Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

Behind The Stall Door With: Cooley Nutcracker

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Cooley Nutcracker, “Bali” to his friends, is a stunning specimen of a horse, and in just the year and change that he’s been in the United States with rider Liz Halliday-Sharp, he’s proved that handsome is indeed as handsome does. 

The 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tolan R—Ballyshan Cleopatra, Cobra) owned by Liz Halliday-Sharp, Deborah Halliday, Renee Lane and Ocala Horse Properties has racked up an impressive series of wins since his debut with Halliday-Sharp last year, culminating with a victory in last weekend’s Tryon International CCI4*-L, held May 11-14 in Mill Spring, North Carolina. In their final prep run for that competition, the pair won the dressage at the competitive Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S and show jumped clean, but triggered a frangible table on cross-country to drop them to ninth. 

Nonetheless, since coming stateside after starting his international eventing career under French Olympic gold medalist Astier Nicolas, the gelding has been on the podium more times than he’s been off it. Last year alone, he won the CCI3*-L at Rebecca Farm (Montana) and the CCI3*-S at Bromont (Quebec), plus finished second in the CCI3*-S at the VHT International (Virginia) and third in the CCI4*-S at Stable View (South Carolina).

Liz Halliday-Sharp and her Tryon International CCI4*-L champion Cooley Nutcracker. Samantha Clark Photos

Halliday-Sharp said they’ve formed a strong partnership already, which she credits in part to breeding that makes him somewhat familiar to her. 

“He’s out of a Cobra mare, and Cobra is the sire of my Cooley Moonshine horse, and they actually look very similar, and they’re both quite similar in their way of going too,” she said. “They’re both quite sharp.”

After his wire-to-wire win in Tryon, where he added just 3.6 cross-country time penalties to his leading dressage score of 27.4 to nab the blue ribbon, Bali is getting a couple of weeks well-deserved vacation time in the field.

Goals for his future, Halliday-Sharp said, include selection for this autumn’s Pan American Games in Chile and, tentatively, tackling his first five-star next spring. 

“Maybe Kentucky,” she said. “I think that would be a good track for him. I think he’s good enough to be a five-star winner one day. I think he’s every part of an absolute world-class horse, but he’s still a young horse, so he’ll tell us what he’s ready for.” 

(Which is inevitable, as you are about to learn, because in Halliday-Sharp’s barn, Bali is the most talkative horse around.) 

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We went behind the stall door at Halliday-Sharps’ Blue Fox Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, to get to know Bali better.

The Tryon 4*-L winner is enjoying some much-deserved time off at Halliday-Sharp’s Blue Fox Farm in Lexington, Ky.

• He’s as sweet as they come—and despite being a bit of an introvert, he’s always got something to say to the people he knows best.

“He’s like a horse from the movies: He whinnies every time you come by him and nickers, and it’s really cute,” barn manager and head groom Isabel Turner said. “He’s really sweet and kind, and he’s very sensitive too, and you just want to take care of him.” 

In fact, his penchant for small talk has endeared him to everyone in the barn.

“He’s a horse that talks to you all the time,” Halliday-Sharp said. “You come in the barn, and he talks to everyone. He’s adorable like that. Izzy is completely in love with him—he’s like her baby. I think all the girls are, really. He’s such a sweet horse. How could you not?”

• If he were single and on the dating apps, he’d have a strong Clark Kent vibe. 

 “He would be the tall, dark and handsome guy who probably wore glasses but very sexy,” Halliday-Sharp mused. “He would probably work in finance and would be that really quiet guy who was quite strong and goes to the gym and looks really great, but struggles to meet a lot of women because he’s shy and nervous!” Swipe right!

Tall, dark, handsome and athletic. No wonder all the ladies in the barn adore him.

• Once he’s under tack though, Halliday-Sharp said, he’s a totally different animal. 

“He’s very, very sharp, to other people and to other horses,” she said. “He could spook at someone over there and launch sideways on me pretty fast. We have to be very careful in show jumping warm-ups to try and get a jump by itself, and to make sure I’m not on the landing side of any of the jumps because even if I was hundreds of yards away, if I’m on the landing side he’s very sharp to it.” 

He’s reactive enough, in fact, that Halliday-Sharp is the only one who rides him at shows. She does all his fitness work at home too. 

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“He’ll look at everything in the distance and if a bird moves, he’ll zip across the track, and he’s a strong ride for sure; he’s keen,” she said. “For all the sharpness in him, though, when he’s on the job he’s on the job. Once you’re really on task, he’s just straight down the line. He’s always been that way.” 

• Bali also keeps the yard running smoothly at home. He makes sure the staff stays right on schedule. 

“He likes to be outside, and he likes his routine, so if you don’t do things in the right order in the morning, he gets very angry, and he’ll throw his blankets around, and stand at the front of his stall demanding attention,” Turner said with a chuckle. “He always knows exactly what he’s supposed to be doing, so he’ll make sure to remind everybody what’s next in his routine.” 

He goes out in the afternoons and stays out all night. 

“Bali” is a man who values his turnout time.

“He gets really grumpy if he doesn’t get to go out at night,” Halliday-Sharp said. “He prefers it to going out during the day. If you leave him in the crossties too long, he gets a little edgy. He likes to have a job and a plan; that would definitely be who he is.” 

• Both Halliday-Sharp and Turner describe Bali as an introvert, though Halliday-Sharp has noticed a change over the year she’s had him, as he’s gained confidence and trust in her. 

“He definitely likes me,” she said. “He’s always happy to see me, and we have a partnership now, but he is an introvert. He’s not in your face the whole time.” 

Bali can run, jump, dance and do pretty ears!

• One thing Bali will insist upon is his customary treat after he’s been worked.

“He will literally follow me down the barn aisle,” Halliday-Sharp said with a laugh. “The girls will take his bridle off, and he’ll look me straight in the eyes—and God help me if I ever forgot his treat, he would never forgive me! It doesn’t particularly matter what the treat is, it’s the offering that’s important.” 

• He’s also grown attached to his traveling companion, Halliday-Sharp’s newly minted five-star ride Miks Master C, as she learned during their recent trip to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

At Kentucky, the two were in neighboring stalls, Halliday-Sharp said, “and when we brought ‘Mikki,’ back one time, Bali just casually walked up to the side of his stall and stood all the way straight up on his hind legs, looked over the wall to make sure his buddy was there, and then went back to business as usual, munching his hay! The girls laughed and said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s been doing that the entire time.’ ”

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