By Liz Halliday-Sharp
When I was asked to write this column, the first thing that I thought was, Wow, I have big shoes to fill after Boyd Martin! Of course, I have so much respect for Boyd as both an athlete and a horseman, and it’s certainly an honor to be taking the reins after him. What I thought about next were the values that I believe in and what I could hopefully bring to the eventing community going forward with the experiences that I’ve had.
After spending the majority of the last 20 years in England, my husband and I made the move back to the U.S.A. full time at the end of 2019. We had already spent some winters in Ocala, Florida, but 2020 was the first full competition season that I’d done in the U.S.A. in nearly two decades since I left my home in California. It was an intriguing transition back to the United States, where I often felt like a foreign rider competing in my own country around everyone who already knew the venues, knew the system and who all had known each other for many years. In saying that, I have never regretted the decision to move back home. I 100% feel that we made the right decision for our business and the future, and I’m proud to be back on home turf.
The passion for eventing in this country is infectious, and the love for the sport is obvious from the competitors to the organizers, the volunteers and every other person who fights to make it successful in such a large nation. There are a few things that stand out for me in U.S. eventing today: First, we have great venues. After spending so much time competing in the U.K. and Europe, I can confidently say that our venues for all levels are pretty outstanding and just to be able to compete on a surface rather than in a muddy field is a pleasure!
In the last 5 years, the course design has vastly improved and I really feel that we are now able to produce tracks that are respectable worldwide. Of course, this is an area that can continue to be improved upon, but with some of the best course designers in the world working at venues all over the country, my hope is that they will continue to challenge us to be better and better.
The energy that I see in people involved in this sport is amazing—with so many levels of competition available in the U.S., it’s possible for anyone passionate about eventing to get involved, which is incredible. I’ve also been so encouraged by the constant desire to learn and improve in this country, and it drives us as coaches and professionals to be better every day. I’ve experienced this with my grooms and working students, my regular lesson clients and in the clinics that I’ve done around the U.S., and it makes me proud to be a part of this community.
Looking back at 2021, I must be honest in saying that it tested all of my resolve and resilience with the huge highs followed by the even bigger lows. Being selected to the U.S. Olympic Team has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and to be named as one of the three was a dream come true. But, as all athletes have experienced at some point in their careers, sometimes the universe has a different plan. While it was heartbreaking to have to step down from the team when Deniro suffered a bone bruise, I know that we all made the right decision for his future. The months that followed were a genuine challenge, and I learned that the term “It takes a village” is very true indeed. I feel extremely lucky to have the most amazing team behind me of owners, grooms, family, vets, farriers and more, and the one thing that this experience has taught me is to dig deep and never stop fighting.
I remember having a meeting with my owners in the summer and something they said to me really stuck: crisis equals opportunity. I’ve done my best to take this on board and use the events of last summer to spur on a review of my training methods, my team structure, the long-term goals for the future, and much more. This is still a work in progress, but I think that it’s important for all of us as athletes to be accountable, to have self-reflection and to constantly review how we can be better people, have better horsemanship and continue to fight for whatever the ultimate goal is, however great or small.
I’m very excited to be writing this column now and I welcome your questions to be answered in the coming months!
Liz Halliday-Sharp has been a strong member of high-performance eventing for many years. She has represented the U.S.A. in multiple Nations Cup Teams, was reserve for both of the most recent World Equestrian Games and the Pan American Games and was selected for the 2020 Olympic Team. Liz moved back to the U.S.A. full time in 2019 after spending 20 years in England, and for many years she combined her career in eventing with professional car racing. She is now fully focused on eventing, with goals to represent the U.S.A. on multiple championship teams in the future.
Liz Halliday-Sharp competing in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Photos by Taylor Pence and Leslie Potter, US Equestrian