Lizzie Traband was born without a left forearm, but has not let her disability stop her from becoming a horse trainer and performer – by the young age of 13. She has performed at the World Equestrian Games and numerous expos, and developed her own training program, Taiji Horsemanship, at age 9.
Not many 13-year-olds have their own horsemanship program. But Lizzy Traband isn’t like most 13-year-olds.
For Lizzy, a State College, Pa., native who helps train horses at her parents’ Carousel Farm, being born without a left forearm never made her different from anyone else.
“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t ride like everyone else,” Lizzy said. “Because I have a disability, I think it’s made me have a little more grit to prove that, no matter what, you don’t let it hold you back.”
Lizzy grew up riding hunters on the “A” circuit. When she was 6 years old, her now famous pony Toby started dumping her at fences, and she decided he needed a different job.
Lizzy had seen trick trainer Tommie Turvey perform at Theatre Equus, and convinced her parents to take Toby and another horse to his clinic at the Cook Forest Trail Ride. Turvey taught Toby to bow and started teaching Lizzie to ride bridleless. He presented clinics at their Carousel Farm and developed a relationship with the family. As Lizzie progressed, he asked her to join him at expos and at his “Night of Amazing Horses.” Toby’s new job became performing tricks and demonstrations with Lizzy in front of thousands of people.
“I learned a lot watching Tommie,” Lizzy said. “I didn’t do an expo every other weekend, but the expos that I did go to I learned a lot. Without him letting me do that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Inspiration for Taiji Horsemanship
In addition to becoming good friends with Turvey, he also gave Lizzy the ying-yang necklace that provided the naming inspiration for her business, Taiji Horsemanship.
“I’d been thinking of a name for my horsemanship program,” Lizzy said. “The ying-yang symbol represents taiji, which means ‘supreme ultimate.’ Considering how in my training I’m constantly trying to achieve the ‘supreme ultimate’ through balance and horsemanship, I thought it would be a great name.”
Taiji Horsemanship was founded in 2009 when Lizzy was only 11 years old. While Lizzy knows some people might be skeptical about whether a 13-year-old can be a trainer, she also knows learning to ride with only one hand taught her many invaluable lessons about communication with horses.
Lizzy emphasizes that she really does train her own horses, like her 4-year-old Trakehner Hercules. Plucked out of a field as a 3-year-old, Lizzy trained Hercules to compete in the International Hunter Futurity, one of the most prestigious events for young hunters in the country.
While professional trainers normally ride these talented young hunters in IHF classes, Lizzy rode Hercules herself. The pair was reserve champion in the young hunter division of the Warrenton Horse Show last year, and have gone on to be successful at many other top shows.
Learning from the Best
Lizzy’s mom, Annette Traband, has also heavily influenced her training style. While her mom’s family couldn’t afford to hire a big-name trainer when Annette was growing up, she was able to catch ride for “a lot of really amazing trainers. She got to school two Olympic horses,” Lizzy said.
Because of her mom’s great connections in the horse world, Lizzy has been able to train with Elizabeth Solter, who rode Roxdene, one of the greatest hunters of all time. She’s also had training time with famous show jumper Anne Kursinksi.
All of Lizzy’s exposure to excellent trainers helped her develop the training style and techniques she uses in Taiji Horsemanship, she said.
“You pick what you like out of all the trainers you’ve gone to and then modify that to your program,” Lizzy said. “If you can get a wide range of knowledge and then pick the things that you really like, then you’ll be able to develop an effective training program.”
Lizzy also plays an integral role in her parents’ training business at Carousel Farm. When she comes home from her half-day school program, her goal is to ride as many horses as she can before doing homework and attending cyber classes in the afternoon.
“I try to ride as many as I can and get that saddle time,” Lizzy said. “‘The more experience you have, the better’ is part of my philosophy.”
Looking to the Future
Since the launch of Taiji Horsemanship, Lizzy has performed at major competitions and expos across the country, including the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Last year, she traveled to Wellington, Fla., to train with top riders as a recipient of the USHJA’s “Living the Dream” grant. Her pony Toby also became a Breyer model in 2009.
Lizzy hopes to do “some big acts” next year, as well as compete Hercules in equitation classes on the “A” circuit. While she loves traveling and teaching at expos, she’s not sure exactly what her schedule will look like in the future.
“I don’t know if I want to be on the road 24/7 as I grow up,” Lizzy said. “It’s very tough and it’s a lot of work. But I know going to these expos and performing has opened some doors and given me some opportunities.
“The reason that I like to do these expos is that I try to give a good education to people who maybe can’t afford it. Hopefully, I can take those skills to kids and adults who want the training but don’t have the resources. Because my mom was in that situation, it’s kinda like a ‘give-back’ type of thing,” Lizzy said.
She also recently launched her first set of training DVDs for the Taiji Horsemanship method, which are available for purchase on www.lizzytraband.com.
Like many talented young riders, Lizzy’s life goal is to ride in the Olympics. If she never accomplishes that goal, she knows it won’t be her disability that stands in her way.
“I know going to the Olympics is a long way away, but I figure I’ve got to start somewhere,” Lizzy said.