Freshman Ella Fruchterman may have just started her college career, but she’s been following her passions since childhood.
Fruchterman is a biology major at IU and a competitive horseback rider whose 13-year riding career began when she was just five years old.
Fruchterman grew up in Texas, with a barn next to her elementary school. For her fifth birthday, her father took her for a pony lesson, and she stuck with the sport.
“I love spending time with animals,” she said. “You’re always striving to do better, and you get a score each time you come out of the ring, and I think you’re always just striving to improve.”
Fruchterman started her competitive career with a few rail class competitions at the barn, and she participated in group classes with other riders.
“My trainer encouraged me to just enter a rail class show, and I kind of fell in love with it because you go in, and it’s just you and the horse,” Fruchterman said. “You’re just doing your thing, which is really fun.”
Over a decade later, she’s competing in national competitions.
In the summer of 2022, Fruchterman rode in the North American Youth Championship, the premier equestrian competition in North America for riders ages 14 to 21. Fruchterman competed both with her team and by herself. Her team won gold overall — and Fruchterman won both individual gold and freestyle gold.
Fruchterman competed in the same championship last year, ranking fifth in the individual competition and sixth in the freestyle. She said winning the competition this year was a dream come true.
“Going into the competition, I didn’t really have high expectations,” she said. “My goal this year was just to put down clean, solid tests that I was really happy with and see where that took me, so winning was just the cherry on top of that all.”
Fruchterman owns two horses: a 10-year-old Danish gelding, Holts Le’Mans, and a 13-year-old Danish mare, Hannah Montana. She said each horse has their own unique personality and characteristics.
“Le’Mans’ personality, he wants to know what’s going on all the time,” she said. “He likes to put his nose in everything. He has a stuffed llama that he cuddles with in his stall. Hannah, she’s a little more of a sassy girl but she does like to cuddle.”
She said both horses are extremely hard workers and always ready to work when they enter the ring. To get in the riding headspace herself, Fruchterman said, she listens to music. Her go-to warmup song? Fireball by Pitbull.
Just a week-and-a-half after the youth championship came her next competition, the U.S Dressage Finals. Fruchterman spent the period of time between competitions moving onto campus for her first year at IU.
“We got back from North American on Monday, and my move-in was on Tuesday, and we started classes,” she said.
After class that Tuesday, Fruchterman drove to Chicago to compete. This time, she had both Holts Le’Mans and Hannah Montana, allowing her to compete two horses in one division.
Fruchterman finished 7th overall with Hannah Montana and won top place with Holts Le’Mans.
She said balancing school and competitions can be challenging at times, but teachers and professors have been supportive in helping her pursue both riding and an education.
“In high school this past year, I trained in Florida for February and March, so my school let me go virtual for two months, which was really nice,” Fruchterman said. “I’m new to Indiana University, so I’m just getting to know my professors, but so far everybody has been very supportive.”
Having a community of people who understand the delicate balance also helps.
“I’ve made such great friends through riding,” she said. “I think it’s not a super popular sport, or people don’t always know about it, so when you meet people that are going through the same things as you with balancing school and balancing riding, it’s always a great connection.”
While she’s found success in her riding career, it hasn’t been without setbacks. In 2018, Fruchterman competed at the U.S. National Championships, riding three horses in four divisions. Fruchterman said the competition did not go the way she’d hoped. The experience changed the way she prepares and trains.
“The week was just not going as planned, and it was just kind of like one rough ride after the next,” she said. “We had to step back after that competition and reevaluate everything.”
She decided to switch trainers and now trains under Angela Jackson in Kentucky. Making the switch was a big decision, she said, because her horses were no longer in the same state as her, leaving her unable to drive to them after school each day and ride. However, Fruchterman said that her time with Jackson has been an amazing journey, and she attributes her success this year at championships in part to the past four years of training.
This year, Fruchterman is a junior rider, which means she’ll soon age out of her current division and move up to the next level. She’s currently preparing by learning the new movements.
When she isn’t riding, Fruchterman enjoys baking and spending time with her dogs and family.
“When I’m home and I get to be with my parents and my brother, I always cherish that time,” she said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her brother volunteered at the Special Olympics in Woodbury, Minnesota, where they assisted the athletes and kept score.
“The best part of Special Olympics was getting to interact with the athletes and see their joy ad excitement about competing,” she said.
Fruchterman said she is still considering the type of career she wants to pursue after her time at IU. She came to college with a pre-veterinary track in mind, but she said she’s also interested in business.
After she gets her undergraduate degree, however, she’s going to hold off on graduate school and instead strive to make a U.S. Elite team.
“I’d really like to take a senior team and represent the U.S. in Europe,” she said.
Fruchterman said she considers herself to be very lucky with the experiences she’s had through riding. The progress she’s made over the past 13 years, she said, is amazing to reflect on.
“Looking back on just being a little five-year-old girl riding around on a pony that can’t even canter in Texas, it’s just amazing to see how far I’ve come.”
People and Animal Learning Services (PALS) is a nonprofit adaptive riding center that provides equine services to people with disabilities, veterans, senior citizens and youth. Information about volunteer opportunities can be found here.