Dressage trainer rises above tragedy and finds new love

Dressage trainer rises above tragedy and finds new love

Dressage trainer rises above tragedy and finds new love
Elena Flaharty on Charly at the California Dressage Federation Championships in Ranch Murieta in Sept. 2018. The pair won the championship in freestyle.

When she was seven, Elena Flaharty fell hopelessly and forever in love. She doesn’t remember his name.

He was a horse—a champion, she recalls. He belonged to a neighbor who was a riding instructor.

“The neighbor told my mom the first day that I had a real ability.”

Looking for a healthy summer activity, her mother signed Elena up for lessons, setting her on a path that 30 years later would find her and her partner, a German Sporthorse named Charly, in Lexington, Kentucky with a fistful of ribbons.

Flaharty grew up in San Ramon where she always had at least one horse. In 2003, she graduated from UC San Diego with a BA in political science. After college she worked as a deputy sheriff until an injury sidelined her. Switching careers, she went to work in Human Resources for Chevron.

But her heart was always in the barn.

In 2006, she acquired Lola as a search and rescue horse. When Lola got hurt, Flaharty used dressage as rehabilitation therapy for the mare. Lola turned out to be very talented. Flaharty and Lola competed locally doing very well garnering multiple end awards regionally and nationally.


Elena Flaharty and Charly snuggle after a workout.

Dressage, derived from the French word for “training,” is an equestrian sport which showcases its highest levels at the Olympics every four years. But its basic and introductory levels are beneficial to all horses and riders. Changes in pace and direction communicated by almost imperceptible signals from the rider, and harmony and balance are paramount. To the layperson, it’s like watching an equine “Dancing with the Stars.” Flaharty’s dream was coming closer.

Finally, in 2014, the time was right. Flaharty and her parents Cora and Bob Flaharty moved to their ranch on Morgan Territory Road, and Elena launched Rise Above Equestrian. She retired from Chevron and threw herself full time into raising, training and showing. Lola’s offspring Clayton achieved national recognition at age 5, very young for a dressage horse, which typically doesn’t reach prime performance age until 10 or 11. Flaharty’s dream was coming closer.

In 2016, a mare named Tessa captured Flaharty’s attention. Tessa was already trained to the intermediate level (just one level below the top of the sport), but her career was faltering. It seems she had a bit of a reputation. No one could stay on her back.

No one that is, until Flaharty.

“I got her because she bucked everyone else off,” she laughed.


The two were magic. “Tessa was my love. She taught me.” Together, they reached the Grand Prix level, the top of the sport, taking silver and gold medals along the way. Life was good.

Then it all ended one nightmare morning in December 2017 when Flaharty found Tessa in the paddock with a mysteriously shattered front leg. There was no saving her.

“I was devastated,” Flaharty said. “She was at the top of her game.”

Grief moved in where Tessa used to live.

With a broken heart, Flaharty went through the motions for the next year and a half. “I couldn’t even think about getting another horse.

Then in 2018 a friend in Florida told her about Charly. He was special; big, tenderhearted, and very sensitive. He needed a skilled handler and her friend thought Flaharty would be the one.

Still not sure she was ready she flew to Florida. Her friend was right. The connection was immediate.

“He was a familiar soul whom I immediately trusted and recognized,” Flaharty said.

“I have to be very careful with him. He gets his feelings hurt easily, then shuts down.”

But the trust was mutual, and Charly bloomed.

In their short year and a half together, the partnership has rocked, competing both statewide and nationally, winning the division Freestyle at the California Regional Dressage Championships in Rancho Murieta last September.

In November, the pair made the four-day journey to Lexington to ride in the US Dressage Federation’s 2019 Finals where they finished with a very respectable third place in freestyle.

Next month, they will be back in Rancho Murieta for the Golden State Dressage competition.

The national recognition has given Rise Above Equestrians a needed boost, and Flaharty continues to add new clients to her growing business.

Though Tessa still takes up a big space in her heart, Elena Flaharty is once again excited for the future.

For more photos and information, visit riseaboveequestrian.com.