Natalie Dean and Acota M Are Turning Heads

Focus of flatwork helped earn Natalie Dean and Acota M a spot on the U.S. Jumping Team Olympic Short List for Paris Games.

Natalie Dean may be the youngest rider on the U.S. Jumping Team Olympic Short List for Paris this summer, but her results with Marigold Sporthorses LLC’s Acota M this season have turned heads.

She and the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Toulon x Aquinora) have been partnered for two years and have represented the U.S. in Nations Cups in Wellington, Florida; Aachen, Germany; Falsterbo, Sweden; and Spruce Meadows in Canada in 2023 as well as the FEI World Cup Final in Omaha, Nebraska.

Natalie Dean and Acota M
Natalie Dean and Acota M competed at the 2023 Aachen CHIO5* Nations Cup in Germany. ©Sportfot

This year, they had strong finishes at the five-star level in Florida. They were slated to compete on the Nations Cup team at St. Gallan in Switzlerand last month, but the competition was rained out.

“She is probably the smallest horse in all the grands prix, and she just tries so hard,” said Dean, 25. “I really believe in her and like to think that she believes in me. I think we have a pretty good partnership now. She’s a little special and a little crazy, but I think that’s what makes her good. She really fights for me, and she’s just an amazing horse.”

Focus on Flatwork

“Annie” is just 15.2-hands, but Dean says she’s got the power and the step to make the five-star level seem easy. “She has a big stride for how small she is, and she tries really hard and is actually pretty scopey. She has everything she needs to be a top-level horse,” she said.

Dean has ridden several mares successfully in the past and finds she gets along with them well. “I think a really good mare really fights for you, and I’m very lucky I’ve had so many amazing ones,” she said.

Dean recently moved to England to train with British Olympian Ben Maher, who’s helped her focus on Annie’s flatwork.

“She’s definitely a sensitive mare. We changed her bit slightly and have been working on her flatwork a lot. In general we let Annie be Annie. You just have to go along with her, and she’s amazing in the ring,” said Dean. “We try not to jump her too often. She knows her job at this point. I’m hoping she can have a really long career, so we’re trying to save the jumps for the ring as much as we can. She’s naturally pretty fit, so we try to work on the flatwork and make sure she’s relaxed and using her body well.”

Dean admits there was a big learning curve in the beginning, and she struggled with rideability during Annie’s 8-year-old year. “We spent six or seven months struggling over the 1.45-meter classes. And then all of a sudden it just clicked, and we started jumping her in the five-star grands prix the fall of her 9-year-old year. Last year she really had a breakout season. Now she’s become a pro. She’s learned the system and learned her job.”

Natalie Dean and Acota M
Natalie Dean says Acota M, aka “Annie”, loves her people and is “so friendly” to people. ©Sportfot

“Loves Her People”

Annie’s groom is Laura Regan, who’s been with Dean for six years.

“[Annie] loves her people,” said Dean of Palo Alto, California. “She is funny with other horses. She hates being by herself. If her neighbor leaves, she freaks out, but if a horse tries to touch her, she would try to bite them. She’s a little bit of a mare in that way, but she’s so friendly to people. Laura’s really Annie’s person. They can read each other’s minds at this point. She’s so expressive. We know her so well that it’s really easy to take care of her.”

Recently, Dean and Annie competed in Paris where they finished eighth in the Longines GCT Grand Prix. On Thursday (July 4, 2024), they competed as part of the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team in the Mercedes-Benz Jumping Nations Cup CSIO5* in Aachen, Germany. They dropped a rail at the final oxer in the first round; the team finished in ninth place overall. In Friday’s RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia, the pair finished in fifth place. On her Instagram page, Dean said, “So grateful for this little horse and her huge heart.” The Olympic jumping team is expected to be announced early next week.

Click here for a link to Dean’s Instagram page with a post of her and Annie’s ride:

“I’m the youngest one on the short list. And I think it’s a huge honor to be on the list with so many great riders and really prove that Annie and I have done well in the big classes and that we deserve to be there,” said Dean. “It’s really exciting, and I’m hoping by the time LA [2028 Olympics] rolls around that I am even more confident and more experienced and really ready to play with the big guys.”

Thanks to Cosequin for our coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympics, including rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.

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