Laura Graves: An equestrian fairytale story

Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT) December 11, 2015
Laura Graves close upLaura Graves close up
1 of 12
Laura Graves has risen from relative obscurity to one of the world's best dressage riders in a seven-year journey. Harry How/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
The American abandoned a fledgling career as a hairstylist in 2008 to pursue her dream of competing in dressage with her horse Verdades, who she spotted on a VHS video 13 years ago. Getty Images/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU
The 28-year-old believes the bond she has with her horse will be key to her success. "I feel so confident that when I ask this horse to do something, he's going to say yes. It eliminates some of my nerves because I can rely on his trust to excel in any situation I put him in." SusanJStickle/
The Dutch stallion is better known by his nickname, "Diddy." "I don't know where that came from," Graves told CNN. "He is kind of gangster, but unrelated to the rapper and music producer." Valery Hache/Getty Images/File
Graves' dedication began to pay off in 2014 as she and Diddy started to compete in international dressage events. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images/file
At the start of 2014, the pair weren't even on the ranking list of more than 700 riders, but six months later they had rocketed into the top 10. Their rise was cemented with a fifth place at the World Equestrian Games last year. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images/file
At the 2015 Pan American Games, the Florida-born rider picked up her best result to date -- gold in the team event and silver in the individual competition. Getty Images/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/file
When the horse was younger however, Graves tried to sell the Diddy. "Our sport has this live animal -- a lot of other athletes are not aware of that strain. Your horse may be nervous and that can be dangerous or can cause them to say no." Tony Parkes
Working with Verdades has been "the chance of a lifetime" says Graves. She likens her story to a fairytale -- the next chapter takes place this weekend at the U.S. national championships, which acts as a qualifying competition for the Rio 2016 Olympics. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images/file
"I'm not just going to say, 'Hopefully I can rank in the top 10 or eight,' this year, I'm really going to win," said Graves, who finished runner-up to Steffen Peters at last year's nationals. Harry How/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Graves with her first horse, named Sunny. Laura Graves
Graves, right, with her sisters and cousins at a family barbecue. Laura Graves