When Liz Halliday-Sharp originally agreed to take the ride on Miks Master C, it was with a view to selling him for his previous owner and breeder, Laurie Cameron. But from her first ride on the 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic—Qui Luma CBF, Flyinge Quite Easy 958) almost a year ago, she knew she wanted to keep him.
“I rode him at Tryon and thought, ‘Wow, this is actually a really nice horse!’ ”
Liz persuaded two of her longtime owners, Deborah Palmer and Ocala Horse Properties, to take a leap of faith and buy him for her, practically sight unseen.
“They knew of him,” she clarified. “They’d seen him at Rebecca Farm the previous year, but Debby had never met him; I just sent her videos.”
“Mikki” had won the 2021 Rebecca Farm CCI4*-S (Montana) with previous rider Maya Black, with Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver right behind in second place.
It wasn’t long before Mikki’s new owners joined a rapidly growing fan club for the horse who just made his five-star debut at this year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, where he finished an impressive third. Now he’s at CHIO Aachen (Germany), where they’ve been selected as members of the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Squad for the CCIO4*-S, taking place Friday and Saturday.
“He’s the kindest horse, a very generous horse,” Halliday-Sharp said. “I know I said that a lot in Kentucky but he is; he just wants to do everything right.”
He truly does: After becoming an official member of Halliday-Sharp’s string last year, they promptly won their first four events together, including the CCI2*-L at Bromont (Quebec) and the CCI4*-S there later that year, the CCI4*-S at Rebecca Farm and, in their first outing together, an intermediate division at Chattahoochee Hills (Georgia). They rounded out their first year together with a fifth-placed finish in the CCI4*-L at Boekelo (the Netherlands), adding just a handful of cross-country time penalties to their dressage score.
This year they came out swinging with two top-five finishes at the CCI4*-S level at Carolina International (North Carolina) and Stable View (South Carolina) before tackling Mikki’s first five-star at Kentucky.
Going in as an unknown quantity at the top level, Mikki firmly squashed any doubts that he would have the speed or the stamina, adding a mere 1.6 cross-country time penalties to a dressage score of 26.9 to finish on the podium.
“Mikki’s definitely keen to get going again,” Halliday-Sharp said before their trip to Germany. “I don’t think Kentucky took all that much out of him, which is exciting. He was pretty fresh at the end!”
We paid a visit to Halliday-Sharp’s Blue Fox Farm in Kentucky to find out what this exciting young horse is like behind the stall door.
• There’s not much to the stall door he’s behind, and he likes it that way.
When Halliday-Sharp was designing the large, airy barn at Blue Fox Farm, she opted for stalls that feel open on all four sides, with rails separating them on the inside and large windows facing out so that horses have a 360-degree view of the barn and each other.
She was inspired to build the more open floor plan after noticing that when her horses returned from trips to England and living in the more traditional closed stalls in those stables, they’d be more reluctant to lie down. She’s positive that the open stalls and communal atmosphere of her Kentucky barn encourages them to relax more easily, Mikki included.
“Mikki’s not a lazy horse—ever. He’s pretty keen about life, but he’s not a nervous horse, and he’s very chilled in his stall,” Halliday-Sharp said.
“He pretty much settled straight in as soon as he came here,” she recalled. “It’s a barn that all the horses seem to love. They are all very comfortable here, and I think that’s a big part of it.”
• While Mikki enjoys the barn, he prefers spending his time outside.
“He loves living out in the field,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He lives out at night, which is really good for his brain because he is a very blood horse to ride.”
Isabel Turner, Blue Fox’s head groom and barn manager, said that while Mikki prefers living out, he also comes in first every morning.
“He knows that breakfast is coming next in the general order of things, and it’s very exciting for him,” she said. “He’s always thinking about the next step; he’s always moving on, so he gets a bit impatient if he has to wait.”
• Because he’s keen about everything, he can be tricky to lead.
“He can be a handful to take in and out of the field, especially bringing him in in the morning. He can be a lot sometimes!” Halliday-Sharp says as she leads him out (or is he leading her?) for photos.
He is even edgier at shows.
