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Behind the Scenes at WEG: Laura Kraut's Dale Hailstones

October 3, 2018

 

Dale Hailstones and Zeremonie at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018

Photo by Erin Gilmore for Shannon Brinkman/U.S. Equestrian. Courtesy Dale Hailstones

 

Dale Hailstones has what one might call the “accidental dream job.” After graduating from university in the UK, he initially found himself working a job that he absolutely hated, until a friend encouraged him to contact two-time Olympic gold medalist, Equiline Rider Laura Kraut, about an opening.

 

What was supposed to be a summer job has turned into a five-year endeavor. Hailstones is now Kraut’s head show groom, and he ended the recently concluded FEI World Equestrian Games™ a part of the gold medal winning U.S. team alongside Kraut and her sensational mare Zeremonie, affectionately known as, “Moose.” The win was made even more special considering that Zeremonie’s owners, Old Willow Farms and the Heise family, were whom Hailstones groomed when he first started working for Kraut.

 

The American victory marked the first team gold for the United States in the history of the World Equestrian Games. It was also the first time the competition had to be decided in a jump-off, as the U.S. contingent prevailed in the most dramatic of finishes over Sweden. Kraut and Zeremonie were sensational on the day, jumping clear in both the final round of team competition and the jump-off.

 

“This was my first World Championship, so right off the bat, it was a surreal and exciting experience to be there and to be involved with an event like that,” Hailstones said. “To come back with gold was just mind-blowing. It’s one of those shows where you go in full of expectations and at the same time with none. You have to be happy just to have achieved and earned your spot there. To come back with the medal was just completely surreal.”

 

Hailstones gave Equiline a first-hand account of the week’s history-making events:

 

Equiline America: What was the atmosphere like during that jump-off for gold?

 

Dale Hailstones: I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so nervous in my life. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really nervous. It was very rare that it would come down to a jump-off, and it wasn’t necessarily a jump-off where you just had to be clear. The other team was also clear and very fast. The speed element got the excitement, the nerves, everything to a whole new level. I was just ecstatic when our mare jumped double clear and fast. Then having those couple of minutes of anxiety waiting for McLain to jump was just nerve-wracking, but there was no better person to go in and do it. He was just absolutely incredible.

 

I couldn’t watch. I was with [McLain’s manager] Lee [McKeever], and we were both half watching the screen and half covering our eyes with our hands. We were beside ourselves! The noise when McLain jumped double clear…we knew we had won from the reaction. Everyone around the practice ring was screaming and jumping around. It was just amazing—like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was a really special moment. I hope it happens again, but if it doesn’t, it’s definitely something I won’t ever forget.

 

The U.S. team is so, so strong. Of course, I always hoped that they would do well, but it was completely amazing to achieve that.

 

EA: What was a typical day like for you while you were in Tryon?

 

DH: A typical day at WEG would have a pretty early start. At 6am, we’d feed, hay, water, and do all of that. Then I’d get Zeremonie out and hand walk her for a while. Laura would come to flat her around noon. In between that time, we’d be having consultations with the team osteopath, making sure [Zeremonie’s] muscles felt good and that she’s feeling in top form.

 

The process then would start for her to get ready to show. She’s very white, so there was lots of bathing involved—lots and lots of purple shampoo! The time it took to show would take us up until feeding time, and that allowed me to keep [Zeremonie] on a very regular routine. With one horse, it’s nice, because there’s lots of time to focus on them and let them know they’re important, which [Zeremonie] likes. Your time is not divided between several horses, and that’s part of what makes championships so special. There’s so much one-on-one time with your horse to make sure they’re feeling good and looking their best.

 

 

Dale Hailstones presents Zeremonie in the jog at WEG.

Photo by Erin Gilmore for Shannon Brinkman/U.S. Equestrian. Courtesy Dale Hailstones

 

EA: You got some time in the spotlight yourself, presenting Zeremonie in the jog. What was that like?

 

DH: It was quite a big responsibility. I don’t think I’ve ever met a horse with so much energy, and [Zeremonie] definitely likes to display that at the jog. Laura’s been dealing with an injury with her ankle, so we didn’t want Laura to jog in case she got stepped on. We definitely didn’t want that to happen, so the best thing was for me to jog her. It was special to also be involved like that. Not many people have that opportunity, and it was definitely nice to showcase her. There’s so much work that went into getting there and to have moments like that and photographs was special.

 

EA: How is Zeremonie to work with?

 

DH: She’s really funny. She’s quite a sweet horse but also very independent. She’s happy to have you, but she doesn’t need you there. I like to think she’s quite an independent woman! She also has endless energy. She’s never tired; even on the last day she was pulling me around and dragging me to the grass.

 

She was spoiled this week. She feels really special having all attention on her, and Laura spoils her. She would bring her bananas every day from breakfast. She can hear Laura’s voice a mile away. She definitely knows who her people are.

 

EA: What are your greatest takeaways?

 

DH: For the team to win on home turf was amazing; the crowd there was exceptional. All the other members of the teams—the grooms, riders, vets, and blacksmiths were so amazing and supportive, and there were endless congratulations from everyone.

 

Laura’s passion and determination for the sport is a huge motivation for me to do my best. I’d like to thank the army of people back home [at Kraut’s Warwickshire, England base]—vets, farriers, grooms, and riders—and, of course, Equiline, for their continued support!

Dale Hailstones in Equiline. Photo by Isabel J. Kurek 

 

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