By Britney Grover
Lizzy Traband is proof that there are no limits, especially for a horse person. Her equestrian resume is jam-packed at just 19. Named the 2016 Junior Equestrian of the Year by US Equestrian, Lizzy is a competitive dressage, hunter and jumper rider. She has spent years traveling as a bridleless performer, has trained her own home-bred mounts and teaches clinics all over the United States and Canada. But it doesn’t stop there. She’s also the founder of not one but two equestrian entrepreneurial ventures. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Lizzy is doing it all with one hand tied behind her back — or rather, missing entirely.
Lizzy grew up in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. Her passion for horses was inherited from her mother, Annette, who began Carousel Farm before Lizzy was born. Through riding and working in the horse world, Annette developed an understanding that the only true limits are the ones we place on ourselves — a principle she held fast when her daughter was born without a left hand or forearm. “My mother is a no-excuse, no-pity person, and I love her for that,” Lizzy said. “When I was born, a lot of people wanted to put me in a prosthetic, and my mom was like, ‘She’s fine, she’ll figure it out, let her be, don’t treat her special.’ Still to this day, she’s the same, and it’s awesome.”
The Right Job
Lizzy doesn’t remember the first time she sat on a horse, but she does remember one thing about her childhood riding: “I fell off a lot.” Whether because she wanted to prove that she could do it with only one hand or simply because horses were in her blood, Lizzy didn’t quit. “My very first pony was a little pony named Scooter. I could only walk him, because every time I went to trot, I would fall off,” she recalled. “And then I got a pony named Toby.”
Toby was an $800 cart pony who won Lizzy’s heart and not only set her on a track for riding success but ignited a passion for helping horses find perfect homes in jobs they love. She also fell off of him more times than she could count. “He used to stop at the jumps and I’d go flying over his head. So I decided that he just needed a new job, because I thought he was the perfect pony, like every little kid thinks their pony is perfect.”
Then just 6 years old, Lizzy began learning how to teach Toby tricks under the supervision of Tommie Turvey, a trick rider and trainer Lizzy once saw perform and who developed a relationship with the Trabands through teaching clinics at Carousel Farm. Lizzy trained Toby to be ridden bridleless, and he soon found his new job — performing with Lizzy in Turvey’s Night of Amazing Horses. “I started out just doing some small acts in his expositions, and then we put together a nighttime show act and at the end of it, we had three different acts and I was doing clinics and speaking at a lot of expos. So it started out gradually, and I still do a bit here and there when I can, but I was on the road performing a lot for about five years.”
Inspired by Toby
Lizzy and Toby performed all around the country, including at Breyerfest and the World Equestrian Games. Toby even became a Breyer model in 2009. Teaching Toby to do tricks also started Lizzy down the road to training. “I trained all of the horses to do bridleless, more out of necessity because of my not having a left hand. It was easier for me to ride them without a bridle than it was to ride them with a bridle. But even to this day, I am really involved with the training of my horses. I actually have a horse that I purchased as a yearling, with money I earned from performing. He’s 9 years old, and he showed in junior hunter finals the past two years. He was one that I brought along from start to finish, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
Seeing Toby’s success when he was in the right job has continued to inspire Lizzy throughout her life. In 2009, when Lizzy was only 11 years old, she launched Taiji Horsemanship with the goal of having “every horse in a home where they are loved as much as we love ours,” by providing free education. “I have been really fortunate, and my mom as well, to have been able to work for and learn from some amazing horsemen in our industry. My mom was always a working student while growing up, and through traveling we realized that it was sometimes hard for lower level riders, or horse people, to get a good education. So the idea was to pass on the gift of education to everyone: That’s why we have an entire training series that starts from a horse that’s never been touched and goes all the way through beginning flat work for jumping. That entire series is available online and it’s all for free.”
In 2010, Lizzy got serious about showing. Though she’d grown up showing hunters, it never truly had her heart. “I can remember as a child, I thought horse showing was overrated. I thought it was ridiculous and stupid. But I liked to go to the horse shows with my pony, and just ride around all day, and I would talk to everyone.” But the invaluable foundation in hunters enabled Lizzy to find her passion in the jumper ring.
