Liz Halliday had one rail and 1.2 time penalties in hand with Miks Master C when she headed into the Rolex Stadium the evening of Sept. 1st for show jumping in the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds, which took place at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, Aug. 29-Sept. 3.
After leading the competition from the start, she thought she was in the clear as she headed to the last fence, but a late rail and exceeding the time allowed over Bobby Murphy’s course made Halliday, and the large crowd, groan. It took a few seconds, but announcer Brian O’Connor did the math and confirmed that Halliday only added .8 time penalties to her score to keep her overnight lead ahead of Phillip Dutton and Z, who’d put the pressure on with one of four double clear rounds.
“I am totally thrilled—I’m obviously going to have anxiety for the next 10 years after that,” she said with a laugh. “I knew I was right on the edge, and when they announced my score, I had a moment where I was like, ‘Maybe I did the math wrong.’ I was freaking out a little bit, like, ‘That was cutting it too fine, Halliday.’ He just jumped phenomenally the whole weekend. I think that light’s a little funny in there, and he just saw a glare in the water tray as he took off, and I was shocked because he was jumping so well.”
“Mikki,” an 11-year-old U.S.-bred Swedish Warmblood (Mighty Magic x Qui Luma CBF) who’s owned by Ocala Horse Properties LLC and Deborah Palmer, came to Halliday as a confirmed Advanced horse under Maya Black, and Halliday’s spent the last year and a half getting to know him and picking up big results. They were third in the gelding’s five-star debut at Land Rover Kentucky this spring, then helped the U.S. team to a silver medal at the Aachen CCIO4*-S (Germany) this summer. Nex, they’ll head to the Pan American Games in Chile in October.
“He’s just a really wonderful horse,” said Halliday, Lexington, Kentucky. “He loves the sport, he’s very generous, he tries very hard, and he’s very, very talented. I just feel really lucky to ride him. I planned to come here to be competitive with him and run him fairly fast with the view of running him quieter at the final trial before the Pan Ams and just put all the pieces back together so that he doesn’t run off! My plan was to try and be pretty competitive this weekend and give him a good run for fitness as much as anything. And obviously, I wanted to come here and win, so it’s always nice when that works out.”
Twenty-six pairs started over Murphy’s course tonight and four were double clear, including Dutton on both Z and Azure, who finished third.
“I thought it was a really good track, actually,” said Halliday. “The time was influential. It wasn’t huge, but it was enough. There’s always the atmosphere factor here. I think the light was quite influential late on. It definitely influenced my horse to the last.”
Dutton agreed, adding that he brought both his horses to the AEC for their first prep runs before their big fall events. “Each horse is different,” he said of his plan over tonight’s course. “You’ve got to ride them a certain way to get the best out of them. Z’s better off being a little bit relaxed and in a bit of an open canter, not getting too much up and down. I didn’t think [the course] walked that strong, actually. But like Liz said, I think that light and a few other factors play a part, and the rails, I believe were spread pretty evenly around, so that’s a good sign of a well-built course.”
Z, a 15-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Asca Z x Bellabouche) owned by Evie Dutton, Ann Jones, Suzanne Lacy, Caroline Moran, Thomas Tierney, and Dave and Patricia Vos, is heading to the Pau CCI5*-L in France in October.
“I sort of had in mind to try to be competitive without overdoing it,” he said of his weekend. “It’s a great experience for me and the horses to get in this arena in the show jumping, and obviously on the cross-country because the footing’s usually pretty good. It’s a good training ground, and the money’s really helpful. We’ve tried to support any of the events that are putting out money; that just helps everybody along.”
“Z’s just a great horse to have and be a friend with,” he continued. “He’s in it for all the right reasons; he loves to compete, he loves it all. He gets pretty wound up about it. But you know, that’s him enjoying it, not because of any other reason. I still think it’s such a great sport that a horse at his age, he just keeps getting better and better, and it’s really fun to be a part of that.”
Azure, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Omar x Cavalier Roselier) owned by Anne Moran, Caroline Moran, and Michael Moran, will head to her first five-star at Maryland after winning the Mars Bromont CCI4*-L (Canada) in June.
Dutton’s had “Sky” for a year and a half, and he’s getting used to riding a mare at the top levels, something that hasn’t happened often in his career.
“I haven’t had the right good one to go along with,” he said. “It’s fun, and it is a little bit different than riding a gelding. This one’s very opinionated and has her own mind up made up about how it should be done, and so I’ve got to be very tactful how I ride her.”
“Up until now it hasn’t been much of a partnership,” he added with a laugh. “It’s been all on her terms. It’s all about what she wants to do. I’m gradually just trying to encourage her to let me have a little bit of a say, and it’s getting better—like a lot of the partnerships I have with my women at home!”
Fourth place went to Canada’s Karl Slezak with his bold mare Hot Bobo, who started off with a respectable dressage score of 33.1, good for 14th place among the 28 starters. “Bobo lived up to her name today, feeling a little spicy in her test!” Slezak remarked afterward. Their speedy cross-country saw no jumping faults and only 0.4 time penalties to move them up to 5th place, and despite a rail in stadium the pair nudged into 4th spot when Will Coleman and Off The Record had two rails to drop from 4th to 7th.
“What a mare!!! I can’t believe it’s her first season at the level and she keeps on stepping up!” exclaimed Slezak on Facebook.
In interesting related news, according to a gender reveal on Karl Slezak Eventing’s Facebook page, Hot Bobo is going to be a momma! Thanks to a surrogate mare, a colt will be carrying on her super eventing genes.
Watch some highlights of Karl and Bobo’s XC round here:
~ with files from Lindsay Berreth/USEA