Elizabeth Landers’ Extraordinary Life: Equestrian, Activist, Humanitarian, Coach and Business Leader

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Posted by Sue Weakley


2014 Mexican Eventing Team

2014 Mexican Eventing Team (Photo: Elizabeth Landers)

She’s 39 and yet she’s lived the life of several women. She’s been Executive Coordinator of Haiti’s Presidential Advisory Council on Economic Growth and Investment and the Adjunct Chief of Staff for Haiti’s Minister of the Interior and Territorial Collectivities. She’s been the chef d’equipe for Mexico’s eventing team. She’s a certified FEI coach−the only one in the U.S. And now, she’s just returned to California after driving cross-country from Kentucky after competing in the 2015 U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington. And, although she has loved her adventurous life, she’s now ready to follow her heart−horses.

Landers started riding at 3 and by 8 she was competing under the wings of Jimmy Williams and Susan Hutchison at the Flintridge Riding Club in California. She had a successful junior career in the hunters, equitation and showjumpers and after her parents nixed the idea of being a horse trainer, she attended UCLA. She spent her junior year in France and, after graduation, she returned to work in management and consulting in Information Technology, working throughout Europe for five years.

“I tend to follow my gut and follow my heart,” she said. “I had a great time, but the horses were always a part of my life. In my mind, I was making money to do the horses, but I also knew that was not going to happen. It just never seems to work.”

In 2007, she stopped to reevaluate her life and decided to attend graduate school at Loyola University in Chicago, where she studied social justice, community development and pastoral studies.

“The two-year graduate program gave me the time to think about what had meaning in life and what was important and what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. Then, a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, and she knew what she wanted to do. “I said, ‘That’s where I’ve got to go. That’s where I’m going to use everything I learned in grad school.’”

She fell in love with the island and its people. “From there, I don’t know how, but they asked me to come to Port Au Prince and run the Presidential Advisory Council on Economic Growth and Development,” she said. “I’d never worked in public administration, but I said yes. It was co-chaired by President Clinton and we pulled together ex-presidents of other countries and big business people who were all interested in helping Haiti carve a new sustainable path that didn’t depend on chance.”

Elizabeth Coaching in Haiti (Photo: Elizabeth Landers)

During her two years at the job, she was also the adjunct chief of staff for Haiti’s Minister of the Interior and, during that time, she discovered there were horses in Haiti. She met some extraordinary Haitian riders and she began helping them develop their skills and, in 2012, Landers spearheaded equestrian development in Haiti. In collaboration with the FEI and the FEH, she implemented an extensive training program in both showjumping and dressage. For the first time in six years, Haiti competed in the FEI World Jumping Challenge and the riders won the region. Median dressage scores in Haiti were in the low 50s when the program began and, after the implementation of a rigorous training program, Haiti’s median dressage scores rose into the 70s.

During this time, she became a certified FEI coach through courses in Mexico City. “It’s holistic and dynamic,” she said. “It takes into account not only the technical aspects of how to ride but the mental aspects and the lifestyle aspects.”

In Mexico City, she was asked if she would conduct a clinic for Mexico’s eventing team. “Somehow they named me chef d’equipe on the spot without asking me. In Haiti, there was not one equine vet and I had no consistent source of hay or feed. I went from that situation to a stunning facility with seven arenas, a full veterinary clinic on site, teaching 16-17 military riders and managing 85 horses.”

Mexico’s goal was to qualify riders for the Central America games. She said the horses were phenomenal, but the riders were without formal instruction or background. They didn’t know how to walk the course. They rode dressage as jumping flat work. “There was no attention to transitions,” she said. “There was no understanding of gaits. I had to start from the beginning but I knew I had to fast track it because I only had six months before the qualifiers for the Central America Games. I was able to take the top riders and increase their dressage scores by 10 percent and two of the riders qualified for the team.”

Soon she realized she loved teaching and coaching, but she was sacrificing her own riding, so she returned to California.

Elizabeth Landers and Liberty at the 2015 US Dressage Finals

Elizabeth Landers and Liberty at the 2015 US Dressage Finals (Photo: Sue Weakley)

It was also during her two years in Haiti that she bought Liberty, her 8-year-old Oldenburg mare (Ludwig’s AS x Funni Belinda) and His Highness Crusador, her 8-year-old Hanoverian gelding (His Highness x Lynn) she calls Fred, the two horses she took to Kentucky for the 2015 U.S. Dressage Finals. She rode Liberty in the First Level Championship Open class where they earned a 70.389 percent and they placed third in the First Level Freestyle Open class with a 72.333 percent.

“I love that freestyle,” she said of her choreography and music from the animated film “Home.” “It’s what made the mare stop thinking about jumping. I wanted something very soothing and something that would calm her down. I just love the music. It’s very pretty.

“Liberty is very green and a show jumper,” Landers added. “I’ve had her since 4 and she’s a hot potato. She’s a beautiful jumper with phenomenal gaits. We started the year and I was waterskiing down centerline because she thought fast would win. She’s just starting to get it. She’s an overachiever. She’s extraordinary and the most trainable horse I’ve ever owned. She does changes and pirouettes. She does a half-pass better than she does a leg yield, but she’s going to remain at First Level until she gets her head screwed on straight.”

Landers bought Fred about a year and a half before she went to Mexico. He was a triple-approved stallion in Germany and owned by an amateur who allowed him to get away with anything.

“He’s the sweetest horse in the world but very lazy and doesn’t really feel like going forward,” she said. “It took a year of basics to get him going, but within a couple of months showing in the Los Angeles area something clicked and he kind of got it. I went ahead and put changes on him and improved the lateral work and popped him into Third Level. He felt ready.”

(Photo: Sue Stickle)

He and Landers claimed the Reserve Championship in the Third Level Championship Freestyle Open with a 70.389 percent and they earned a 67.179 percent in the Third Level Championship Open class. “This freestyle has very dramatic music and I picked it to help him go forward and it does help in the extensions,” she said. “I have used the freestyle as a training tool for both horses and I’ve been very successful with it this year.”

Her training philosophy is simple. “I try to follow the 10 percent rule. I try to get a 10 percent improvement every day, and in 10 days I’ve got 100 percent. I think that system works!” Her short term goal is to have three to five young horses or quality horses in training, but her long term goal is much more lofty. She wants to be the top rider in the world and to follow in the footsteps of Edward Gal. Meanwhile, she is trying to combine her business acumen with horses.

“I’m convinced that there has to be a good business model in this sport,” she explained. “I’ve been good in business and I’ve been good in the horses, so my homework is trying to put the two together. I’m trying to explore different business models. I’m seeking out a business model that is perhaps not conventional but would allow me to do what I want to do.”

If her past is any indication of future success, there will be no stopping her. “I kind of feel like I’ve lived three lives,” she said. “I believe truly that if you follow your heart, if you listen to that voice−that inner compass inside of you−and say ‘Yes,’ when you feel like it’s yes, your life is just extraordinary. I believe this life is one we have to go live and that’s what I’m trying to do.”