Mrs. Liz Johnson Brings Majesty and Grace to Zionsville

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 Writer//Neil Lucas          Photo//JJ Kaplan

Printed August 2013

Every August for the past 35 years, the highest levels of the hunter/jumper equestrian world have descended upon Zionsville to compete in the Trader’s Point Charity Horse Show. While the horse show is a world-class competition, it is equally an annual tribute to its founder and longtime Zionsville resident, Mrs. Liz Johnson. The Trader’s Point Charity Horse Show is this remarkable eighty-five year old’s annual gift to the town of Zionsville.

From an early age, Mrs. Johnson’s world has revolved around horses, although neither of her parents were particularly interested in riding. While growing up as a “city girl” in the 56th and Washington Boulevard neighbor, her first memory of being drawn to horses is one of being a very young girl wanting to continuously ride the ponies at the old Riverside Park.

Mrs. Johnson quickly progressed from ponies at Riverside Park to the world of competitive horse shows.  She fondly remembers that as a teenager her brother gave her her first horse named Janette Umber.  Not long after receiving Janette Umber, Mrs. Johnson took the horse to compete in one of the nation’s top horse shows at Devon in the western suburbs of Philadelphia (founded in 1836).  Amazingly, Mr. Johnson and Janette Umber finished fourth in the Hunter’s Stake.  She recalls her trainer telling her after the Devon performance, “You just went to college without going to kindergarten.”

From that show in Devon, Mrs. Johnson continued to compete successfully at the highest levels, including at Madison Square Gardens. As a result of her lifetime of accomplishments in hunter/jumper competitions, she was recently inducted into the Hunter Wall of Fame at the Devon Horse Show and has been recognized as a living legend at Madison Square Gardens.  She has appeared in the prestigious Town & Country magazine twice.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Johnson met her husband at a stable. They both had a love for horses and fox hunting, and a s a result moved from Indianapolis to a farm in Zionsville in 1948, principally to be closer to the Trader’s Point Hunt Club.  It’s the same club where she has served as field master, whipper-in, huntsman and presently holds the prestigious title of “Master of the Foxhounds or MFHA”.

Through the years, the Johnsons continued to reside in Zionsville while competing in the various equine competitions around the country, raising two sons (Johnny and Sylvester), some pigs, cows, chickens and for a while, bred and trained thoroughbred racehorses.   Somehow Mrs. Johnson also found time to become qualified as a ski instructor in Aspen, and to win a few trophies playing tennis at the Woodstock Country Club. Clearly, she is a woman with a great deal of drive and energy.  

Mrs. Johnson and I met around 5:30 p.m. after she had just flown in from California late the day before. By the time we got together, she had already attended several business and board meetings earlier in the day. At the end of our two-hour meeting, she hopped in her car, donned a fedora and drove down the road to another board meeting. It is worth repeating that she accomplished all of this at the age of 85. While Father Time and numerous horse-related injuries may have slowed her down and reduced her mobility, it has done nothing to diminish her vitality or her passion for horses, people and the community.

Mrs. Johnson holding a copy of an issue of Town & Country in which she appeared

When asked how she and her husband decided to start the Trader’s Point Charity Horse Show, she responded that they wanted to use their property for the good of other people.  Liz Johnson brings the majesty and tradition of Devon, Madison Square Gardens, the Hamptons and Spruce Meadows to Zionsville, Indiana once a year with the finest of riders and horses culminating in the Grand Prix on Sunday. And that is her gracious gift to the community, charity and sport that she loves.   

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