Liz Halliday: Planning for the Olympics

Liz Halliday and Miks Master C. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

After a 2023 season filled with highs and lows, Liz Halliday has been keeping busy in the off season. I caught up with her in a rare quiet moment between traveling to the West Coast to teach a clinic and competing at HITS and WEC in Ocala to keep her horses strong. As exciting as 2023 was, she has big goals for 2024.

When I asked Liz what would make her season a success, she had one simple response, “Winning a medal at the Olympics.”

Sure, anyone can say they want to go to the Olympics; few actually make it happen. Liz isn’t just a dreamer though, she’s a doer. So, how do you plan out a competition season with goals of going to the Olympics? First, start the season off with Grand Prix Eventing at Bruce’s Field.

Liz rarely misses an opportunity to compete in the Aiken eventing showcase. “I think it’s a phenomenal competition. We get to practice the five star test in front of very good judges, which is excellent,” said Liz. “There’s a lot of atmosphere and you’re up there with a lot of top riders, so you really feel the pressure. It’s a great way to chuck yourself into that competitive mindset early on in the year.”

While Liz points out that the good prize money doesn’t hurt, she also thinks the cross country track is a great test for the horses early on in the season. “I love that it’s an intense track. It’s up to height, but it’s short, usually around three and a half minutes to four minutes. You’re not overstretching the horse’s fitness early in the year but at the same time it still forces both horse and rider to make quick decisions and stay focused and sharp.”

Next on Liz’s list is the Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International CCI4* followed by the 4* at Stable View in April. “I tend to target the big bulky tracks at Carolina and Stable View because I think the courses prepare them well for the course at Kentucky.”

On to the main event of the spring season, the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event. Liz hopes that just nine weeks out from the Olympics, we’ll see Cooley Nutcracker, owned by the Nutcracker Syndicate (Liz Halliday, Ocala Horse Properties, Renee Lane and Deborah Halliday), complete his first CCI5* in the Kentucky bluegrass, while Cooley Quicksilver and possibly Shanroe Cooley or Cooley Moonshine, owned by Ocala Horse Properties, will tackle the 4*. As for Miks Master C, Liz says, “In my mind, I don’t believe that Miks Master C needs to prove himself at a 5* again in an Olympic year. Honestly, going quickly around a few 4*s would be just as beneficial for him. My hope would be I can just really show how good he is in the 4*’s this year and that all the pieces are in place after a productive winter of training – It would be great to keep him in the running for the team by doing the 4* in Kentucky rather than adding unnecessary wear and tear.”

The 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, now called the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, was really special for Liz and “Mikki,” who is owned by Ocala Horse Properties and Debby Palmer. Reflecting back on their third-place podium finish, Liz said, “Miks Master C was just phenomenal the entire weekend. He loves his job and he fought for me to the end. He is such a kind, generous horse who always tries his best and truly loves eventing – I couldn’t have asked for more. I think we have a great partnership now– we still haven’t been together that long, not even two years yet, and I’m very excited for the years to come.”

Liz and Miks Master C, owned by Ocala Horse Properties and Debbie Palmer, contest the Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase in Aiken. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Liz is also competing multiple horses in the 4*L in Tryon just two weeks after the Defender Kentucky Three-Day event, but is keeping the second half of her 2024 competition season flexible. While she has her sights set on events like Aachen, Burghley, Maryland, and Boekelo, she says, “The horses will tell me what they’re ready for.”

“I’m focusing on the first half of the season right now and then I’ll reevaluate what I’m doing with the rest of the year after that. This is an important spring and I will keep my mind on that for now and wait to make plans for the rest of the year after those competitions are done.”

As we looked at all these events Liz has planned, I couldn’t help but gawk at the amount of pressure she handles on a daily basis. With four horses at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, aka THE event of the spring season, Liz will have to live up to the expectations of her owners and supporters, as well as her own high standards.

“I’m always under pressure. That’s just what we do, right? I try to stay focused on the process and take things one step at a time and try not to overthink it all,” Liz said. “Half the battle is arriving at these events feeling like you’ve done all your homework and you’ve ticked all the boxes. Then you can leave the start box and perform your best without questioning the training or the fitness. It’s important to keep your head down and focus on one phase at a time.”

Having a well-planned competition calendar can only help. Liz calls in the cavalry, namely her trainers, to help her build each horses’ competition schedule. “I always sit down with Erik Duvander to go through the whole calendar as I plan it out. I try to make sure the horses are going in the right places and that it’s the right step for each one.”

Liz believes that when it comes to her horses, less is more. “I don’t believe any of them need huge amounts of runs at this level. That’s why Cooley Quicksilver will do the Carolina 4* and then he won’t run again until the Kentucky 4*. He just doesn’t need all the runs, as he’s a very experienced horse. You have to think through what each individual needs and be mindful to not overload their calendar unnecessarily.”

If you’re planning your competition season, Liz has some advice for you: listen to your horse.

“I always try to set a realistic goal for each of my horses, but I think the most important thing is that you have to remain flexible. I’ve always said, ‘the horses will tell you what they’re ready for.’ I really believe it’s important to live your life by that motto,” Liz said. “If that means your plan changes, then that’s fine, but you have to be willing to listen to them.”

Best of luck, Liz! We hope to cheer you on in Paris come the end of July, and we’ll absolutely be cheering for you on your path to get there.


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