“He’s not the one you want to lead back from the Rolex Arena (at Kentucky),” Halliday-Sharp said with a chuckle. “He’s a good boy; it’s just because he enjoys it so much. He wants to do it. He can be tricky at the finish of the cross-country as well: He’s one that you want to wash him down and then get him out of there, because in that environment and with his blood up so much, he’s a lot of horse.”
• Although he’s Swedish Warmblood on paper, Mikki has a lot of Thoroughbred in his bloodlines, which helps explain his proficiency at three-days.
“He’s unbelievable cross country,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He’s brave, he’s fast, and he has an incredible amount of capacity and engine. He’s 70% blood, if you can believe it, so he’s got a ton of Thoroughbred in him. The horse just gallops for fun. He wasn’t even tired when he finished Kentucky, which is crazy for his first five-star.”
• Mikki was only 3 days old when his mother trod on him, leaving one hip noticeably lower than the other, and that’s affected his training since.
“In his training it’s a lot about trying to make him sit regular behind on both hind legs,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He is very wiggly to ride, and we’ve spent a lot of time teaching him not to be bendy like a banana and to take weight behind equally and build up back strength.
“Now he offers so much in the ring, and he’s not really strong enough to keep it the whole time, so then he gets a little tired on me and a bit strong. But in about six more months, I think he’ll be….” She trails off, but her grin, raised eyebrows and shrug indicate she’s optimistic this horse will be phenomenal about the time selection for the 2024 Paris Olympics rolls around.
Halliday-Sharp has also been working on improving Mikki’s shape over a fence since she’s had him.
“He’s got his own style of jump, and I’ve done a lot of training with [show jumping Olympic gold medalist] Peter Wylde because he knew the horse before and has always loved him,” she said. “He’s come a really long way: He used to slither over the jumps a bit, now he’s learning to get a bit higher and find a bit more lift through his tummy.”
The CCI4*-L at Boekelo last autumn, where they finished fifth, was also a big step forward in Mikki’s progress.
“He traveled very well there—he’s a good traveler and always very happy to go to parties—but he was a little spooky at the start with all the people,” she recalled. “I think that was a brilliant experience for him because at Kentucky he didn’t blink, did not even consider them, just got on and did his job.”
• Sometimes nerves get in the way of his appetite.
“He is not a great eater at a show,” Halliday-Sharp said, “and he does NOT like bananas. He got very offended when I tried to give him one!”
• If he was a human, Mikki would probably be a celebrity stunt double.
“He’d definitely be very athletic because he is a freak; he’s an incredible athlete,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He would be tall and athletic. Maybe he’d be a stunt double and do all those crazy things—jumping off buildings, leaping out of cars—he’d be one of those athletes who’s up for anything. I think that might be him: He’d be Brad Pitt’s stunt double!”
• Check that: He’d be a stunt double who also loves a good cuddle and a kiss on the nose.
“He’s very sweet,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He’s really, really lovely and very cuddly. He’s a sweetie definitely—he always has been—and he’s definitely a horse you could snuggle!”
But is there anyone Mikki most likes to cuddle with?
“I hope it’s me,” Halliday-Sharp exclaimed with a laugh, “but he gets on with everybody. He’s just such a lovely horse and so sweet, it’s hard not to love him.”
Turner, however, may hold the favorite-person trump card:
“Mikki and I are bonded together forever—we almost got struck by lightning. It was really scary!” she said. “I was bringing him up to cross-country at Chattahoochee Hills; it started pouring, and everyone started trotting [the considerable distance] back to the barns, and I was stuck there in the middle of the field. Literally 20 feet away from us was a bolt of lightning! I was sprinting back in the downpour, and I told him, ‘Mikki, we just have to get back to the barns!’ He was cantering next to me, running with me, but being very well-behaved. It was all very traumatic, and now we are bonded for life!”
Turner said Mikki’s natural keenness is an endearing quality in him.
“He’s always wanting to get on to the next thing, and I like that about him,” she said. “He’s like, ‘OK, when do I get fed next, when am I going out to the field, what’s going on, Izzy?’ He’s always keen to be doing something.”
Plus, she added, “He likes nose kisses a lot, which is also why I like him, because I like giving nose kisses!”