A chance meeting on the cross-country course at a young riders’ competition. A random visit to a Louisiana horse trial. A life-changing hookup from her mother’s nail technician. Some might call it serendipity. Dr. Elizabeth Crowder Abbott calls it providence.
“I am a woman of science, but I’m also a woman of religion, and I have a real strong Christian background,” Abbott said of the way in which chance meetings and connections have shaped her life. “It’s more than fate, it’s faith.”
This week, Abbott is working her final stint as groom for Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. The duo are representing the United States as part of the three-day eventing team competing at the 2023 Pan American Games in Quillota, Chile. Abbott and Elliott are best friends, having met initially in 2003 when Abbott was 12 and then becoming reacquainted in 2015.
“She’s already been struggling with it,” Elliott said about Abbott wrapping up her grooming career. “We’ve had lots of conversations about it. She’s really had to have a lot of self-reflection over the last year. It’s bittersweet for both of us, but we’ll continue to make memories.”
The two women have developed a close friendship as Abbott groomed for Elliott while the latter has risen into the elite eventing ranks. And they don’t just work together, they play together, too. They schedule museum trips, dinners and other outings wherever competitions or life take them.
“We’re the best of friends,” Elliott said. “I always love to get a little bit of culture when we’re in these wonderful destinations, and we try to cram it all in. If there are seconds where we can fit stuff in, she’s always down with it.”
Once the eventing competition is over in Chile, they plan to stay in the country a couple extra days to visit a winery and do some hiking.
“We’re going to make the most of it regardless of what happens,” said Elliott, who’s based in Hoffman, North Carolina.
However, Abbott said she thinks they’ll be celebrating a successful U.S. team outing and podium visit for Elliott. She’s hazarding a guess that Elliott and “Q,” a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Diarado—Lantana, Sandro Hit) owned by Carol Stephens, will be strong finishers.
“He’s very capable in dressage but we have a little trouble getting him to be consistent,” said Abbott, 32. “He’s capable of a 26 or better. If he can pull off a good test, he could be a medal contender.”
The Pan American Games eventing competition begins Friday at the Chilean Army Riding School, located in San Isidro de Quillota, about 80 miles northwest of Santiago. Competitors will complete a CCI4*-level dressage test and stadium round, and then a CCI3*-level cross-country course.
For Abbott, the Pan Ams will be her “first proper team competition,” she said as she prepared to travel from Oklahoma, where she lives with her husband, to Miami, where she was meeting Q to escort him to Chile.
“I know there will be long days, early morning, late nights,” Abbott said of her final grooming assignment.
After the Pan Ams she’ll hang up her groom’s bag to focus on work—she’s a pharmacist for Walmart Corporation in Tulsa—and starting a family with Brice Abbott, her husband of four years. The couple train and compete retriever dogs together, and she competes in hunter derbies with her 9-year-old Zweibrucker gelding Flitwick GSF. (Between “Flit” not loving eventing to the distances needed to travel from Tulsa to get to events, Abbott opted to switch equestrian disciplines.)
The couple met on a blind date in 2016, just after she’d graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences with a doctorate in pharmacy. She moved back to the farm owned by her parents, Cathy and Craig Crowder, southwest of Tulsa, and was perfectly content, she said.
“But I think my parents were getting concerned that I was never going to meet anybody because I was just living at their house, riding my horse and working, so my mom started talking to people,” Elizabeth said with a chuckle. One of those people was her mom’s nail technician, who knew Brice.
“I was, like, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t want to go on a blind date,’ ” Elizabeth recalled. But a first date led to a second, and eventually they wed on February 29, 2020—Leap Day.
They enjoyed an early celebration of their “first real” anniversary this past summer, first flying to Boston, where Elizabeth’s longtime friend, event rider Jacob Fletcher, was getting married to Cornelia Dorr, also an eventer. The Abbotts then flew to Iceland, where they traveled for four days, before heading to Germany and Austria, and then meeting up with Elliott, who competed with Q at the Luhmühlen CCI5*-L (Germany).
“I’m a really big planner. I’ll look at a calendar a year in advance and know where I want to go and where I want to be,” said Elizabeth about combining travel and grooming while also working full-time. “And I just work really hard.”
Born in Texas, Elizabeth fell in love with horses as a child. She was 8 when her family moved to Oklahoma, and she soon began taking weekly riding lessons. At the age of 12, she started feeding horses and cleaning stalls at local trainer Kim Hatley’s to pay for lessons, and then eventually, she found herself working for, and training with, Meighan Ferguson.
