From jumping fences to conquering academics, meet the remarkable equestrian excelling in two worlds.

PHOTOS BY Alden Corrigan

The computer screen illuminates, and the familiar ding of a virtual meeting commences, connecting me with Elena Haas in her Wake Forest University dorm. I immediately smile back at the poised young woman sitting in front of her computer against the backdrop of a quintessential college dorm room. Elena, a rising show-jumping power-house and full-time student, seemed eager to talk about the rewards and challenges of juggling both.

When I spoke with Elena during Wellington International’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) 2024, she was racking up exceptional results. She had numerous highly successful finishes, including placing fourth in the FEI 3* WEF Challenge Cup and ninth in the $140K FEI 3* Grand Prix. Elena noted a particularly spectacular WEF weekend when her father came to watch; it happened to be his 60th birthday. She proudly said, “He has been such an incredible support system for me, and to have him there for this competition was incredibly special.”

Elena aboard Claude in the WEF 3* Challenge Cup and 3* Grand Prix during WEF 2024.


Riders competing at the top level of show jumping at such a young age, like Elena, often hail from riding families. However, for Elena, horses entered her life through summer trips to her grandparents’ Missouri Ranch. Sensing Elena’s affinity for horses, her grandfather bought a neighbor’s broodmare for $50. Once home in Oakland, California, Elena was relentless in her quest for horseback riding lessons, and, by chance, her parents signed her up for lessons at a hunter-jumper barn. Despite being encouraged to try numerous other sports, Elena’s passion ran deep for equestrian sport.

Initially, Elena’s competitive horseback riding journey stayed local in Northern California, but at age 15, she began to dabble in bigger shows at Desert International Horse Park in Thermal, California. Balancing school, sports, and family commitments often limited her horse time, but the slowdown during COVID-19 allowed her to spend more time at the barn. Reflecting on this time, Elena says she and her parents saw that riding could bring so much peace when the world was in so much chaos.

With lofty aspirations for her riding career, Elena envisioned herself competing at the top of the sport. It was meeting legendary horseman Richard Spooner at a clinic that ignited her belief in those dreams. “That changed everything for me,” Elena notes. “Richard was the first person who helped me and my parents believe my dreams could be possible.” Elena spent her last year as a junior rider training with Spooner and Meredith Herman. Richard emphasized the incredible places show jumping could take Elena, and she remembers his pivotal advice: “Who is going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?” This was the catalyst for making the move to Wellington.

As high school graduation approached, she meticulously selected colleges that met her rigorous academic standards and a location offering short flights to Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). Currently a sophomore at Wake Forest University, Elena is a frequent flier to Wellington, where her horses are with Andrew and Alex Welles of Team Welles, and she competes regularly at WEF.

Her dreams of being at the top have undoubtedly come true and at quite an accelerated pace. At 20 years old, Elena competes against the top show jumpers in international competitions and comes out of the ring with top placings. She says that even her dad can’t quite believe she is competing against the top riders he has become familiar with over the last few years.

After a clean round, Elena’s parents, Michael and Rocio Haas, congratulate her and Ogue BT Special who Elena says is “brave and eager to learn with youngest child personality.” (her mom’s current favorite horse).


Elena’s affection for her horses is undeniable, and her profound connection is conveyed with endearing nicknames she has bestowed on them for specific reasons, like Big Mama, Mimi, and Barbie Dream Horse. Elena’s appreciation for her horses is evident, and she notes, “I would be nowhere without Centana, and I can’t believe I’m getting to compete on a horse like Claude.”

Elena with Claude, aka Barbie Dream Horse, whom she describes as a best friend who is eager to please and the sweetest horse in the barn.

When describing her training with Team Welles, her immediate response was about the operation’s community feel. “Family is the most important thing in the world to me. And if you’re really lucky, you get a chosen family,” admits Elena. “Alex, Andrew, their daughters, and honestly, the whole team is a second family to me, and I can’t imagine my life without them.”

Riding at such a high level presents significant mental challenges, and despite extensive training, those obstacles can be overwhelming. Elena acknowledges her tendency to take herself too seriously and overthink. Andrew’s support extends beyond training Elena and her horses; he even accompanied her in a meeting with sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella. Now Elena tries to focus on envisioning what you want to have happen, not what you don’t. She plans meticulously for each class, and as it gets closer to game time, she and Andrew simplify the strategy and strive for the mindset of “see, feel, trust,” a concept inspired by Dr. Rotella. This approach fosters self-trust in executing the plan, with Elena noting that her peak performance coincides with happiness and the ability to laugh.

