Dorita’s farm became an oasis spring and fall for several years as the increase in mural work among the RVers provided me with abundance. The idea of developing entertaining acts with my horse and mule remained a constant dream. I valued the opportunity to work with her. I also connected with the AA community in Sarasota and began to attend services at the Unity Church.
During the day, while at her home in Sarasota, I busied myself with rehearsals and lessons to become a better horseman. In the evening, Dorita and I would share strong coffee and talk about many aspects of classic horsemanship. These discussions rocketed my understanding and appreciation of this fascinating art form. While becoming her friend, I also found out many interesting things about her personally.
Dorita Konyot was a small woman. She was physically fit her entire life with long beautiful dark hair that was unusual for a person her age. Horn-rimmed glasses accentuated the high cheeks on her almond shaped head and a large elderly nose suggested, along with her accent, European origins. While we visited with each other, she typically sat across from the table. Cigarette smoke rose lazily into loops and shapes that eventually coalesced into the haze that stained the interior of her home.
Among the stories shared were anecdotes about her friend the author of the Black Stallion. Several eight by ten photographs of her friend Walter Farley astride a silver dapple Andalusian hung on the wall over the coach. While I listened intently, I found out more about this fascinating woman.
Dorita was born on a traveling circus caravan May 18, 1922 in Talouse, France, into a family of renowned equestrians. Her Scandinavian and Hungarian lineage blended with the flavors of all the countries that made up her playground as a child. Her father was a stern and capable trainer of horses and an outstanding rider of the highest level.
At a young age, riding instruction began with the ever-watchful eye of her mother, Manya and her father Arthur, trainers and presenters of High School horses and other kinds of horse acts.
She and her brother along with mom and dad soon made the foursome astride handsome Lusitano dancing horses that entertained European audiences from the bullrings in Portugal to the major permanent and traveling circuses across Europe. Related to a larger family with connections in all aspects of show business, her relatives had even built a large successful show before the Great War (WWI) occurred and all the equipment was confiscated for the sake of the war effort.
Her story was interrupted by the sharp bark of her canine companion. Raven, a sleek and
tiny miniature pinscher wanted attention too. His animated loops around the room and back to her side provided comic relief while we sipped our strong coffee. With Raven back in her lap, she continued her story.
Talent scouts found the Konyot family shortly before WWII and her family quartet with the command of centuries old Haute E’cole horsemanship skills came to America. In 1941, they began performing for Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus. Those audiences had occasion to witness the finest dancing horses in the world.
Incidentally, Dorita as a teenager was photographed on a rearing horse and that picture found its way into the book I found at the library when I was a kid in school, just developing my fascination with the circus. The picture showed a brilliant smile at ease under a large Cossack hat astride a large horse that stood up as straight as a candlestick on its rear legs.
The family also toured with Orrin Davenports Shrine Circus and the Clyde Beatty Circus among other shows. Years later a special moment occurred when Dorita received a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden for her performance with Bouncing Bomba her American Saddlebred High School horse.
One winter in Chicago at an exclusive riding stable, the Konyots stabled their horses during the winter break. A horseman with a background in the cavalry and a reputation for brassy showmanship befriended and became a student of the Konyots. Chuck Grant took the principles of classic horsemanship learned from them to add to his repertoire. He went on to become, as he coined himself, the grandfather of American dressage.
A school teacher who had never sat on a horse was in attendance at a circus performance in Detroit. So, moved was she by the equine choreography presented by the Konyots, that she selected to make a major career change. Vi Hopkins not only began to learn classic horsemanship and pursue a lengthy career as a riding instructor but went on to begin the unification of dressage instruction in this country when she initiated the USDF Instructors Clinic at her farm in Michigan.
Dorita’s emerging talent clearly was with the training of horses and horse people. When the Disney movie The Miracle of the White Stallions brought public awareness of Austrian Lipizzan horses to the forefront, Dorita trained a group of riders to present the Quadrille, or precision routine involving eight horses and eight riders for a traveling show that took advantage of the existing frenzy. Many of these riders went on to become stars in tier own right.
Gaylord Maynard performed the hilarious routine that her father used across Europe with his almost human equine partner Chief Bearpaw. Although the comedy routine contrasts with everything classic about this equine art form, Gaylord was another testimony of the influence and talent that Dorita brought to this country.
Literally all of my riding instructors and horse trainers had been influenced by this talented family. The Konyots are credited for bringing to America the equine art form known as Dressage. Virtually everyone associated with performing horses in this country today has been influenced by Dorita and her family. Her niece is a regular contender on the US Dressage Olympic team. In my quest to become a classic performing horseman I had been on a trail that led to Dorita.
She spent the final years of her life-giving lessons in the dressage community in addition to helping circus performers who strive to improve their horsemanship skills.