“She was my first real taste of eventing,” Elizabeth said. “She apprenticed with Jimmy Wofford in the ’90s. He had a very specific style and structure. All the grooming, turn out and experience in the barn came from Meighan, which came from Jimmy.”
Elizabeth evented throughout high school, spending portions of the winter with Ferguson in Aiken, South Carolina. She’d send her homework to her high-school teachers via fax and email.
“I learned the juggling skills that continue to this point,” she said with a laugh. In 2009, she groomed at a young riders’ competition, where she met Jacob Fletcher.
“I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on her,” said Lisa Fletcher, Jacob’s mom. “We walked cross-country with her by happenstance, and she and Jacob became fast friends.
“They were known as The Geek Squad,” Lisa adds, alluding to how both teens were straight-A students who’d aced their ACT tests. “They were just two little eggheads that were a match made in friendship heaven.”
Elizabeth soon assumed groom duties for Jacob, traveling to many competitions with him while finishing high school and beginning a chemical engineering program at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She loved her grooming life, but sensed her school life was not on the right path.
“I was good at math and chemistry, but I really hated engineering,” she said. A summer job at a pharmacy during college introduced her to what would become her career: “I loved it.”
She switched her major to biochemistry and moved to Little Rock to attend UAMS, going to the Fletchers’ farm on the weekends to ride. That soon morphed into her moving into the Fletcher home, where she rode and finished pharmacy school in exchange for tutoring Jacob’s younger brothers, Sam and Adam, in math and science.
“We call Elizabeth our surrogate daughter,” Lisa said. “She lived with us, and she juggled engineering school and traveling. By that time, Jacob was traveling all the time and going everywhere. Most kids can’t balance all of that, but she did, and she did it well.”
In 2010, Elizabeth was named the U.S. Eventing Association’s Groom of the Year while working for Fletcher for as he began his ascent into the upper levels of eventing.
Elizabeth said much of her success in grooming came down to her love of numbers. She’s an avid learner, listening to podcasts, absorbing internet information and watching videos about ranking systems for international horses and riders.
“She is a wealth of knowledge,” said Stephens, who owns Q as well as other horses that Elliott competes. Elizabeth will watch a dressage test, Stephens said, and then have calculated the score, based on her self-taught knowledge of how judges mark a test, before it’s announced. She’s been quick to advise Elliott about which competitions she should consider, based on online ranking data and information she’s gathered about who is competing and what VIPs will be at any given competition.
“The numbers and statistics that she comes up with, it’s amazing,” Stephens said. “All these things that Elizabeth throws at us, it’s always entertaining, and we’re always much smarter for it.”
In fact, it was Elizabeth who convinced Elliott to compete this spring in the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S, held alongside the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L. Elliott and Q finished third, behind Karl Slezak of Canada and Tamie Smith, which helped solidify her selection to the Pan American team. Initially Elliott and Stephens were considering not going to Kentucky.
“We have a group WhatsApp going, and I immediately messaged back, ‘The Pan Am dressage judges will be there, the U.S. team selectors will be there. She has to go.’ I knew that was where we had to go,” Elizabeth said. “I study what judges will be there and where selectors are going. I’m such a nerd for the sport.
“I’ve not been an upper-level rider, but I’ve watched a lot of videos and I have a good eye,” she added. “Where I’m really good is not just the grooming but more as a support staff with the numbers and the times and all that, and not just the care of horses.”
Elizabeth transitioned from working for the Fletchers to Elliott in 2015, as Abbott was winding down her work with Fletcher and entering her final year of pharmacy school.
“At that point, I was still kind of working for Jacob, but it was slowing down because he had a full-time groom dedicated to him,” she said. “I got the opportunity to go to a big event with Sydney and took it.”
That big event was the Fair Hill International CCI4*-L (Maryland), where Elliott was riding Cisco A, the horse with whom she would go on to make her CCI5*-L debut in 2016 at the Kentucky Three-Day Event and represent the U.S. for the first time at the 2018 FEI Eventing Nations Cup at Great Meadow International (Virginia).
Fast forward eight years, and Elliott is glad that her best friend will be there for her as she competes in Chile, but it will be a bittersweet final grooming adventure for them.
“Over the years, because I’m such a solo rider and do a lot myself, it’s been a process to find who works well with me. I’m organized chaos, so to speak, so it takes the right person to work with my issues and disorganization,” Elliott said with a chuckle.
“The trust between you and your groom, you can’t trade it for anything. It makes such a difference for your mental space as a rider,” Elliott added. “Elizabeth dissects all the lines in show jumping with me and on cross-country, and she’s with me in the warm-up for dressage. She’s right there, holding my hand, all the way through. And she knows me. She knows when I need space and when I need tough words. She’s just so wonderful.”
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