Elena enjoys participating in the training process and thoroughly preparing for competition at Team Welles. “When you immerse yourself in the process, it doesn’t feel like work at all,” Elena muses. “It has been a journey to be in this kind of training environment and that she has never been happier.”

Elena aboard Claude competing at WEF, and being congratulated by trainer Andrew Welles.


Elena’s riding career has seen remarkable success but hasn’t been without its challenges. Moving across the country for college posed a degree of difficulty, compounded by health scares that landed her in the hospital during her first semester. It was a daunting time, leaving Elena uncertain about her ability to continue riding and competing. Yet, a year later, on the anniversary of her hospital stay, she found herself preparing for her first 4* grand prix, a 1.60-meter class under the lights. Reflecting on this journey, Elena remarks, “Some of my proudest moments coincide with my biggest challenges.”

Elena with Global Jativia, the fastest horse Elena has ever ridden.

She expresses gratitude for her supportive family, both inside and outside the ring. She credits her parents, brothers, godparents, and godsister for always being there for her while emphasizing the importance of staying grounded. “It can be easy to lose sight of that and get wrapped up in results,” Elena says, “but I have people who love me the same, whether I win or lose, and that’s something I’m really lucky to have.”

In moments when she needs to slow down, Elena reaches out to her younger brother and connects with friends to regain a sense of normalcy. She’s also prioritizing self-care, recognizing that you can only care for people around you if you take care of yourself. Pasta nights with the Welles and cozy catchups with her dorm roommate are cherished moments. “When my world feels stormy and swirling, these little things help me slow down,” she shares.


“I tend to be a bit overambitious with my time,” Elena chuckles as she describes her studies at Wake Forest. Inspired by her father’s work in renewable energy, she has crafted her own major: Applied Environmental and Sustainability Leadership, complemented by a minor in Health and Human Resources. Elena underscores the urgency of the climate crisis, describing it as a “21st century issue that requires a 21st century approach.” Determined to contribute, she is committed to helping find solutions.

Already immersing herself in the workplace and applying her education, Elena interns at Megan Fellows’ Carbon Hoofprint, a pioneering company dedicated to sustainable solutions in the equestrian industry. Elena has embraced this opportunity to make a difference by seamlessly blending her pas- sions. “It is a privilege to get to ride, but it’s also a privilege to be able to go to school,” Elena reflects. “I feel I have a responsibility to do something with it. I have the ability and opportunities to make a difference while pursuing my dreams.”

Above: Elena enjoying an Alden Corrigan photoshoot. Left: Onermie Van Het Weyenshof, aka Mimi, who Elena says is quick, fiery, and loves the sport. Right: Elena with Centana, aka Big Mama, Elena’s longest current partnership who never lets Elena down.


With her journey toward the top of equestrian sport well underway, Elena says her ultimate dream is to represent the United States on senior teams and compete in the Olympics and World Equestrian Games. Yet, alongside her love for the sport, she is cognizant of the need to support her riding and desires to contribute more to the world. Elena eagerly anticipates the potential of Carbon Hoofprint and the opportunity to merge her two passions. “The dream would be to help the world around me while getting to pursue riding as my full-time passion,” Elena says. With her ambition and drive, this remarkable young rider is bound to make a significant impact in all her endeavors.

When asked to offer advice to aspiring riders, Elena recalls wisdom shared by mentor Richard Spooner: “Focus on the art, and the success will come.” To her, this means prioritizing the journey of riding and the support of others over fixating on results and letting the rest fall into place. “Life throws a lot of challenges at you, and it’s easy to get down,” she says. “Just remember that everything happens for a reason, and if you stay strong to your values, good things will happen.”

Elena emphasizes her admiration and appreciation for the collective team who contribute to her journey, from her family and trainers to the dedicated caretakers of her horses. “I know they love my horses just as much as I do, and it makes me happy beyond belief,” Elena shares. As she enters the ring, Elena feels the unwavering support of her entire team, rooting for her and her horses with equal fervor. “It’s better than I could have ever imagined. It feels like a fairytale.”

To read Elena’s feature in the digital magazine click here. To read more about EQ Living’s favorite equestrians, click here.