A Beautiful Ride

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Zionsville woman parlays equine passion into prestigious competition

Elizabeth “Liz” Johnson has spent most of her life competing. She’s ridden horseback, snow skied and swum, more often than not for the sole purpose of finishing first.

Usually, she’s realized that goal; the irony is, however, that for the last 35 years Johnson has been happy to finish last.

Why? For the sake of those in need and the town of Zionsville, for starters. What form does it take? The Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show and Country Fair.

“Charity has been part of the show from the start,” Johnson, as elegant and charming a woman as one could meet, said. “We’ve given our profits to many charities over the years; we hope everybody benefits from it.”

Johnson, I came to understand over the course of a scorching morning on the sprawling landupon which the yearly spectacle is contested, is its founder, having created the event in the late 1970s. Now in its 35th year, the gathering encompasses a week’s worth of activity and is among the most prestigious on the riding circuit. This year’s event will bring 800 horses and nearly 15,000 people to the Zionsville area.

The effect of such a large number of people on Zionsville is not lost on John Johnson, Liz’s son and caretaker of the land.

“There is an enormous economic benefit,” he said. “People come from all over America, and they have to have places to stay and eat. Local stores’ business spikes up. It’s a moneymaker for the local economy.”

Dollars aside, the most compelling aspect of the event is Liz. She and her husband Sylvester – or simply “Ves” – moved to Zionsville from Indianapolis in 1948, and pieced plots of land together bit by bit. They called it Wild Air Farms, in honor of Ves’ grandmother’s land in California.

By the time the soil had a name, however, Liz already had made a name for herself.

“I always wanted to ride,” she said. “When I was young, my brother had a horse he couldn’t ride well and he gave her to me. I rode her at the Devon (Penn.) horse show when I was 17, and placed 4th out of 68 riders. From then on I thought, ‘This is it, I need to keep showing.’”

And show, she did. She was twice a winner at Madison Square Garden, was featured in the August 1951 issue of Town and Country magazine and had a horse, Super Flash, inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.

Along the way Johnson also picked up her snow ski instructor’s license, won a few medals in that sport, landed in the background of a Sports Illustrated cover – “I was just on roller skates in the background,” she understates – and continued to train horses in Zionsville.

Johnson, as pictured in the August, 1951 issue of Town and Country magazine.

Then, an idea hit.

“I had the vision of having a show here,” she said. “I was showing across the country, and we had this beautiful area here. We started with two rings for hunters and had a cornfield next to them, so we decided to have jumpers as well. One thing led to another and now we have four rings.”

That growth has allowed the charity aspect to tick up as well. This year’s event will benefit the Riley Children’s Foundation, and previously profits have gone to organizations like Little Red Door, the Humane Society and others.

John Johnson is quick to point out that the event is good for families, as well.

“It’s very family-oriented,” he said. “We’ve got pony rides, bounce houses – there’s something for everyone. You get to see something you don’t get to see very often.”

Show week will find Liz, who last rode in 2005, playing hostess. She will break from her routine of swimming 30 laps a day in her 75-foot pool to mingle with friends she sees but once a year.

“I wish I could participate, but I ride mentally,” she said. “I welcomethe exhibitors; it’s so much fun to have friends come. I don’t have any particular thing I have to do, I just enjoy being here. It’s thrilling.”

Elizabeth “Liz” Johnson has spent most of her life competing. She’s ridden horseback, snow skied and swum, more often than not for the sole purpose of finishing first.

Usually, she’s realized that goal; the irony is, however, that for the last 35 years Johnson has been happy to finish last.

Why? For the sake of those in need and the town of Zionsville, for starters. What form does it take? The Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show and Country Fair.

“Charity has been part of the show from the start,” Johnson, as elegant and charming a woman as one could meet, said. “We’ve given our profits to many charities over the years; we hope everybody benefits from it.”

Johnson, I came to understand over the course of a scorching morning on the sprawling landupon which the yearly spectacle is contested, is its founder, having created the event in the late 1970s. Now in its 35th year, the gathering encompasses a week’s worth of activity and is among the most prestigious on the riding circuit. This year’s event will bring 800 horses and nearly 15,000 people to the Zionsville area.

The effect of such a large number of people on Zionsville is not lost on John Johnson, Liz’s son and caretaker of the land.

“There is an enormous economic benefit,” he said. “People come from all over America, and they have to have places to stay and eat. Local stores’ business spikes up. It’s a moneymaker for the local economy.”

Dollars aside, the most compelling aspect of the event is Liz. She and her husband Sylvester – or simply “Ves” – moved to Zionsville from Indianapolis in 1948, and pieced plots of land together bit by bit. They called it Wild Air Farms, in honor of Ves’ grandmother’s land in California.

By the time the soil had a name, however, Liz already had made a name for herself.

“I always wanted to ride,” she said. “When I was young, my brother had a horse he couldn’t ride well and he gave her to me. I rode her at the Devon (Penn.) horse show when I was 17, and placed 4th out of 68 riders. From then on I thought, ‘This is it, I need to keep showing.’”

And show, she did. She was twice a winner at Madison Square Garden, was featured in the August 1951 issue of Town and Country magazine and had a horse, Super Flash, inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.

Along the way Johnson also picked up her snow ski instructor’s license, won a few medals in that sport, landed in the background of a Sports Illustrated cover – “I was just on roller skates in the background,” she understates – and continued to train horses in Zionsville.

Then, an idea hit.

“I had the vision of having a show here,” she said. “I was showing across the country, and we had this beautiful area here. We started with two rings for hunters and had a cornfield next to them, so we decided to have jumpers as well. One thing led to another and now we have four rings.”

That growth has allowed the charity aspect to tick up as well. This year’s event will benefit the Riley Children’s Foundation, and previously profits have gone to organizations like Little Red Door, the Humane Society and others.

About the 35th annual Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show and Country Fair

  • 7400 Hunt Club Road, Zionsville
  • August 7-12
  • Adults: Tuesday-Saturday –$10, Sunday– $15; Children ages 4-12 – $5 (free on Saturday); Seniors over 62 free on Friday
  • Horse competitions, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performance, fireworks, dog show and Country Fair featuring more than 40 vendors
  • www.traderspoint.org or 873-5552

John Johnson is quick to point out that the event is good for families, as well.

“It’s very family-oriented,” he said. “We’ve got pony rides, bounce houses – there’s something for everyone. You get to see something you don’t get to see very often.”

Schedule of special events

  • Aug. 5 – “Symphony Under the Stars”
  • Aug. 9 – “Garden Party for Riley Day”
  • Aug. 10 – “Paws to Applause Dog Show” and “Marty and Russell Fortune Jr. Memorial $30,000 Grand Prix”
  • Aug. 11 – “Kids’ Day”
  • Aug. 12 – “$60,000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis”

Show week will find Liz, who last rode in 2005, playing hostess. She will break from her routine of swimming 30 laps a day in her 75-foot pool to mingle with friends she sees but once a year.

“I wish I could participate, but I ride mentally,” she said. “I welcomethe exhibitors; it’s so much fun to have friends come. I don’t have any particular thing I have to do, I just enjoy being here. It’s thrilling.”

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