By Liz Halliday
There’s no denying the intrinsic value of the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, Kentucky, in the world of equestrian sports. For so many event riders, this venue is an iconic destination that they dream about competing at, and I strongly believe it’s the perfect venue to host the American Eventing Championships (AECs). While I’m slightly biased because it’s my home event, I really believe that this is the best location for the AECs to be held each year.
For riders at all levels, this venue offers a unique experience. It’s a reminder of the standards we all strive for and a nod to the community’s shared passion for eventing. It’s not just another location—it’s a place that echoes with stories of past pivotal moments in our sport’s history and looks ahead to future achievements.
My own experience at the AECs was fantastic, and it was great to have five of my horses out competing again after a summer break from competition. It was a busy week, with goals set for each horse based on where they were in their competition season, and I came away feeling confident that they all had an educational experience and learned a lot throughout the week.
The highlight of the event for me was competing both Miks Master C and Deniro Z in the $60,000 Adequan Advanced National Championship. I was thrilled to have my friend Deniro feeling back to his very best and to have him perform so well in all three phases. He hadn’t evented since the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L, so I wasn’t pushing for time on cross-country, but he made each phase feel easy and I was so pleased to finish inside the top 10 with super, clear rounds in both cross-country and show jumping.
Miks Master C was also happy to be at the party and had his first run since his trip to Germany for the Aachen World Equestrian Festival. I went into the competition with aspirations to win, but I was also conscious that the AECs were an important step ahead of the Pan American Games in late October where Mikki and I will have the honor of representing Team USA. Mikki is such a wonderful, generous horse who absolutely loves his job, and he was so excited to be competing again. He was a true professional in every phase, and despite the pressure of leading after each day, we managed to bring home the title on Friday night under the lights in front of owners and friends who were there to support us.
To me, having the AECs at the Kentucky Horse Park feels right. It’s familiar, it’s respected and it challenges competitors in the best possible way. I believe this venue offers something special to the sport and to so many riders at every level.
When you talk eventing, the Kentucky Horse Park inevitably comes up in conversation. But it’s more than just its reputation as a host of one of the few CCI5*-L events in the world. For many event riders, it’s akin to a sacred ground where dreams meet reality. I love that at the AECs, riders of all levels get to compete on the ground of the CCI5*-L cross-country and also jump in the Rolex Stadium.
But what genuinely sets the AECs apart for me—and I believe many in our community—is its inclusive spirit. Riders of all levels—from those just starting out to seasoned pros—come together, sharing the same tracks, the same challenges and the same dreams. We all get that unique chance to ride across the hallowed grounds of the park, feel the same thrills and face the same tests.
One such iconic challenge is the renowned Head of the Lake. While I didn’t personally ride through this complex on this occasion, the lower-level riders had the opportunity to tackle it in their divisions. I know every time I approach the Head of the Lake during the CCI5*-L, there’s a mix of reverence and adrenaline. It’s not just about navigating the waters or the technicalities; it’s about the legacy of the spot. You’re riding where legends have ridden, and I know that the riders who had this opportunity during the AECs made their own mark and created memories they will cherish forever.
The AECs at the Kentucky Horse Park isn’t just another championship for event riders. It’s a culmination of our journey, our passion and our respect for the sport. Competing here is a reminder of where we come from, where we stand and the limitless horizons that await us. Thank you to all at the United States Eventing Association and EEI who worked tirelessly to give us a week to remember.
Liz and Miks Master C at the 2023 American Eventing Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Photo by USEA