Patience and persistence have paid big dividends for Elizabeth Long and her horse Tango.
Five years ago Long's family purchased Tango, a 4-year-old Holsteiner with a lot of unrealized potential. This year Long and Tango won South Carolina's Adult Hunter Champion and Adult Equitation Champion in Progressive Show Jumping.
"What I think is pretty cool is that she took a horse that wasn't just a push-button horse and did this through a lot of time and hard work," said her trainer, Charles Hairfield of Seabrook Island Equestrian Center. "She's been very dedicated. It's been really fun, a treat, to watch this pair come along and do as well as they have."
There were times Long had doubts.
"When I first got Tango she was terrified to even go in a show ring. She was very young, very green. We basically started from the beginning," said Long, the daughter of Ernie and Lindsay Long. "The first full year she was terrified, which would scare me. It was a project, and the first semester of my first year of college I took a break because I was discouraged. This horse was scared and it was scaring me."
But Long realized she couldn't quit a sport she had been involved with since the age of 7. She and Tango resumed working with Hairfield, and two years ago Long won an overall championship. This year she won the two state titles. Long also qualified for this weekend's South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association Adult Derby Finals in Aiken.
"The biggest thing was this horse and Elizabeth both needed mileage and they both needed confidence. We have taken it very slow," Hairfield said. Their primary focus has been developing pace and a good eye for the fences.
Long said she was frightened the first time she jumped while riding a horse. Her mother, who grew up riding, told her to sit in the saddle and hold on.
"You could barely call it a jump. After I got over it and stayed on (the horse) I was addicted. I wanted to jump all the time. I was bored with everything else. It's a thrill. All you want to do is see how much further you can go and what all you can do," Long said.
Long said the sport tests the horse's athleticism and the ability of the rider to make it look effortless as they go through a series of jumps.
"One of the most important things in this sport is the relationship between rider and horse," said Long, who rides Tango five to six days a week. "Trust is everything. It's a pretty scary sport. You have to trust your horse and your horse has to trust you. Having Tango for so long, we definitely have gone past the normal trust a girl has with her horse. She and I have grown up together."