By Liz Halliday-Sharp
I have been lucky through the years to compete on multiple Nations Cup Teams for the USA and it’s always an honor to represent my country. This year I had the opportunity to compete on the team at the Bromont CCIO4*S in Canada and the Boekelo CCIO4*L in the Netherlands, and the experience was positive all around. In both competitions, I rode Miks Master C, who is a fairly new ride for me, but a horse that I’m very excited about for the future!
I think any time you’re in a team situation, it comes with greater responsibility to not only perform well yourself, but to also bring home a result for the group. In a sport that’s primarily individual, I think it’s important to be put under that sort of pressure and it helps to build experience for riders who are hoping to make a championship team one day.
It was amazing that Bromont was able to host the only North American Nations Cup this year, and the course was definitely challenging and up to height. While there were only three teams competing, which we hope can be changed in the future, there was still a lot at stake and plenty to fight for. I was very proud to be able to bring home the individual win and also help team USA finish first, and I believe it was a valuable experience for each rider.
Following Bromont, my main goal for the year with Miks Master C was to compete in the Boekelo CCIO4*L in the Netherlands. After living in Britain for 20 years, I have been to Boekelo many times and I would say it’s definitely my favorite! Not only is it one of the most competitive 4*L competitions in the world, but it’s also the Nations Cup Final and an important overseas trip for Team USA. Boekelo is a very unique event—for over 50 years, the organizers have built it to be not just a competition, but a major event for various businesses who plan all year to host their corporate events at the venue. The result is a weekend full of around 60,000 spectators who come for the party as much as the horses, and this creates a huge amount of atmosphere, both in the main arena and on the cross-country course. The course itself is also very unique—it’s extremely twisty with the strings set tight, and combined with the heavy crowds, this gives the horses a lot to look at.
We came with a great group of horses and riders and felt that we had a real chance for a podium finish. After dressage, Team USA was in second place and we were all ready to fight hard on cross-country day. Saturday brought with it sunny conditions and large crowds of spectators, and all four of us planned to do our best to jump clear and in time. I was third to go for the team, and with one rider home with a clear round and 2 time faults and another home with a stop, I knew that I needed to put in a good result. Mikki was outstanding around the whole track but got very strong near the end where the course was tight and twisty through the woods.
The most important thing was to bring home a clear round for the team, so I had to accept that I was losing some time in order to get through the last few major combinations well. I ended the course with 3.2 time faults with a horse that felt fresh and ready to go again! I really believe that there is so much learning for a big, bold galloping horse to go and experience a tight course like Boekelo, and I while I was disappointed to not be inside the time, I know that the course will have only made him better. Our last rider of the day was Boyd Martin, who rocked around inside the time and still kept us in the hunt for a result!
On Sunday morning, one horse for the team was sadly not able to continue, which pushed the team down further. We were still determined to do our best in the show jumping, though, and all three remaining horses jumped super clear rounds, with me and Boyd finishing in the top 10 overall. Mikki was just incredible to jump clear and inside the time, finishing fifth in a huge, competitive field. I could not have asked for a better experience for his future and I am grateful to have been a part of the U.S. team.
The USA eventing team at the FEI Eventing Nations Cup Netherlands CCIO4*-L, left to right, Boyd Martin, Liz Halliday-Sharp, Alyssa Phillips and James Alliston.
Photo courtesy of Liz Halliday-Sharp