The event provided an emotional homecoming for Halliday, who grew up just 30 minutes from Galway Downs where she trained and competed as a teenager.
The English-based American’s decision to travel 5,400 miles across the Atlantic from her Chailey Stud base in East Sussex would be fully justified come Sunday when a clear Show Jumping round helped Cooley take a podium finish that not only qualifies him for four-star level competition but also potential selection to the US team ahead of next year’s World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
The pair made a solid start to their first competition on American soil during Friday’s Dressage test by scoring 56 points, leaving them eighth overall. It would be their lowest position of the weekend however, with Cooley significantly upping the ante around the Cross Country course to come home with just 5.6 time penalties on the clock.
That was good enough to leave the duo fourth ahead of their Show Jumping round on Sunday. Always a strong jumper, Cooley underlined his class with a faultless performance over the fences – one of only three horses to do so on the day – to make third place his own in the final standings and finish just 2.4 marks shy of the winner.
“It was an incredible week in California and amazing to receive so much support from my friends and family,” reflected Liz. “It was obviously a big gamble to travel all the way to the States to get the qualification and show what we can do, but I just tried to focus on the job and thankfully we came away with a positive result. Cooley was awesome throughout the whole event and especially stepped it up in the jumping phases. He’s taken some big strides forward this year and I’m just grateful that everything came together at Galway Downs.
“I really believed that Cooley was ready for a CCI*** this year, and wanted to start next season with that qualification already in the bag if I could make it work. It was also a great chance to show the selectors what sort of horse he is and that he could cope well with the big trip, which has been a useful learning curve for him. I think that after this experience he will grow up a lot as a horse and hopefully be even stronger and better next season. The only part of the week that I was disappointed with really was our Dressage score, which was nowhere near what I had hoped to get out there. But the judging was tough and, at the same time, we have some things to work on over the winter to tidy up the movements, so hopefully our next test will be much improved!”
Despite meeting the criteria to be considered for US team selection, Liz doesn’t expect to be competing with Cooley at the World Equestrian Games next year (23 August – 7 September), but would certainly jump at the chance if the opportunity arose.
“He’s come on leaps and bounds this year and I am interested to see how he comes out next year. Each event that we do he just keeps getting better and better, and I want to make sure that I keep him developing the right way and only move him up when he is ready. He’s only a nine-year-old, but has shown that he really has the guts and ability to be a top horse, so I’m more looking towards the 2016 Rio Olympics as a realistic goal for him.”
With their regular seasons now at a close, both Liz and Cooley have flown back to Europe and, after a short break, will begin working on preparations for 2014. The next event for Halliday and Cooley will be at Barroca d’Alva’s CIC** and CIC*** competitions in Portugal during the first two weeks of March. Until then a winter of Dressage and Show Jumping events will ensure that all of Chailey Stud’s horses remain in top shape and ready to tackle the new season.