Since her junior days, Liza Boyd has started each year by circling certain weeks on the calendar. From the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania) to the USHJA International Derby Championships (Kentucky) to indoors, she plans out the peaks of her competition season.
But no plan in 2020 has survived unaltered.
“The past 20 years have been planning for something: Now we came home, and now we need to get ready for this event or we need to do this,’ ” said the 41-year-old from Camden, South Carolina. “So that sort of downtime with no planning was actually nice for me. ‘You know what? We might just trail ride for the next month because for sure there were no horse shows in April.’ We knew that, and we knew it would be a little while. It wasn’t the worst to be able to take a deep breath and binge watch a little bit of Netflix, which I never do. Just be a touch lazy maybe, have shorter days and eat dinner earlier. But the novelty of that wore off quickly.”
Derby Championships were canceled, and Boyd, who runs her Finally Farm with her father Jack Towell, chose not to compete at the indoor horse shows. But she’s still found plenty to do, from winning the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during Tryon Fall 4 in Mill Spring, North Carolina, on Oct. 9 aboard new mount Ferrari to buying two Nigerian dwarf goats named Thelma and Louise. We checked in with Boyd to see what this not-quite-reformed planner has in the works.
Tell us about your new horse Ferrari.
He was doing the jumpers up until right after the [Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida]. Mark Bluman was riding him. And Michael Morrissey and Lourdes [de Guardiola], his wife, took him to sell and turned him into a hunter. They took him to Traverse City [Michigan] and produced him as a hunter, and Lourdes did some national derbies on him and did a beautiful job of transitioning him from the jumper world to the hunter world. By the time I got him, he was really set up, and he was ready to do an international derby. He has all the scope, great brain, obviously very brave. He was purchased for Mary Caroline Nolan. We’ll start out in the 3’3” juniors and move up to the 3’6” eventually. They gave me a couple shows with him to get him going, and I’ll keep doing him in the derbies as well.
What has showing looked like for you since horse shows resumed?
We’ve shown in Tryon a lot, Aiken [South Carolina] a lot and the farthest we ventured out was the Blowing Rock Horse Show [North Carolina]. Aiken and Tryon are just such amazing facilities, and we’re so lucky to have them within like 2 1/2 hours from our farm. After Derby Finals was canceled, we really made the call to just stay in the Tryon area and the Aiken area for the rest of the year. They’re great venues, and they have great course designers. Both places have nice footing. We’re just really lucky that we have that that close. And we don’t have to risk traveling far in case something happened with COVID or there was an outbreak.
I think it’s a lot about location too for us. It made sense. Then actually indoors came to us—to the Carolinas. I don’t know what our choice would have been if we lived in New York or somewhere else, how we would have handled it.
What has it been like not competing in the traditional indoor horse shows this season?
It was weird, Capital Challenge, especially that week before when we’re always getting ready. [Capital Challenge moved from its normal location at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Maryland to the World Equestrian Center in Ohio.] That was a little bit weird not having that. I think just doing it for so many years of indoors, it was kind of a nice break this year. But also, I think we miss it. Right now, we’d be at Harrisburg [Pennsylvania] and Washington [District of Columbia], but you make the best of it. Your goals are different because we’re all competitive people, and we like goals. Not having Capital Challenge, I really aimed for that derby in Tryon to be my highlighted class for the fall.
How have you planned or stayed motivated?
You’ve got to just take what you can get and make the best of it. I think as competitors it doesn’t matter where we are, we want to win, and we’re going to step up and make the shot when it counts.
We’ve just planned in different [ways]—I felt like in Blowing Rock, it’s a big show for us in the Southeast where you have a lot of top hunter riders like Hunt Tosh and Daniel Geitner and all our top hunter riders go. We really, I felt like, fought for the derby there. And then right after that Derby Finals was canceled, so, in my mind, that class was sort of our Derby Finals. We all got really competitive there at Blowing Rock and had a really great derby.
Next week, there might be a national derby in Aiken, and this week I’m going to gear up for and have my horses really ready for that. We normally would be at the Washington horse show, but hey the Aiken derby, we’re going to make that feel special, and we’re going to rise to the occasion for that.
What has quarantine taught you about yourself?
I have realized that I have to make more time for family dinners and not stay at the barn so late. You just realize being together as a family, how important that is. I’m a little bit bad about that—it’ll be 6:30 at night, and my husband’s like, “Are you still at the barn? What are you doing?” But I’m a bit of a piddler. I’m checking the supplements and making sure this horse has this. And I have great staff, but I’ll get a little bit sometimes too hands on. I need to just close shop, the day’s over, be present in the moment as a mom also.
Then I would say for the riding side of it, I realized some of my horses weren’t as broke on the flat as I thought they were. And some of my ponies had missed a lot of basics in their foundation—the green ponies that we have. Like, “Oh God, I didn’t teach this pony how to back up. I’m kind of embarrassed I never did that.” Taking the time to just go back to the basics of the sport. The foundation of not only my clients, but also my animals.
What keeps you excited to continue pursuing this sport and this business every day?
My dad always says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” I love that saying because you never will know it all in this industry. These horses teach you something new every day. I’m humbled by these animals every day.
For instance, at the horse show last week, I was riding one of our green ponies, and Todd Minikus walked over, and he was like, “Honey you’ve got to use more leg, and you’ve got to do this.” He was basically giving me a riding lesson on my pony—and I loved it! You can just learn all the time.
And the next thing I knew he said, “Hold on, let me get on her,” and then Todd’s on my pony, and he’s flatting her around. You can always learn, and that’s what makes it exciting every day to wake up. If these horses were the same every day, maybe it would get a little boring, but it’s definitely not. You’re always excited for [the next thing], or you’re excited that the pre-green horse went so well or your client moved up a level. There’s just so much. There’s never a dull moment.
What’s something people may not necessarily know about you?
I’m a really bad snow skier, and I really, really wish I was good. I try so hard every year when we go, but by the end, when I’m like flying into the net with my skis crossed, and I’m throwing my skis down with the worst attitude. I’m like, “I’m never doing this again!”
I’ll somehow forget and try it again because I think it would be so fun and so peaceful, and I love everything about it. But I’ve definitely become a bad sport when it comes to that. I’m at the top of the slope, and I’m like, “Ahhhh!!” It’s the bunny slope, and I’m like, “Oh my God this is so scary.” I totally understand how these pre-adult riders are panicking at the in-gate. I could never really understand; it just seemed so easy for us. We just ride all the time. But when I try to ski, it’s like, “OK I get it now.”
You’re such an upbeat person. What advice would you give to others to stay positive right now?
You just have to look outside the box a little bit and set goals for yourself. Even if it’s not the zone finals that you hoped you were going to get to go to, but maybe it’s a derby at the smaller show. And then watch everything that you can that’s on a live feed because I think that we can all learn—if it’s the [Dover Saddlery/USEF] Medal Final and the Washington Finals or whatever you can do. [And] just hope this passes soon—or get goats like we did to keep us entertained! Or try to do things that you didn’t have time to do before or take up some different hobby. Just try to keep yourself busy.