top of the sport - Part 2: Laura Kraut, the humble star

McLain Ward, Adrienne Sternlicht, Laura Kraut and Devin Ryan at 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games
Credit : Scoopdyga

And so how can an up-and-coming show jumping rider break into the long-established group at the top of the global rankings? “I think to break into any elite group, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time,” she says. “And so it is difficult, and part of why it is difficult is because people like Nick and John Whitaker and others keep going, so they’re still taking up the slots, they’re still taking up the horses. So young people are having to scrap and find horses and owners and compete against these people that have a lot of experience. The upside to that is somebody like Lorenzo de Luca — he’s fast as lightning. The older riders will have to work really hard to beat him… He’s young and fearless and doesn’t have any body pain. [laughs] So it’s difficult but not impossible. You have to have an enormous amount of talent, but that’s only maybe 25 per cent of it, because you also have to be a people person and be able to organize owners and sponsors and students, and you’ve got to be a good manager of your horses and recognize what’s a good horse and what isn’t. There’s just so much to it…”

Kraut has also thought about what is next for her sport, particularly following the debate about the Olympic competition format change [reducing the number of riders on teams at the Olympic Games with the goal of broadening access to more nations]. “Over the last five years, the sport has just grown and grown and grown,” she observes. “I think that it would be a real pity to lose the Olympics… That being said, if we are eventually dropped I think the sport will definitely survive. It’s getting bigger and bigger, and more and more popular, and it would be a blow but we’d move on…. The important thing is that people remember that it’s not all about the money. [laughs] It’s great that we have a lot of money in our sport now, but I also think you have to remember that they’re horses and they don’t know how much money they’re winning every week, so that’d be my question: whether people are able to manage the amount of competitions and the amount of money being given, and also keep their horses sound and happy.” Continued below.

Age not a limit

Age not a limit - Part 2: Laura Kraut, the humble star

With Taylor Alexander and U.S. chef d'equipe Robert Ridland at 2018 Paris Longines Masters
Credit : Scoopdyga

As our conversation draws to a close, and given the hectic few days she has had, Laura Kraut could be forgiven for not thinking much beyond what is for dinner. But she does offer a hint about the possibilities for her own future as an athlete. “The beauty of our sport is that there’s not an age limit really. You know, whereas in gymnastics it can be over and done by the time you’re 24, at least we have until 50 or 60 years old…” And with the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Paris and World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina in 2018, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, and everything in between, the field is definitely wide open for her, whatever she decides to do.

To watch Laura Kraut and Confu at the 2017 CSIO5* Nations Cup, see here. 

Further reading...