A month ago, Liz Halliday-Sharp would never have imagined she would have a horse competing at Galway Downs.
She last competed there in 1999, the first year of the event, before moving to England.
Now, 14 years later, she’s back at her old hometown event with HHS Cooley, who’s contesting his first CCI***.
“It really only came together a week before we left,” said Halliday-Sharp. “It was completely mental! David [O’Connor] asked me what I was going to do with [him] for the rest of the year [at Boekelo] and I said, ‘Well there’s nothing left really.’ I kind of joked when I said, ‘Oh I could take him to Galway,’ and I was totally kidding, and Joanie [Morris, USEF managing director of eventing] went, ‘You should do that. I can make it happen.’ I was able to beg and plead and find a way to get here, and we threw the horse on a plane and here we are! It’s been really crazy.”
Halliday-Sharp is now based in Sussex, England, where she’d been splitting her time between eventing and sports car racing.
This season, she decided it was time to focus solely on her horses.
“I started racing another season this year and I won my first race of the year which was cool, and then the car was just breaking all the time and really unreliable and it wasn’t really the series I wanted to be doing either and I’ve got two really good horses that started to step up this year,” she said. “Once I did the WEG test event [France] and met David and had a bit of interest from the U.S., I thought it was time to pack it in and focus on one. I think I’d look back when I’m old and say I wish I’d tried when I had the good horses under me and the chance. That’s why I’m here. I’ve got the interest and the chance and I just want to show them I’ll do anything I can to get there.”
HHS Cooley is a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. He recently moved up to the three-star level and proved his talent by jumping clear around Galway’s CCI*** track and adding just 5.6 time penalties to his score. Halliday was a bit disappointed with her dressage score of 56.0, but she knows he’s a horse for the future.
“He always tries really hard in the [dressage] ring, even if things are a bit tough for him,” said Halliday-Sharp. “He’s a good, honest horse and he always tries if you make it clear to him. I really think he could be a team horse. He’s kind of shown that he’s got a lot of the makings.”
Halliday-Sharp, 34, grew up in Fallbrook, Calif., about a half an hour away from Galway Downs. She trained with Don Sachey and attended the University of California- Santa Barbara.
During spring break one year, her father, who also raced sports cars in England, suggested she come live in the country for a year to pursue her riding when she was 21.
She got a job with William Fox-Pitt and stayed with him for nearly three years.
“He offered me a job and that was it,” she said. “I packed up and left that January and my one year turned into 14. It was great. It was a real baptism of fire. I felt like a real kid when I went out there. I didn’t know anything and didn’t know anybody, but I learned a lot.”
Halliday-Sharp then based herself with New Zealand eventer Joe Meyer, who was living in England, for seven years before branching out on her own.
So what’s it like coming back to California? Besides enjoying the sunshine, Halliday-Sharp has been visiting with old friends and family. She’s enjoyed seeing the changes at Galway and was complimentary of Ian Stark’s three-star course.
“I barely remember it because it was so many years ago,” she said. “It was a cool event then I remember because it was brand new. It was really exciting to have an event down this way. Certainly a lot of the infrastructure’s changed and they’ve worked really hard on the courses. There’s a lot more trees on the course, which is great. It’s just a much more professional event now, I think. It’s had a lot more time to build up on it’s own. I have to commend Robert and everybody else who have put the time in because it’s a really nice event.
“It’s interesting it’s an Ian Stark course,” she continued. “I’ve ridden some of Ian’s courses in Europe. It’s quite different to a lot of the three-stars I’ve ridden this year. I think it’s tough and I think there’s a lot of questions. They come really thick and fast. The horses and riders [had] to be on their game. He’s tried really hard to use the undulations in the ground.”
Halliday-Sharp recently bought a property in Ocala, Fla., as an investment and she’s hoping to start spending winters there now that she has two horses in team contention.
Her other mount, Fernhill By Night, recently represented the U.S. at the Nations Cup at Boekelo (the Netherlands) and now that she’s gotten a taste of team competition, she’s ready to dive right in.
“I’ve never been someone who could go out and buy a three-star horse,” she said. “I’ve just never had the funding for that. I’ve had to produce them up a bit and I’ve suddenly got two really nice horses under me and got a few decent results this year. It was great to be on the Nations Cup team in Boekelo and represent the country at the WEG test event. It’s just now push really hard and keep fighting and training and trying to learn from David and everybody and see what we can do.”
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