Feb 02, 2024

2023 Bates USEA Lady Rider of the Year Liz Halliday Looks Back on a Year of Career Highs and Personal Lows

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Miks Master C on his way to a third-place finish at the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Liz Halliday admits she’s not one to spend too much time in the past, but after a very “transitional” 2023, she’s taken the time to reflect on the changes in her life and the amazing horse power she has in her barn.

Halliday topped the USEA leaderboard’s 2023 Bates USEA Lady Rider of the Year standings with results on 13 different horses from Novice to the CCI5*-L level.

“2023 was mostly quite successful,” she said. “I’m always extremely critical of myself, and I’m sort of always looking at the bits that didn’t go to plan rather than looking at the successful moments that did go well. I’m an on-to-the-next type of person. I try my best to reflect on the event right after it's happened and take the good bits with me, but also try and learn from the areas that weren’t quite right so I can make them better. This is obviously quite hard to do and can be a struggle sometimes, but I believe it’s important to try and move on to the next competition and not overly focus on the results from the previous one, either good or bad."

One of Halliday’s proudest moments was Ocala Horse Properties, LLC, and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C finishing his first five-star at Land Rover Kentucky in third place. The 12-year-old U.S.-bred Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic x Qui Luma CBF) also carried Halliday to the Land Rover USEF CCI5*-L Eventing Reserve National Championship.

“I’m very proud of ‘Mikki’ for doing his first five-star and finishing in third on a sub-30 score. It was phenomenal, and he’s an amazing horse,” she said.

Miks Master C finished third in his first five-star at Land Rover Kentucky in 2023. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

After Kentucky, Mikki and Halliday finished fifth individually and helped the U.S. team to a silver medal at Aachen (Germany).

Halliday continued to rack up good results, with a win at the Tryon International CCI4*-L (Mill Spring, North Carolina) on Cooley Nutcracker. She also took home a CCI2*-S win there with Palmer’s 8-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding Maybach (Millenium x Hillary)—the pair’s third two-star win in a row.

Over the summer as Halliday was preparing for the fall season, her life took a sharp turn as she filed for divorce from her husband of 13 years, Al Sharp.

“I’m a chronic workaholic,” she admitted. “My friends really rallied around me when everything blew up in my personal life mid-season, and I made a point of going out and living life and making an effort to be a normal person for a change. I think for a long time I buried myself in the work to cover up some things that weren’t functioning in my personal life. It’s been a lot to deal with, but I’m actually much happier now. I’m seeing somebody really great and finding time to do some social things along side my career. I’m still working as hard as I ever did, but I needed a minute to regroup and find my own headspace and a better balance .”

While the emotional toll was intense, Halliday knew she had big plans for the fall season, including the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, for which she’d been named to the team with Mikki.

After more than a month break from competing, Halliday came to the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (Lexington, Kentucky) with five horses, determined not let her personal struggles affect her competitive drive and performance.

She and Mikki won the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final in a nail-biting show jumping finale.

“My first competition back after the massive changes to my business and personal life was the AEC, and I won the Advanced championship,” she said. “That was a good test of my resilience, I think, and a chance to really see if my focus was in the right place or not. I had a lot of horses running, and it was a very busy weekend, and I hadn’t competed in eight weeks until I got there. A lot of my horses came in a little bit cold because they hadn’t run in a while, but I needed some time to figure myself out, and I think it was ultimately the right decision. For the most part, it went very well, and I was proud of my horses for picking it up and fighting for me."

After the AEC it was full steam ahead to the fall season and the Pan American Games. In October, she and Mikki helped the U.S. team to a silver medal in Santiago and earned seventh place individually.

Halliday was in a stronger position after cross-country, but an uncharacteristic three rails down dropped her out of medal contention.

Liz Halliday made her senior championship team debut at the 2023 Pan American Games with Miks Master C. Shannon Brinkman Photography photo

Even so, Halliday was thrilled to have her first senior championship experience after missing out on the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games when she was selected Deniro Z, but had to withdraw due to a hoof issue.

“It was very hard for me having been so close to Tokyo and not getting to go,” she said. “My team coat sat in a closet for two years in a box, so it was nice to finally have the opportunity to wear it and represent my country at a senior championship," she said. "I've dreamed about it for a long time. It was wonderful to be on a team with three very talented women, and everybody went there with a great attitude. We arrived ready to fight hard, and I genuinely think everybody did the best they could."

The team finished just .1 behind Canada and earned silver.

“The results weren’t quite what we all dreamed of, but it wasn’t for lack of effort or preparation or horse power,” she said. “I think sometimes the best athletes in the world don’t have their best weekend. My horse is an incredible athlete, and he had the most amazing season, and it just wasn’t our weekend. It’s that real reminder in the horse world that it’s two athletes, not just one, and sometimes things don’t go to plan and that’s just how it is. I’m still so very proud of Mikki and all that he has achieved. He is such a wonderful, generous horse."

Cooley Nutcracker won the Tryon CCI4*-L (pictured) and the Galways Downs CCI4*-L in 2023. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Halliday, 45, didn’t want to end her season on her finish at the Pan Ams, so she headed to Galway Downs (Temecula, California) with Ocala Horse Properties’ 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Shanroe Cooley (Dallas x Shanroe Sapphire) for his first CCI4*-L, and with her own, Deborah Halliday, and Ocala Horse Properties’ 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Cooley Nutcracker (Tolan R x Ballyshan Cleopatra).

While Shanroe Cooley’s weekend didn’t go according to plan, with Liz coming off on cross-country, Cooley Nutcracker stepped up and won his second CCI4*-L of the year, cementing in Liz’s mind that he’s ready for his first five-star. She also came home with the USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship.

“I was thrilled to win two national championships on two different horses, which was very exciting, both of which are still coming up the levels,” she said.

With other talented horses like five-star ride Cooley Quicksilver and Cooley Moonshine coming back to compete in 2024, as well as up-and-comers Newmarket Cooley and Maybach, Liz is excited for the year to come.

She has the Paris Olympic Games on her mind as her major goal, but will let her horses dictate what they’re ready for next.

Liz Halliday's excited about her young horses like Maybach, pictured here at the 2023 AEC. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

“My rule has always been, the horse will tell you what they’re ready for,” she said. “They’re going to tell me what they’re ready for this spring, and then I can decide what they’ll do in the autumn. I’d say [2023] was a year about a lot of horses stepping up a level a showing what they can do. It was a busy year! I’m barely realizing it’s 2024 already.”

Lis has learned a lot about herself over the last year, and she’s striving to keep a little more balance in her life so she can stay on top of the sport but give herself a few more mental and physical breaks.

“I think it’s healthy,” she said. “It’s a new thing I need to find my way into. It makes me uncomfortable because I don’t like to stop, but ultimately, it’s healthier for me mentally and physically to have the balance.

“It’s been a very up and down year,” she continued. “I’m very lucky to have the most amazing team behind me. My staff have just picked me up and carried me on, as have my friends, family, and owners who have been an incredible support. It’s in times of crisis where you really learn who has your back and who your people are, and I’ve learned that I have an incredible village around me.”

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