- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - Mannkato, a champion horse named after a combination of his father and his owner’s hometown, is invited to his first international competition.

Just three years into his combined driving career, the 15-year-old horse owned by Mankato native Summer Frost is finishing in the top three in national competitions.

“That’s unheard of,” boasts Frost. “He has so much talent. He just needs some more experience.”

Mannkato is one of three U.S. horses that won bids at the International Federation for Equestrian Sports’ World Driving Championships in Austria in August, The Free Press (https://bit.ly/2812p0t ) reported.

The sizable travel price tag might deny Mannkato his first chance to compete globally in the sport in which horses pull a carriage with two riders. Frost and his riders are looking for sponsors to help fund the estimated $35,000 needed for they and Mannkato to make the journey.

Frost, who hails from a long line of accomplished horsemen and Mankato business owners, bought Mannkato when he was a few months old. She named him after her hometown, plus an extra ‘n’ in honor of his father, an accomplished trotter named Manno.

She said she knew at first sight that he would be a strong competitor.

“He was stunning. He took my breath away,” she said.

Frost, who works as graphic designer and artist specializing in the horse industry, said picking champions is a family legacy.

Her grandfather, Cliff Thro, a Mankato resident, was a founder of the U.S. Trotting Association. Her uncle, John Thro, owned a winner of the Hamletonian Stakes and a mare that produced three winners of the Hamletonian (an elite harness race).

Mannkato, who resides a few miles from Frost at Lucky Charm Farm in Kentucky, spent his early years competing in dressage.

“It’s like figure skating on horseback,” Frost said of dressage, which judges horses’ appearance and movements under the control of a rider.

Mannkato did well in the beginner levels but couldn’t break into the elite levels, his owner said.

After a break from competition, Mannkato was partnered with accomplished driver and trainer Sterling Graburn in 2013.

Graburn trained Mannkato’s half-brother. They won two national championships and was the top American competitor in two national championships.

Mannkato’s former dressage trainer rides in Mannkato’s carriage passenger seat and serves as the navigator and groom.

Frost said she thinks Mannkato is achieving more success in combined driving because it gives him a more multidimensional challenge.

“He’s like a Minnesotan. He likes to work,” Mannkato’s owner said.

Combined driving competitions have three contests, known as phases:

The first phase is dressage, in which Mannkato already has a lot of experience.

The second phase is known as the marathon or cross-country and tests speed, stamina and obedience. After two trots in which horse, driver and navigator must complete a set distance in a minimum and maximum timeframe, there is a timed obstacle course.

“This is the most exciting part of the competition,” Graburn said. “Cooperation between horse and driver is critical, and the job of the navigator is imperative to a safe and successful competition.”

The third phase of the contest challenges horse, driver and navigator to navigate through a tight course that is only inches wider that the carriage.

“The test is has the horse recovered from the efforts of the marathon, and is he willing to drive in a more controlled and precise fashion after the excitement and speed of the obstacle driving,” Graburn said.

In 2014 at the novice level, Mannkato won the top prize in both the shows in which he competed. Last year he moved up to the advanced level and came in second and third in two contests. This year he claimed three third-place ribbons.

Graburn hopes to head to Europe in June, giving time for training, participation in a warm-up show in France and recuperation before the international contest.

If a lack of funds stops the horse and handlers from going to Europe for the world championships, Frost said she and her team will continue fundraising in expectation Mannkato will earn another invite next year.

Graburn is thinking of pairing Mannkato with another horse to compete in pairs combined riding.

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Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com


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