Temecula, Calif.—Nov. 2—Just four days ago, Liz Halliday was standing on the podium in Santiago, Chile, with a team silver medal around her neck.
Now, she’s brought two of her promising Advanced horses to The Eventing Championships at Galway Downs for the U.S. Equestrian Federation CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship, and she’s off to a good start, leading the division on Cooley Nutcracker.
Halliday, who finished seventh individually in Chile with Miks Master C, admitted she was happy to come to California to hopefully end her season on a good note.
“I was really disappointed with my results at the Pan Ams,” she said. “To have that be the end of my season and not have something else focus on wouldn't have been great. Every brilliant horse has an off weekend; I just wish it hadn't been there. I rode the best I could, and that didn't pan out. For me it was brilliant to just refocus and get straight on a plane and go to another competition. It's kind of what I've always wanted to do, too—just be in that place where I could go from big competition, to big competition and from five-star to five-star.”
Galway Downs is somewhat of a homecoming for Halliday, who grew up 20 minutes away in Fallbrook. She returned in 2013 and 2020 to compete and was complimentary of all of the improvements throughout the years.
“I knew this would be a good track,” she said. “It's an event I enjoy, and I haven't been back here for three years. I knew that Robert Kellerhouse has been doing an incredible job to make this event better, so I wanted to come out and check it out.”
Cooley Nutcracker, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tolant R x Ballyshan Cleopatra) who Halliday owns along with Renee Lane, Deborah Halliday, and Ocala Horse Properties, won the Tryon International CCI4*-L (Mill Spring, North Carolina) this spring and is coming into the event off a second-place finish in the Morven Park CCI4*-S (Leesburg, Virginia) in October. He was named as Liz’s direct reserve for the Pan Ams.
The pair scored a 29.9 in front of judges Sandy Phillips (GBR), Angela Tucker (GBR), and Marilyn Payne (USA).
“This is a beautiful arena, they've done such a fabulous job of it; gorgeous setting. I was actually really pleased with how relaxed Cooley Nutcracker was today,” Liz said. “He had a couple little mistakes, fair enough. From his rideability in the ring, everything is getting so much better. [He had a] couple of green little mistakes, but he's still a 9-year-old.”
Although she’s leading the division, Liz was disappointed in her scores today on both Cooley Nutcracker and Ocala Horse Properties’ Shanroe Cooley, who’s contesting his first CCI4*-L and is in fifth (35.8).
“I found the judging today really disappointing,” she said. “I felt like they didn't reward anything that the horses did right. That's just disappointing for the sport. I've been around a lot; I know these judges, and I've been all over Europe and everything, and today was a disappointing day, in my opinion.”
With dressage behind her, Liz is looking forward to Clayton Fredericks’ cross-country track tomorrow.
“I think this is a really strong track. It's a really serious track. I think it's the real deal,” she said. “It’s very legit. It’s very up to standard, and I think the horses will be really educated when they come away from it. I think the ground will be very good.”
Tamie Smith, who’s based just across the road from Galway Downs, has three horses in the CCI4*-L, and she slotted into second (32.2) on the Kynan Syndicate’s Kynan, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Envoy x Danieta).
She’d been named as the traveling reserve for the Pan Ams, but after discussion with team management, decided that it was in Kynan’s best interest to go to his first CCI4*-L instead.
“[Alternate] Alyssa Phillips was in a place where she was ready to go in to that role, and it was a valuable experience for her,” said Smith. “It's always a very valuable experience to be on your first team and go as the traveling reserve. It was a collective decision between his owners, between USEF management, between [chef d’equipe] Bobby Costello, and the selectors, and we all collectively kind of came up with the best plan with which would be best for him.”
Kynan did get to compete at the final mandatory outing for the team at the Maryland Horse Trials in October, and Smith thought it was a great experience for him.
“Being able to put him on a plane and take him there and be part of that atmosphere was super for him,” she said. “He was super at Loch Moy and a little bit on the muscle and wild, so I think it was great training. Then he flew home and had a couple of days of just hanging out ,and then he got back to work, and here we are.”
Smith was happy with her score today for where Kynan is in his training and development. She explained that she prepares for horse trials differently than long-format events, using horse trials for training and doesn’t think as much about being competitive. That strategy works for Kynan, putting less pressure on him at horse trials.
“Some people want to win at every event they go to, and I want to try to teach him to learn how to cope with his nerves,” she said. “Today, he was foot-perfect. It was absolutely beautiful. He's 8-years-old; he could have more of an uphill balance, but we're doing third level dressage, so I felt like he was really nice and coming from back to front and lovely in the contact. I was I was thrilled with them.”
While Galway Downs is her home turf, Smith was happy to see some changes to the cross-country course for tomorrow and thinks it will be a good challenge for Kynan, her more experienced four-star horse Elliot V, and temporary ride Cooley By Design, who’s she’s competing while his rider Gina Economou is on the mend from a broken pelvis.
“The first quarter is extremely intense,” she said. “It just basically hits you in the head, I think a little bit frantically, jumping, turning, twisting; lots of jumping efforts in a short period of time, and then long gallops. Then at the end you have quite a couple of really technical things. It’s flat here, but people will be, I think, surprisingly shocked at how fatigued their horses get because of the turning, and I think the time will be hard to make. I think he's trying to slow us down [with the waters.] Everything is right there. But there's enough to do and a lot to do.”
She’s planning to see how Kynan feels when they head out on the course, which has an optimum time of 10 minutes and 40 jumping efforts.
“You want to be competitive, but also he's 8-years-old and he has a huge future ahead of him, so he'll tell me how he's doing when he goes out there,” she said. “He's ready to go, and he's fit. The other two [horses], I don't know [Cooley by Design] very well, but Elliot is ready to go, and I hope to have a very good result with all three of them.”
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