By Cat Allen
First thing every morning, in a beautifully polished farm fit for Olympic equine and equestrian athletes alike, you’ll likely find 34-year-old Lizzie Gingras, sixth-ranked Canadian in the FEI Longines Jumping Rankings, administering treats to her horses. “Every morning I greet each one of them separately,” she explained. “I try to spend a lot of time with my horses. It’s hard, because I have five to ride, which is amazing, but I like to do the little extra things.”
Lizzie is originally from Alberta, Canada, and still has a home there, although she’s more often on the road traveling from one horse show to the next. Before turning professional, she was tasked with overcoming a serious riding injury that set her back several years.
After turning professional at age 24, Lizzie walked into an opportunity to teach at a lovely barn full of clients eager to embrace her — in spite of the fact that she considered herself to be a novice in terms of coaching. “That’s how I got my foot in the door,” she explained. “The next thing you know, I started jumping local Grand Prix. One thing led to another, and I seized the opportunity to lease a horse from Jill [Henselwood]. I rode with her for the winter in Thermal.”
Once Lizzie began riding with Jill, she felt a turning point in her career. For a while, Lizzie commuted between the facility where she taught in Edmonton and Oxford Mills, where she trained with Jill. Lizzie had to ultimately make the decision to sell the business she’d built as a coach in order to thrive in the stirrups as a professional rider under Jill’s guidance. “Jill believed in me, and in my feel and ability. She saw that I had the work ethic, and together we pieced together a plan to get me to the top of the sport,” said Lizzie.
Now & the Future
Fast forward to the present, and the Canadian still has her eye on the ultimate prize, but is now training with Eric Lamaze. She considers herself an underdog, having purposely flown under the radar for quite some time. She’s just now breaking out into the world, seizing opportunities to travel to top shows in Europe and North America and obtaining sponsorships from established companies such as Equipe Saddles and Samshield.
“I’m in a great program and I believe in my horse, Zilversprings. Either the stars are going to align or they’re not,” she said, with a hint of a spark in her eyes. Though she’s soft spoken and very polite, Lizzie could light up a room with the amount of passion behind her dedication to her horses, her goals and the sport as a whole.
“I want to enjoy the experience — sometimes I get so hung up on trying to achieve things that I forget to enjoy the process. The task is so large and so overwhelming; you have to take it one step at a time. If I thought about the Olympics every day, I’d be so overwhelmed!” she said.
Not on Her Own
Zilversprings, a 12-year-old KWPN gelding full of personality, is Lizzie’s main squeeze. His treat of choice is bananas, with the peel on, and if he travels anywhere without his stuffed elephant in tow, you can expect to find him distressed in a post-tornado-torn stall waiting for an explanation.
Lizzie bought Zilversprings two years ago, and recalled exactly how it was love at first sight: “I called home that night and said to my dad, ‘I love this horse. It’s going to take me at least a year to learn how to ride him, but he’s worth it.’ I knew that he was very special — the feeling in the air he gave me was like nothing I’d ever sat on before,” she said. Much to Lizzie’s surprise, it turned out that he wasn’t going to make her wait nearly as long as she’d suspected. Within two weeks of owning Zilversprings, Lizzie qualified for her first Nations Cup Team.
The daily challenges and battles that are a reality for Lizzie aren’t things she takes on alone. What is Lizzie’s secret for handling the grueling travel, the inconvenient injuries and the pressure of always riding her absolute best? “The first person I turn to for help is Jessica Dooley — my groom for the past three years. She knows my horses inside and out, and also knows me very well. She helps me figure stuff out. I don’t know if I would have survived this journey without her,” Lizzie admitted.
“My advice to anyone else trying to do this sport professionally is to keep working at it — and work hard. If there’s one thing that Jill taught me, she certainly made me a better rider. You have to go in the ring and produce something every time. ‘If you’re in a Nations Cup, I don’t care if you’re half off the horse — you have to keep going!’” Lizzie said with her own impersonation of Jill, smiling at the vibrant picture her words capture.
Dreams Coming True
When she is not bonding with one of her five equine best friends, polishing her tall boots, coordinating with sponsors, packing for the next horse show or winning a grand prix, Lizzie can be found doing Pilates or going for casual Monday runs. “Running is great for clearing my head and giving myself alone time,” she said. Lizzie is married to Geoff Nygren, who, ironically, is allergic to horses, but still makes every effort to come cheer her on at horse shows whenever their schedules allow.
Even while basking in the backdrop of Grand Prix Village in Wellington, Florida, overlooking Torrey Pines, the immaculate facility nestled in the newer landscape and home of well-known Olympian Eric Lamaze, it was obvious that the Canadian Olympic hopeful was still adjusting to the idea that her dreams have become a reality. “Looking back 10 years ago, if I could give that version of myself one piece of advice, it’d be to keep reassuring myself. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be training with Eric Lamaze — in Wellington — I would have said there was no way I could do that!”
About the writer: Cat Allen is a 25-year-old hunter/jumper rider living in Wellington, Florida. Originally from Chicago, and a graduate of Northern Illinois University, she found herself relocating to Wellington to advance her riding skills by working for some of the top barns in the area. She has a passion for writing about various aspects and individuals of the industry and has been published in a variety of equestrian magazines and media outlets.