Liz Halliday had one rail and 1.2 time penalties in hand with Miks Master C when she headed into the Rolex Stadium Friday night for show jumping in the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final at the USEA American Eventing Championships.
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 0.8 time penalties to her score to keep her overnight lead ahead of Phillip Dutton and Z by a mere 0.4 penalties—representing a time difference of just 1 second—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,” Halliday 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,” she added. “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—Qui Luma CBF) owned by Ocala Horse Properties LLC and Deborah Palmer, came to Halliday as a confirmed advanced horse from previous rider Maya Black, and Halliday has spent the past 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. Next, 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,” she added. “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 in the advanced final. Just four were double clear, including Dutton on both Z and Azure, who finished third.
“Each horse is different,” he said of his plan over the advanced 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—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 (France) in October.
“I sort of had in mind to try to be competitive without overdoing it,” he said. “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—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!”
USEA Training Championships
Being named the USEA Training Rider Champion had a lot more meaning to this year’s leading rider Susan Gallagher (Millwood, Virginia). It was longtime trainer Packy McGaughan who helped Gallagher find her winning mount, the 13-year-old German Sport Horse gelding HH Rockstar (Chacco-Blue—Cherly Z). McGaughan died unexpectedly in 2020.
“Packy was more important to me as a friend than a trainer,” Gallagher said. “But he was a great trainer. And he rides with me still all the time. It’s been a really long journey to get here. This is our first AEC, and I think between the travel to get there when they’re on the West Coast and my schedule, and sound horses, you know, it just took a long time to come together.”
Gallagher noted that she has been aiming to mark the AEC off her bucket list for 10 years. It was a goal she was thrilled to accomplish in McGaughan’s memory.
In the USEA Training Amateur Championship, Stephanie Letarte of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, started the competition week in the lead. As she crossed the finish timers in show jumping aboard her 19-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Irish Sport Horse cross GarryNDruig Albie (VDL Arkansas—Diamond Abbey), a big smile was plastered across her face because she knew she was going to end her weekend in the lead as well.
“Oh my gosh, it’s just unreal,” she said. “That horse is just amazing. And I am so lucky. Like he’s the horse of like, 10,000 lifetimes.”
This marks Letarte’s first visit to the AEC and her first win at the training level.
“I don’t know if I can come back,” she said in jest. “It’s just so cool. I mean, it’s such a great atmosphere. It’s such a fun show. I’m so, so happy to be here.”
If you believe in kismet and that some things are simply meant to be, it will be no surprise that Jane Jennings (Aiken, South Carolina) and SF Vancouver 2 (Validation S—Nanna) are the USEA Training Horse Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park this weekend.
Jennings rode in the AEC when it was in North Carolina, but Friday’s win was extra special for many reasons.
“When I went to the Athens Olympics to help my late friend Amy Tryon, I sat next to Sheilagh Costello on the plane, and she was telling me, ‘I want to start an eventing championship and have it at the Horse Park,’ so I am just thrilled that her dream came to fruition, and I’m here. It’s been so many years later, so it’s really special.”
Although their recent prep for this weekend has been relatively smooth (this is their third win in a row), getting here has been a completely different story, and only thanks to a team of dedicated vets that diagnosed and treated the 8-year-old German Sport Horse gelding for a very rare inner ear infection.
“Dr. Emily Setlakwe at Tryon Equine Hospital helped me identify what the situation was, and she was paramount in his recovery,” Jennings said. “But before that, we sent him to New Bolton to Amy Johnson, and they did a CT scan so we were able to treat it, and he’s here and making a huge comeback.”
Marina Cassou, won the USEA Training Junior Championship aboard her mother Beatrice Cassou’s 14-year-old Connemara gelding Castleturvin Mungo. Cassou shared that when she got him four years ago, he didn’t even know how to canter.
“I don’t have any words,” she said. “Two years ago, I competed novice here, and we did not do well at all. This year, my goal was not to win, but to do well, and I was not expecting this.”
Cassou, who normally trains with Lillian Heard, hitched a ride with Fylicia Barr and gained a whole new barn family this week as well. Her newfound eventing crew were lined up outside the Rolex Arena on pins and needles as she jumped around her course and were in tears for their young friend when she jumped the last jump clear.
“Coming into show jumping I was feeling a ton of pressure because ‘Mungo’ likes to knock rails down, but he put on an amazing round,” she said.
The pair aim to make a move up to modified in the future.
See complete results here.
The AECs continue Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park with show jumping for all novice divisions and cross-country for beginner novice divisions.