Despite the impact of COVID-19 on this year’s eventing calendar, Liz Halliday-Sharp’s name has been at the forefront of many headlines. Adding to her growing resume, Halliday-Sharp recently added another win to her list of successes in 2020 by clinching the top spot on the podium in the Hagyard Midsouth CCI3*-L with Cooley Stormwater. Phelps Sports caught up with Halliday-Sharp to chat more about this former racecar driver turned professional eventer, her recent move to Lexington, Kentucky, and her plans moving forward with her impressive string of horses.
The Best of Both Worlds
Despite the fact that no one in her family has a history in equestrian sport, Halliday-Sharp knew from the early age of eight that she wanted to ride horses. “All I can remember was that I wanted to ride. It was my thing! I was riding the tree in the backyard with a towel as a saddle and a jump rope for reins. It was all I had ever wanted to do for as long as I could remember. I begged my mom to let me take riding lessons down the road at a little riding stable in California, and it grew from there.” She got her start in western tack, but a dream of jumping led to a quick transition to the hunter/jumper world. The thrill of cross-country eventually won Halliday-Sharp’s heart after joining the local Pony Club, and her fate was sealed.
Sharing a passion for motorsport with her father, Halliday-Sharp got her introduction to racing at just 16-years-old. It was during a trip to Kentucky for the inaugural Kentucky Three-Day-Event 4* (now 5*), however, that she realized she wanted to make a career out of riding. “We actually got to walk the course with Jimmy Wofford, which was pretty cool, and I thought to myself, ‘That’s it, I want to do this.’ I don’t think many people walk around and can say without a doubt ‘this is what I want to do,’ but I did.”
In her pursuit of growth in the saddle, Halliday-Sharp took a year off from University in California to venture to Europe for a working student opportunity with William Fox-Pitt. While overseas, she was able to balance her competition in the saddle with her active career as a professional racecar driver and earned many top titles and honors.
Her one-year working student opportunity abroad evolved into a long-term stay in England of almost 20 years, where Halliday-Sharp continued to develop professionally in both sports. Following the passing of her father in 2012, however, Halliday-Sharp opted to place her focus on eventing full-time after earning her spot on the High-Performance list around seven years ago.
After many happy years in the UK, Halliday-Sharp and her husband, Al, decided to make a huge life change. For the last 5 years they split their time between the UK and Ocala, Florida, and prior to that they were full time in the UK, but the couple decided that a new zip code would be a great way to kick off the new decade, and they invested in a farm in Lexington, Kentucky, to call their second home.
“It was a big move and a big decision, but we love it here. We’ve been through a lot this year, especially on top of Coronavirus. It’s been a very odd year. But so far, we are very happy, and we love our farm in Kentucky. We feel very lucky to be here. We have a great place in Ocala as well, so we are living the best of both worlds right now.”
With a whole new world of events to explore, Halliday-Sharp has taken to the road and traveled both north and south to sample some of the best events the United States has to offer. “It’s been an eye-opening summer because all of these events that people have been doing for years, I have never done before because I have never competed on the east coast in the summer in my life. We’ve been learning as we go and learning which events and courses suit which horses. It’s been really great. I feel really proud of my horses and my team for what we have been able to achieve in an odd year and a year where we are all finding our feet at the new farm and getting everything in place.”
Great Horses Yielding Great Results
Having just added her most recent win in the CCI3*-L at the Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day-Event to her long list of accolades in 2020, Halliday-Sharp reflects on the whirlwind of a year that she and her team have had with their recent move.
“It has been great for some of the younger horses to come up through and show how good they are. Obviously, we have had our ups and downs too, it doesn’t always work out, but it’s just about trying to keep getting better and trying to figure out how to win the events. That’s been a part of my process, to figure out how to be better in all three phases. We just keep plugging along and keep making the horses better and keep trying to learn. Hopefully, it’s not over yet this year. We are going to keep trying to bring home better results.”
That hard work has obviously paid off. In addition to her win aboard Cooley Stormwater this past weekend, Halliday-Sharp has garnered a long list of top placings this year, despite the shortened season, including two wins at Stable View in the CCI4*-S with Fernhill By Night and the CCI2*-S with Maryville Sir Henry, CCI4*-S wins at both Plantation Field and Great Meadow aboard Deniro Z, and two 2* wins with Cooley Be Cool at Red Hills and the Virginia Horse Trials.
“Nearly all of my best horses right now I have had since the beginning of their career, which is really fun,” Halliday-Sharp shared. “Deniro Z was seven when I got him, but he had never been eventing or done anything really. Most of my other horses I have had from four- and five-year-olds, so it’s really fun to see them come up through the levels. I bought Cooley Stormwater as a very green four-year-old, and who now has some wonderful owners, and while he has had some ups and downs this year, I have always believed in him. For him to go out and win the 3*-L was a really big deal, and he fought for me the whole weekend. I was so proud of him. Those are moments that are super cool when you have a young horse step up when it really matters.”
Halliday-Sharp hopes to keep up with her successful streak as she goes hard and heavy near the end of her season. First on the radar is the Chatt Hills October Horse Trial this coming weekend, where Deniro Z is entered in the Advanced division, and her up-and-coming superstar, Shanroe Cooley, will move up to Modified. Immediately following, the team will fly out to Halliday-Sharp’s homeland of California as one of her mounts, Cooley Quicksilver, received a USET grant to compete in the Galway Downs International CCI4*-L. Then to wind down their season, the Halliday-Sharp Event Team will make their way to North Carolina for the Tryon International Three-Day Event, where Deniro Z will compete in the CCI4*-L and Cooley HHS Calmaria will combat the CCI2*-L before the team make their way to their Florida base for the winter circuit.