BY SISSY WICKES
Photos © Andrew Ryback Photography.
Liz Atkins has created a thriving business in the Chicago area hunter/jumper world. Benchmark Stables in Hampshire, IL is a bucolic twenty acre farm located just 50 miles west of Chicago. Boasting a thirty stall heated barn and a large heated indoor arena for winter comfort, it also offers ample grass turnout and a spacious outdoor ring for fairer seasons. Benchmark Stables is dedicated to quality in all aspects of horse care, training, and client service.
Liz Atkins is a young professional who is equally comfortable in the hunter and jumper rings. She has had success at all levels as a junior and now as a professional. From developing a variety of green horses to ribboning in tough Grand Prix competitions, the rider has great versatility. “While a lot of people associate me with the jumper ring, I love the hunters, too,” she explains. “I have a former Grand Prix horse that I am aiming for the Derbies this year. It will be fun!” Her Grand Prix mount, Undine, is one that she brought along from the paddock to the Grand Prix level, a journey that Atkins is proud of.
Atkins earned a business degree from Indiana University and then returned to the horse world. She has had the benefit of learning from some of the most auspicious trainers in the Midwest. Last names like Jayne, Rinehart, Bedoya, and Dorner have helped Atkins progress in her riding career. Currently, she is mentored by Diane Carney, a fixture in the Chicago equestrian scene. “Diane is very helpful and smart. When she is in town, she will come to my farm at 6:00 in the morning to help me school horses before she has to go and take care of her own business. She is great help, gives me good exercises, and keeps me thinking.” As a young professional, Atkins is well aware of the value of mentorship and a knowledgeable ground person.
On May 11-13, 2018, Benchmark Stables is hosting its inaugural International Sale Horse Showcase and Jumper Derby. An innovative idea in horse sales, the event is a chance for prospective buyers to observe a quality group of sale horses with a “red carpet” feel. Atkins explains, “On Friday, people can have dinner and drinks and watch sales horses. We will video everything so that sellers can leave the event with a great sales video and I can post them on my website.” It is a rare opportunity for buyers to observe quality horses in an organized, relaxed event. An elegant dinner and cocktails will enhance the buyer’s experience, a far cry from the usual pressured routine of buying horses. Atkins is committed to designing the weekend to be a premier, luxurious event in the Midwest.
On Saturday, May 12th, Benchmark Stables will host a clinic by Diane Carney. The clinic will offer different fence heights and degrees of difficulty depending on the participants. Those at the higher levels will have the valuable opportunity to school natural obstacles such
as a bank and open water.
The weekend will culminate with a Speed Derby to be held on Sunday, May 13th along with a champagne brunch. As with the clinic, different fence heights will be offered in order to accommodate riders of different levels. All riders are welcome regardless of their participation in the previous day’s clinic. Atkins plans to obtain sponsorship for prize money totaling $5000.00. From Friday to Sunday in the middle of May, Benchmark Stables will offer a revolutionary, first-class weekend of sales, training, and competition for horses, riders, and professionals.
Look for Liz Atkins and Benchmark Stables at storied midwestern horse show facilities such as Ledges, Balmoral, and Traverse City. In the winter months, she may be found in Wellington, Ocala, or Gulfport, depending on the location that best suits her horses and clients. Young trainers like Liz Atkins are positive beacons of a bright future in the horse show world.
Learn more about Liz Atkins and Benchmark Stables at www.benchmarkstables.com
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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