Written by: Pamela Young

Having represented the US for a quarter century, Laura Kraut has done it all and shows no signs of slowing down.

Thumbnail for Full Steam Ahead: Laura Kraut

Paul Harding Lewis Harding Ltd Photo

In June, Laura Kraut clinched victory for Team USA at the fifth leg of the FEI Nations Cup series in Sopot, Poland. The 51-year-old outraced Dutch teenager Sanne Thijssen in a third-round jump-off that had spectators on the edge of their seats. It was just another day in the office for Laura, who has always been good under pressure, beginning more than two decades ago when she was the newbie on the team.

While success has been more or less constant from the days of the patriotically-named and syndicated horses Liberty and Anthem, she hit the jackpot in 2005 with the purchase of ‘wonder pony’ Cedric. One of the most popular horses since Milton, the diminutive grey with the charismatic personality won Olympic gold and over $2 million before his retirement this February.

Laura’s winning ways aren’t limited to the saddle, either – she has been an important influence on the next generation of team riders, including star pupil Jessica Springsteen. Even though her partner, Rio Olympic champion Nick Skelton, has officially retired, Laura is entertaining no such thoughts – not while she can still outpace the kids.

What is a typical day like for Laura Kraut?

We spend April to October in Europe; then the fall at St. Bride’s Farm in Virginia before basing ourselves in Wellington, Florida, for the winter. Daily, it’s six a.m. until I’m finished, Tuesday through Sunday. I’ve cut back a bit on the number of horses I’ll ride. It used to be 15 or 16 and now I’m more selective so it’s down to seven to ten. Teaching varies, too; currently I have four or five students all at 1.30m level and up. After work I try very hard to be normal. In Wellington this winter we tried the Blue Apron meal delivery service (in an effort not to eat out all the time) which was really healthy. Fortunately my sister, Mary Elizabeth, handles all the planning and details of my business so I can focus on training and competing.

How did Laura Kraut get started with horses?

My mom, Carol Kent, liked horses and looked after them herself, so we had horses around from the time I was born. My sister and I started showing in leadline classes. When I was 12, one of the stables near us needed someone to ride for them and they asked mom if I could do it. It was a great opportunity to ride some very good ponies, ones we couldn’t have afforded. Ponies evolved into horses. Once I was out of juniors and 18 I moved to Camden, South Carolina, to work with hunter/jumper trainer Rodney Bross. We literally built the farm and stables, bought and sold horses and I rode anything I could get on, mainly cheap Thoroughbreds bought off the track.

Can you identify a turning point in your career?

My breakthrough came in 1991 when Jeff Sutton offered me the ride on Simba Run. He was an incredible horse. He’s the reason I have been able to compete at the level that I have. The following year we were alternates for the Olympics. Actually making the Olympic team with Liberty for Sydney in 2000 was life-altering. I went from national level to international level overnight. I didn’t even have a passport! When I saw the competition in Europe in the run-up at all the great shows like Modena and Rotterdam, I found out where it was that I wanted to be. I had to figure out how to get a string and compete in Nations’ Cups. Anne Kursinski gave me the idea of syndicating. I sold 20 shares in Liberty. That backing allowed me to buy a different level of horse.

Were sacrifices made along the way?

Absolutely! Principally, being on the road competing and being away from my son Bobby [now 18] was tough. There was a lot of back-and-forth between me, his dad, and my mother when I was away from home. Having said that, he never knew any other way of life.

You must be ultra-competitive by nature, but is there another ingredient that gives you an edge?

You have to be able to handle adversity and not let it get you down. I’m an optimist, which is essential to survive in this business.

How would you describe your personality?

I’m pretty laid back and a little forgetful. I am moderately organized but I have wonderful people to help me be organized.

If life hadn’t taken you where it has, what other profession would you have had?

I would have gone into international law. I did two semesters at college but dropped out, because I knew I wanted a career with horses and it was a waste of money denying it.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

I’ve been so fortunate to have travelled the world and been to so many wonderful places. South Africa would be a favourite.

Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?

The northwest of my own country. I’ve never been to northern California, Washington, or Oregon, and I know it must be very beautiful.

When and where did you last go on vacation?

We went to Cabo [San Lucas] for three days in April. We did nothing but relax, play golf (in the loosest sense of the term) and read. I am a voracious reader. I love mysteries and biographies. I just finished Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood. It was written from his four wives’ perspectives. It was very good.

Do you have a health and fitness regimen?

I work out five days a week when I can. We have a personal trainer in Florida and I run. In the UK I do 45 minutes on the bike or elliptical and 30 to 40 minutes of strength training.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Pizza!

If you were given three wishes, what would you wish for?

First, the health of myself and my family; second, a private plane so I don’t have to do airports; and third, to stay at the top of the sport until I decide [to retire].

Money or medals: which is more important for Laura Kraut?

Everyone who knows me will know that I am more interested in achievement than money.

What area of your life could use improvement?

I would like to manage my time better. I seem always to be in a constant state of rushing.

If you had a life lesson to share, what would it be?

If you really want something, try not to be discouraged along the way. Don’t give up before you get started. Take the time; don’t expect instant gratification.

“Making the Olympic team with Liberty for Sydney in 2000 was life-altering. I went from national level to international level overnight. I didn’t even have a passport!”

FAST FACTS ABOUT LAURA KRAUT

Birthday: November 14, 1965

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Lives: Wellington, FL, and Warwickshire, UK

FEI World Ranking: 16

Major achievements: Team gold Beijing Olympic Games (Cedric); Team silver 2006 Aachen World Equestrian Games (Miss Independent).

World Cup Finals: 8

Current GP String:

Zeremonie, 10-yr-old grey Holsteiner mare

Cavalia, 10-yr-old grey KWPN mare

Deauville S, 11-yr-old bay Holsteiner gelding

Whitney, 14-yr-old chestnut KWPN mare

Constable II, 10-yr-old chestnut KWPN gelding