Three-time winner of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, Liza Boyd runs Finally Farm in Camden, South Carolina, with her father Jack Towell. Boyd has won the WCHR Pro Finals at Capital Challenge (Maryland) three times and along with her father she’s trained numerous winning junior hunters. Boyd and her husband, Blake Boyd, have two daughters, Elle, 10, and Adeline, 6. Liza wrote this while in quarantine, just before the shows started up again.
7 a.m. Wake up!
Life has been different in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The weekdays are very similar because we haven’t been going to horse shows. I sleep a little later and make a more elaborate breakfast for the girls, Elle and Adeline. We’re spending more time together as a family, and my husband Blake is working from home. We’ve been enjoying bacon and eggs, and the eggs are from my brother Ned and his wife Mary Catherine’s chickens.
8:30 a.m. The girls and I head to the barn, which is a short drive from our house on the same road. The girls attend Camden Elementary School, and they were doing their classes online until school let out at the end of May. Because it can be distracting to do schoolwork in the house, and the internet connection isn’t as strong, we spent the morning in the barn office. We’re the only ones who use the office, so it feels like a clean environment. Their teachers were live online, and I stayed in the office to oversee and help. Sometimes Elle might have a project, such as measuring, so I’d help her. Adeline just finished kindergarten, and her teacher did a great job teaching math and reading. As a break, she’d put up a video to encourage the kids to get up and dance, so that was fun.
While I was helping them, I’d look out the window that oversees the ring. I’d watch the horses being worked by staff, and I might step out and help with flatwork. We’ve been focusing on rotating flatwork with trail rides, hill work and gymnastics. For the horses that went to Florida, we’ll jump a course once a week to keep their jumping muscles tuned. The horses that didn’t go to Florida are still in training. If all is going well that day, I’ll leave the girls for a bit and ride one or two horses or check in with the staff and go over the 38 horses on the property.
12 p.m. Lunchtime! In the morning, I pack us snacks and lunch, so we don’t have to go back to the house. I’ll also make lists, and I spent time reading articles and studying books while they attended school.
Throughout the morning the veterinarian and farrier come and go, and I might step out to the barn to talk to them at a safe distance. We set up an area that’s isolated and away from everyone, so they have a safe area to work. We have some horses that are rehabbing and others that just need everyday care and maintenance. This is a time I can discuss with the farrier which shoes to use or other issues that come up. With the hunters, there’s no need for them to be in aluminums since we haven’t been showing. Many have steel shoes on for more support. I might talk with the veterinarian about long-term plans for the horses showing and their healthcare throughout the year. This is a good time to make those schedules.
2 p.m. After lunch, we take an afternoon trail ride on the green ponies, trying to get them fitter and stronger. We’re also trail riding the show horses. Mentally, it’s great for those warmbloods who sometimes get behind your leg in the ring to just go out and trot and not go around in circles. They’re so happy, and it’s great for their fitness. It’s also a nice way for the girls to get away from the screens and for us to not hear about the virus on TV constantly. We all trot through the woods, looking at wildlife and nature. We’re so fortunate to live on a farm.
Right now we have two medium green ponies and two small green ponies, and Elle and I will rotate. We’ll build on from what we did the day before. I think it’s good for Elle. She showed her made ponies in Florida and got show ring mileage, and now she has to change her mindset and get into their brains a little bit in training them. And if something’s not going right, she’s learning to stop and figure it out and be patient.
The green ponies are really ready for this quarantine to be over! They’re getting a lot of attention and training. They learned to do the treadmill. They have a good schedule of ring time, and two have learned to jump a bank. I think they’re going to be the Brunello of the pony hunter derbies! They’ve all jumped natural obstacles and foxhunting jumps out in hunt country. Elle’s small pony Baby Blue has learned to be a race horse on the steeplechase course, and her medium Darla learned to go through the mule pen and through the water.
For Adeline, this has been the time to focus on learning to canter. She goes down to the field with us and does partial trail rides, so she’s getting a feel for riding out of the ring.
Anything we can do outside is great. We haven’t been leaving Firetower Road, and we’re fortunate that we all live here so close to one another. We also have a lot of wildlife resources, ponds to fish, and places to bike and ride without leaving our road. Elle is pretty good and caught some fish. I’m also trying to make special memories throughout this challenging time. One day I let the girls ride their ponies bareback to our house from the barn. We let them loose in the backyard to graze while the girls had a snack at the picnic table.
My parents are social distancing from us. My dad watches us from the back porch, and we’ll ride into the backyard to talk to him. My mom is doing a lot of walking around the ring and will watch from outside. We’re not going into their house, and they’re not going into the barn. They both have underlying health issues, and with Camden being a hotspot for the virus, they decided it was the safest thing to do. My dad mows the grass and tries to get out as much as possible, but he’s not coming into the ring to set jumps. He’ll sometimes drive the golf cart up to the ring, but no one is allowed to touch it. That’s their personal comfort level.
My dad closed the barn in mid-March, and we worked on reopening it slowly and carefully to clients in late April. My plan with the clients was to go back to the basics with lessons and focus on the fundamentals. I’m also going over what their strengths and weaknesses were from the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida and honing in on the skills that each person needs to work on. With more time, we’re really able to break it all down and focus.
When the U.S. Equestrian Federation announced the May 31 date, that really helped me plan ahead. At that point I knew we had one month before we could consider showing, so I could make the best plan for each horse with that date in mind. My schedule for most of the horses and ponies that will show in June was something like this:
- Monday: off
- Tuesday: trail ride
- Wednesday: school over cavaletti
- Thursday: ride out in the field
- Friday: jump school in the ring
- Saturday: thorough flatwork in the ring
- Sunday: trail ride and hill work
The staff has cleaned out tack trunks, organized and washed the tack, equipment and fake tails. We’re being conscientious about spending money, and we’re going through everything to be more aware of what we already have. We’ve had time to experiment with the therapeutics and the laser, and we’ve had time to talk about it all and bounce ideas off of each other. This has been a unique time where we can all become more educated about horse care, learn more about supplements and feeding, and not just focus on winning blue ribbons.
We’ve also had a little more time to watch the horses turned out in the paddocks, to study their mannerisms and see them in their natural state. Sometimes I’ll stop in the afternoon and watch the ponies outside and think, “Look how good he does his left to right lead change in the paddock!” My dad said a lot of old, famous horse trainers taught lead changes in the field and not in the ring. Maybe I’ll try it out here on this pony or try it over the raised cavaletti.
It’s also giving me more time to ask my dad questions. “How did you train Monday Morning?” Or, he’ll call me at the end of the day and tell me he watched a horse in the paddock that got worked up when mares were turned out beside him. He’ll say, “Maybe he was castrated late, and we should turn him out with Blake’s Quarter Horse gelding to change his mindset.” These are the things we don’t always have time to do.
5 p.m. I’ll go over the whiteboard in the barn with Lauren Carter, our assistant trainer and barn manager, and we discuss the plan for tomorrow. I’ll give her feedback on how the horses felt after she rode them the previous day and what she should work on tomorrow.
6 p.m. Back at the house, we’ll eat dinner, and I helped the girls with homework when they had it. Or we’ll go out and pick up pinecones in the yard with the sun setting, and they’ll roll their eyes at me!
8 p.m. Some nights when we’re done earlier, we will binge watch Netflix or watch a movie. We’re normally so exhausted at the horse shows, so it’s nice to be able to stay up a little later these days. Everybody is so hooked to the news, and it’s hard to ignore it, but I’ll tell the girls, “Say your prayers, hope everyone is staying safe, and hope this soon shall pass.”