By Doris Degner-Foster
Elizabeth Adelson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, loves to jump. Sometimes she jumps with two legs and sometimes with four, but she’s just as excited about both.
In the world of track and field, Lizzie is the best high-school high jumper in the state of Oklahoma and has set an all-time record. She said, “When I clear a height, it’s like a huge adrenaline rush and it’s really awesome.”
In the world of horses and show jumping, Lizzie is at the barn 10 hours per week and is on the road showing 20 weekends a year. She works hard to combine her passions of track and field with horse showing. “It’s definitely difficult,” she admits. “I have to try to prioritize because a lot of the time there are horse shows Friday through Sunday and track meets are Fridays so I have to decide. Is the horse show more important than the track meet or vice versa?”
Horseback riding started before track and high jumping. Lizzie’s older sister was already taking riding lessons and she tagged along to watch, impatiently waiting until she was old enough. She admitted her riding on a cute pony named Gym Socks wasn’t too impressive at the start. “We were watching home videos the other day,” she said, “and I saw a video of me on Gymmy trying to post and it was the funniest thing ever; I was so uncoordinated!”
But her riding skills improved with regular lessons and hard work. In 2011 riding Double Down, known around the barn as King, Lizzie reached an exciting high point when she won the North American League Children’s Hunter Finals and the Washington International Horse Show Children’s Hunter Finals.
One Thing Led To Another
Like many girls who ride, they have fun with their friends jumping a course without their horses. “When I was little, my barn friends and I would set up jumps and pretend we were horses and jump over them,” Lizzie said. It’s a popular pastime at the horse shows between classes, and JustWorld International charity even has “horseless horse shows” where young riders jump a course of smaller stadium jumps on their own feet.
Pretending to be a jumping horse may have helped prepare Lizzie for the track and field events that were required at her school. She showed early talent for both the long jump and high jump and she continued competing through middle school and into high school. Lizzie explained that there are some things that are the same, whether jumping with her own feet or with an equine partner. “In riding, it’s kind of a similar motion when you’re doing high jump,” she said. “You want the horse to be backed off of the jump so it can get its feet over to clear.”
Lizzie stressed the importance of being balanced and controlled before the high jump when she said, “If you run up to the bar too fast, you’ll either fall because you just won’t have enough time to get your body in the right position, or you’ll just plow right through it, and that’s the same with horses. You want to control their balance; otherwise you’ll have a rail.”
Lizzie explained her high-jumping technique when she said, “I run eight steps to the bar every time because I have my own mark, so I can relate to the lines in horseback riding where you make the stride. When high jumping, you want to lean away from the bar because that gives you more time to clear,” she said. “That’s the same with horses; you want to hold them off [so you don’t] get too close to a deep spot. You want them to have time to clear.”
In the Southwest Preparatory Conference, which Lizzie’s school is affiliated with, she set the record for high jump when she jumped 5 feet 8 inches (1.62 meters). During her freshman year of high school, she qualified to compete in the Oklahoma Meet of Champions, a U.S.A. Track and Field-sanctioned championship, and won second place for high jump. During her sophomore year, she won first place for the high jump in her age group, which made her the champion high jumper in the state of Oklahoma.
It’s About the Horses
Lizzie has ridden and shown many horses during her riding career, and some are more special than others. One of the special ones is the Westphalian gelding Double Down (“King”), the horse she rode when she won her first national hunter finals. He’s semi-retired and leased to a younger rider and enjoying plenty of attention and treats. “I really love my horses; they each have their own individual personalities about them and I love them all a lot,” Lizzie said. “I like to think that they recognize my voice when I talk to them and they notice when I’m on them versus other people.”
Lizzie is very familiar with her horses and spoke of their individual personalities. “I’ve had Rubicon for four years now and he’s always been great, but he’s also always grumpy. But Chino, when we got him from Kyle Timm, Kyle said, ‘If he doesn’t like you, he’s going to really swish his tail and be really strong and not listen,’ and he liked me and I feel like we’re just a really good pair.” That point was made clear when Lizzie had to switch horses with another rider as part of an exercise in a clinic. Chino’s tail was moving continuously and it was clear he wasn’t happy!
And then there’s the younger mare, Alice. “Alice is really cool. She’s young and green and doesn’t focus very well, but she’s coming along,” said Lizzie.
A Balancing Act
As a junior in high school last winter, Lizzie managed to balance competing on her own feet and competing with her horses around her school schedule. “At indoors, I was ninth in the Washington Equestrian Finals and I made the call back for the Maclay — the top 20 for the flat,” Lizzie said. Because of the way Chino moves, her equitation looks best on him, so Lizzie and her trainer decided to take a bit of a gamble and she rode Chino, her jumper, in the flat class. “It was his second equitation class ever and first flat class, and he was so good! We were so happy with him; it was so exciting!” said Lizzie.
As she begins her senior year in high school in the fall, Lizzie is thinking about college and competing in track and field. She has enjoyed a smaller number of teammates both at her school in Tulsa and at Farewell Farm. Ideally, she’d like to be in a similarly supportive environment in college.
Lizzie spoke of her dream of competing for the U.S. when she said, “I want to high jump in college and really work on it all year round instead of just the few months of track season to see if that’s a doable thing for me, but I’d have to be jumping probably a foot higher now to be competitive in the Olympics.”
Setting records in high jumping has caught the attention of several college track and field coaches and Lizzie is weighing her options as she considers track teams and academics. She has shadowed both large and small animal veterinarians and said, “I like the sciences so I think it would be cool to be a vet. I’m also doing research in a chemistry lab at Tulsa University this summer.”
Although Lizzie’s mare Alice is leased and will probably go back to Kyle Timm’s barn before she leaves for college, Lizzie still plans to continue to ride. Chino and Rubicon will stay at home in Tulsa and Lizzie is planning to have them ridden at Farewell Farm while she’s at school so she can ride during breaks and show during the summers.
Regardless of what the future may hold, it looks like Elizabeth Adelson will continue to jump — on both two and four legs.
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster rides with Harvard Fox Hounds hunt club in Oklahoma when she’s not interviewing interesting individuals in the horse sport. She also enjoys writing fiction and is working on a middle grade book series about teenagers who ride horses and solve mysteries. Look for Doris’ blog “Notes From the Field” on the Sidelines magazine website.
Photos courtesy of Lizzie Adelson