By Liz Halliday
The conclusion of the 2023 season felt like a whirlwind for me and my team. By the end of October, we had people and horses in three different locations and I had been on the road for nearly five weeks, but I thrive on that amount of crazy. I owe so much to my wonderful grooms who made sure that everything ran seamlessly, regardless of which country or state their rider was in!
The last competition of the year for us was the CCI4*-L at Galway Downs in Southern California. While I haven’t competed much at Galway for the last few years, the venue holds a special place in my heart as I am still, deep down, a California girl, and I grew up just 20 minutes from the facility. My mom now lives closer to San Diego and I love that I can stay with her when I compete at the event. This year, I had two beautiful, talented young horses competing there and they made the trip from Lexington to California while I was still in Chile competing at the Pan American Games. Super groom Jordan Crabo made sure that both Cooley Nutcracker and Shanroe Cooley were well looked after and given plenty of love until I could arrive on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after show jumping at the Games in Santiago.
Every time I go to Galway Downs, I’m impressed with how much the venue continues to improve. The main arena gives a real championship vibe with outstanding footing and a second-to-none VIP experience. The cross-country course was also a serious test, and Clayton Fredericks didn’t let the small entry list sway his desire to create a course worthy of a National Championship. The course itself had six water jumps across a 10-minute track with some high-intensity questions early on, as well as some serious combinations in the later part of the course that I believe would have been very worthy on a five-star course.
I was thrilled with both of my young horses all week and I felt that they really fought for me and were professional. In the dressage phase, I thought the ground jury was a bit too tough on everyone, which was disappointing for all of us, but I still started the competition with 8-year-old Shanroe Cooley in fifth place and 9-year-old Cooley Nutcracker in first, which left plenty to play for. The cross-country test proved as hard as expected, with the first three riders falling off, including myself coming off of Shanroe Cooley, aka Dallas, at the fifth water after he left a leg at the big drop-in. This combination was the only one on course that I felt really didn’t ride well and that the horses struggled to understand. I felt so bad for Dallas, as he had jumped around the rest with so much maturity and confidence and he really deserved to finish well. Thankfully, we were both no worse for wear and I believe he still came away with so much more education for the future after tackling the majority of the challenging track. He is such a special horse and we’ve been together since he was 4 years old. I’m so incredibly proud of how far he’s come.
It was a bit of a scramble to get organized to ride Cooley Nutcracker after my dunking at the water, but I had to just get on and refocus. I knew that I could afford to have some time faults and still hold the lead, so I went out with a plan to jump a good, clear round and give my horse a great experience with the future in mind without pressing to make the time. We achieved that with a super, clear round with nine time faults and I was blown away with how easy he made a very difficult course feel.
The next day, I was thrilled to see both of my horses looking fresh and feeling really well—nothing makes me happier! It was an odd feeling going into the show jumping with a big margin of 30 points in hand, but the pressure was still on to jump a clear round and show our selectors that Cooley Nutcracker is a team horse in the making. My boy jumped his heart out for an immaculate clear round and secured the National 4*-L Championship and his second 4*-L win of the year. I’m so thrilled for his owners, who were all able to be there; my family members who came to support me; and, of course, my wonderful horse. What a great end to the 2023 season.
Liz at the USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship at Galway Downs.
Photo courtesy of USEA