By Ella Fruchterman
The 2022 season is one that I will never forget! It was truly the best year yet in my riding career, but it did not come easily.
I have been riding horses for almost 14 years. These years have been filled with many early mornings, late evenings, and school breaks spent at the barn. When I began riding, I was told that doing well wouldrequire “a lot of sweaty saddle pads”. At the time, I had no idea what that really meant, or how much time, effort, or how many sacrifices would go into getting to where I am now and where I want to get to in the future.
I began riding on horses that were not ideal for dressage. They were challenging, and not the fanciest movers, but very honest, which helped shape me into the rider I am today. In 2019 my parents, trainer, and I began searching for my next partner, who would help me take the next step in my riding career. After many months, we came across Holts Le’Mans (Le’Mans), and he arrived in December of 2020. Because we were a new partnership, we did not have any big goals set for 2021, other than getting to know each other – yet 2021 became a very successful year. We qualified for our first ever North American Youth Championship (NAYC) and the Festival of Champions (FOC) in the FEI Juniors. By the end of the season, we were really beginning to find our rhythm – just in time for US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan®, where we won the inaugural Third Level JR/YR division. Le’Mans exceeded my expectations!
Over the following winter and into the early 2022 Florida season, the trust between Le’Mans and I was solidified. I spent many hours at the barn in his stall, loving him and grooming him, which really helped build our bond on the ground, and each ride we were becoming more in sync. We qualified for our second NAYC. I remember on the drive up to Traverse City, talking about the week ahead with my trainer, Angela Jackson. We were reflecting on my rides from last year, and how Le’Mans and I had had a few bobbles in our tests. This year, I wanted to focus on riding clean and accurate tests, no matter what the score may be, and have faith that both he and I were prepared. To my surprise, not only did we have three clean rides, but we also came home with three gold medals!
Winning triple gold at NAYC was a dream come true! I used to watch the live stream every year, and dream that one day I would be standing on the podium with a medal around my neck. I was so, so proud of Le’Mans and my Region 4 teammates, and so grateful for all of the support from my family, trainer, and friends– not only throughout the week at NAYC, but through all the years leading up to these moments. It felt like all the hard work, long hours at the barn, and many bumps in the road were all worth it, and helped prepare me for the week.
We arrived back at the barn on Monday after NAYC, and I turned right around Tuesday at 5am to drive to Bloomington, to move into my dorm for my first semester at Indiana University. Time management and communication are key when it comes to balancing competing at an elite level while doing well in
school. There have been many times when it has been challenging, but I have a great love for both riding and learning, so I continue to prioritize both my education and riding career.
After only my second day of classes, I drove up to Lamplight for the Festival of Champions. Although it was stressful missing classes, a few with professors I had not yet met, I was looking forward to the week, and the opportunity to compete with both Le’Mans and my other horse, Hannah Montana W (Hannah), in the FEI Juniors division. Similar to Le’Mans the year before, my partnership with Hannah was new this year, so I was thrilled to even qualify her for FOC. I was not sure how she would react to such a big environment, but she handled everything well, and I was very proud of her and our seventh-place finish!
During the competition, I tried not to put pressure on myself to do well, but rather go out to have fun and enjoy my rides, as it was my last time competing in the FEI Junior tests. While I had been to FOC in
the past, this was the first year I felt confident in myself as a rider to perform to the best of my abilities, as well as fully trust my horses during our tests.
I was really pleased with how Le’Mans and I performed on the first day in the team test. The class finished and the top three riders, including myself with Le’Mans, were all within 0.150 points of each other going into day two. Unbelievably, the scoring system crashed during our Individual Test, and remained down through the final rides. None of us knew our scores, or the overall results of the class, and awards got delayed for another half-hour after the class finished. After all that anticipation, I was so surprised when they came over and placed the champion ribbon around Le’Mans’s neck! I gave him the biggest hug – I couldn’t believe it!
After FOC, both Le’Mans and Hannah had some much-deserved time off, which helped them be in top shape for the Great American/USDF Regional Championships, where we successfully qualified for the US Dressage Finals. I love competing at Finals because of the wide range of horses, riders, and levels of competition. When I was younger, my previous trainer qualified my horses to compete, but I was never able to attend due to school. I am so grateful that USDF added the JR/YR division because it is an inspiration for younger riders, like myself, to ride at such an amazing event. It is also a great way to connect with different riders from all over the country – I have met some of my best friends and competitors at competitions like these!
November weather in Lexington can be unpredictable, and this year Le’Mans and I were faced with freezing rain and very low temperatures, but he handled it like a pro. I remember turning to my trainer before entering the ring and laughing because it actually started hailing on us and continued throughout the test. Despite the weather, we came out on top as the Champions of the Third Level JR/YR class, defending our title from last year!
My ride with Hannah at Finals was also very special, because it was my first time competing in the Alltech Arena. I have watched many dressage legends compete in the ring in the past, so to experience that was amazing; and finishing in third with Hannah in the JR/YR Fourth Level was the cherry on top. I look forward to continuing to build our bond, and my future with this special girl!
2022 was truly an amazing year. Not just because of the results, but because all of the different lessons and skills I have learned in the past started to come together. That is one of my favorite things about dressage– there is always something to learn and improve on. At the end of the day, it is just you and your partner in the ring, and the bond between the two of you really shines. I always remind myself to trust myself, listen to my horse, and as my dad always says, “ride your ride”.
In 2023, I will be stepping up into the FEI Young Riders division. Although I know there is going to be a learning curve, I am so excited to take the challenge head on, as I continue to learn and grow with my two special partners, and with the support from my amazing trainer and team! And, while I know there will continue to be many more sweaty saddle pads in my future, I am excited to see where this journey takes me!