Wayne, Ill.—Aug. 26
Heading into this year’s USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals, M.K. Connatser knew she had a lot to live up to. Three former Medal Finals winners had come from her barn, Rocking M Stables in Dallas, Texas.
So with advice from trainers Yvonne Kusserow and Allison Stai in mind, she sat up tall and showed off during the 13 & Under final.
An 86.00% earned her the championship title ahead of Korey Denny (85.00%).
“I’m going to pinch myself. It’s actually shocking, like, it’s really weird,” she said after her win. “I had somewhat high expectations for myself because I know my horse can do it, and he’s taught me a lot, but I did not expect to win.”
Her mount for the class was Donau Hit, a 19-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Diamond Hit—Brenda Lee, Brentano II).
“He’s wonderful. He has taught me so much,” she said. “Before him I had only shown intro level. And then I went straight to do Children’s and Seat Medal, and I’ve earned my [USDF] bronze medal in the first year of owning him. He was a blessing.”
Connatser, 12, is also riding in the Pony championship on Linda Graves’ Blitz Und Donner, but she thinks the Medal class is important for a dressage rider’s education.
“I think it’s very important because all the other divisions that we ride in judge the horse, and you get a bunch of feedback for your horse, but you don’t, other than from your trainers, you don’t get as much feedback,” she said. “So it’s great to get feedback from someone who doesn’t watch you ride every day and hasn’t been training you for years and you just kind of get unsolicited opinion on anything so you can take those different tips or they word it differently.”
So what does a champion equitation rider work on at home?
“For me, I do tend to look down a lot and fidget a lot with my hands, and my legs kind of get frozen on his side; just kind of like too stiff,” she said. “So I need to loosen up a bit, and then my new thing is that when I look down, I hunch my back over. So I’ve worked on keeping my shoulders back.”
It’s been just about two weeks since Ella Fruchterman and Holts Le’Mans won triple gold in the junior division at the FEI North American Youth Championships (Michigan), and they came away winners again after topping the Junior individual test (70.44%). Combined with their third place finish in the Junior team test (70.04%) on Thursday, it gave them the Adequan/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship.
“Right now I’m kinda just on cloud nine,” said Fruchterman, West Lakeland, Minnesota. “Especially coming off of [NAYC]. I really wasn’t expecting this. So, I’m just feeling overwhelmed—like the support from my parents and my trainer Angela Jackson and my friends have been so helpful and so supportive this week. And I just really wanted to have fun today. And yesterday. And I had a lot of fun. And then I became national champion, so that was the cherry on top.”
Fruchterman’s been paired with the 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (L’Espoir—Lady Anabell) for two years.
“I think our partnership has really grown this past season,” she said. “The trust is definitely there between us now. I go into the ring, and I know he’s right there with me, and he wants to be there, and he wants to work for me. Outside of the show ring, he’s super snuggly. He has a stuffed llama that he loves to cuddle with. He just has a very big personality, always wants to be cuddling with anybody and everybody and wants to know what’s going on.”
Fruchterman keeps the gelding with Jackson in Kentucky and spends summers with her and winters in Florida. She’s 18 and headed to college at Indiana University, which is a two-hour drive from Jackson’s.
Competition at the Festival of Champions resumes at 8 a.m. (Central Time) Saturday.