The Jumper Ring
“Jumping is definitely where my heart is,” she said. “The passion I have for jumpers is what sparked my interest in dressage. When I was doing a clinic with George Morris, he recommended to me to get an education in dressage. It was the perfect opportunity to do it, since I’m eligible for para-dressage, with the para selection trials coming up. I spent six months and trained in that, with the purpose of helping my jumping.”
To progress as a rider and a jumper, three years ago Lizzy got a prosthetic. “It’s a basic mechanical prosthetic with customizations that make it more suitable for riding,” she said. “I have the ability to open and close the ‘hook’ through a cord that stretches behind my back and a strap that goes around my right shoulder. The hook the attaches into a custom rein with pockets designed for the arm.”
If riding into the jumper ring, performing tricks for thousands, and developing her own training program wasn’t proof enough that having one hand doesn’t stop Lizzy Traband, she has her sights on an ambitious information technology project. In 2013, Lizzy and her mother co-founded Equestrian Pro Network Integrated Systems, or EPN Global, which is currently developing a marketing and barn management platform. EPN Global was a result of Lizzy’s special proactive personality and, ultimately, her desire to help every horse find its ideal home and job.
During the Winter Equestrian Festival in 2012 through 2014, Lizzy was a working student for Louise Serio and Elizabeth Solter, where she was in charge of managing books and keeping track of medications so that all the billing and invoices could be done in one day. “It took us, every single week, pretty much all day Monday to do everything. And I thought to myself, ‘This is insane, we’re spending so much time doing this, there has got to be a better way.’ That definitely sparked the interest for designing the management platform. We want people to be able to spend more time in the barn with the horses and not in front of a computer or in the office.”
Lizzy hopes that the marketing side of the platform will enable horse owners to find the best homes for each of their horses. “One of the biggest goals of EPN Global is to help get every horse into the job that it needs to be doing, by connecting more people to get horses in the right homes,” said Lizzy. “It’s a massive IT project, and really intimidating. I’m hoping we will launch at the end of this year, and if not, 2018. We’re definitely taking our time, but it’s a pretty exciting project.”
While Lizzy had to overcome having only one hand to be able to ride, she’s facing her own challenges with her latest ambitious project. “So, I’m actually not a very tech-savvy person, which makes this even more funny,” she laughed. “My mom actually comes from a little bit of an IT background, so she’s helping me with the actual programming that goes into it. She’s been amazing in helping me with that. I know she thinks I’m crazy, but it’s been a really fun mother-daughter project; I’m working more on the strategic planning and marketing, as well as the launch tactics of the project.”
As a freshman intending to major in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship at Pennsylvania State University, just 20 minutes from her home at Carousel Farm, Lizzy is excited to be riding on the IHSA Penn State Equestrian team. She also has big plans for the future, including EPN Global. “I’ve always had the goal of being an internationally competitive rider in show jumping. That’s definitely a goal that’s going to be a long way out because I know it’s a really big goal, but I’m hoping that I will be able to ride for this country at a high level at some point in my career.”
Lizzy is far from lamenting her struggles to get so far as a single-handed rider. “Horses don’t view me as someone who has a disability, and that’s an unbelievable gift,” she said. “Perhaps that gift the horses have given me has played a role in how much I appreciate them. From a riding standpoint, being born without a left hand forced me to be a little bit more innovative, and be especially dependent on balance, which is a huge part of riding at a higher level. I’m actually grateful to this day that I was forced to ride without a left hand from a young age.”
Even with all her accomplishments, praise is not what Lizzy’s after. “I hope people are inspired,” she said when asked what she wanted people to get from her. “I hope people see me doing the things I do, that they see I’m persistent and hard-working and realize that if they are willing to put the time and effort in, they can get the results they want. I also hope people see my appreciation for the horses. It’s something I feel fixes a lot of problems, and I do truly believe that the horse should always come first. I know it’s very difficult at times, because I understand that this is a business, but I really hope that I’m a reminder of why we do this sport. We’re really doing it because at the end of the day, we love the horses.”