Smooth Sailing: Liz Halliday Retains Top 2 Positions in Carolina International CCI4*-S

Liz Halliday and Miks Master C. Photo by Sally Spickard.

“Military precision” is how Liz Halliday described the operation of her support crew on a intense and busy day of show jumping here at the Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International. “Full rockstars,” she said. “I’d like to say thank you to my awesome team because we had almost zero time in between rounds [today].”

And when you’re holding four of the top five spots on the leaderboard, every round counts. Liz delivered: she secured a double clear to start the day with the Monster Partnership’s Cooley Moonshine (Cobra – Kilpatrick Duchess, by Kings Master). She later returned with Ocala Horse Properties’ and Deborah Palmer’s Miks Master C (Mighty Magic – Qui Lumba CBF, by Quite Easy) to cement her status as two-phase leader. While the Monster Partnership’s Cooley Quicksilver had one pesky rail that dropped him to sixth, the Cooley Nutcracker Syndicate’s Cooley Nutcracker (Tolant R – Ballyshan Cleopatra, by Cobra) closed the show with another clear round.

Liz now holds first and second ahead of tomorrow’s finale, sitting within range in 4th and 6th, respectively, with Cooley Nutcracker and Cooley Quicksilver.

Liz Halliday and Miks Master C. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Despite an alarming moment when a ring crew member stepped in her way approaching the swedish oxer, which did make her a bit tighter on the clock with Miks Master C than she had intended due to having to take an extra half-halt, Liz was thrilled with how “Mikki” is feeling. She’s changed his bit this year, she says, and feels that he enjoys this setup — a hackamore with a bit and two reins — more.

“I think it’s made a big difference and he will start to really use his body better,” she said. “He’s definitely more happy with his mouth open and just being able to release his body better. I think I got it all right; I swapped from the bit that I used at the [Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase earlier this month] and I thought he was gorgeous.”

Liz Halliday and Cooley Moonshine. Photo by Sally Spickard.

As we’ve mentioned before, Liz trains with Peter Wylde for the show jumping, enlisting his expertise and quiet way of riding to help her hone her skills in this phase. This winter, she’s spent some time jumping around some 1.35m classes at World Equestrian Center in Ocala, which she says has really helped both her and her horses.

“Mostly, my goal is to be a little bit faster, and just get comfortable just turning up to the jumps, which I think I did well today,” she went on. “I felt like I for the most part was back in my groove again. And I have jumped a few bigger classes this year — 1.35 and stuff, which has been great for me. And Peter’s helped kind of push me to do that, which is good. It’s been nice having him at the shows because he’s just such a great coach.”

Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker. Photo by Sally Spickard.

She describes her longtime coaching team of Erik Duvander and Peter as her “zen place” — “I’ve had the two of them sometimes, they just put me in my zone. They’re chill, we’re just all chill together. No drama. It’s super nice.” — which helps her step up to the plate when the pressure is on.

Liz will withdraw Cooley Moonshine ahead of cross country — this has been her plan all along as he aims for the 4*-L at Tryon in May — which when official will move Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake (Tolan R – Doughiska Lass, by Kannan), owned by Mollie Hoff and Sherrie Martin, from third into second place.

Liz Halliday and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by Sally Spickard.

For her part, Caroline was over the moon with the progression of her young superstar. “I keep hyping about him being stronger and a year older, but it really does make a difference. An eight-year-old around a four-star is a big ask, so just having one more year for him to get a little bit stronger — having a stronger canter and a stronger topline makes his life easier. He can show himself off more because it’s easier for both of us.”

This winter, Caroline and several other U.S. riders, including Tamie Smith, went on an outing to World Equestrian Center in Ocala, where upcoming Paris show jumping co-designer Gregory Bodo was on hand for a period of time to design the jumping courses there. This provided a prime opportunity to gather important intel ahead of the Games.

Caroline Pamucku and HSH Blake. Photo by Sally Spickard.

“I got [longtime coach and Olympic show jumper] Anne Kursinski to come up and [business partner] Kelley [Huthincon] and I kind of came up with a plan for him,” Caroline explained. “The biggest thing is just making sure I don’t rush the rhythm in the ring. He’s such a good jumper and he’s a phenomenal athlete. So just going in and having a steady round, not being so worried about making the time.”

Moving into the top five after a double clear show jumping are Meghan O’Donoghue with her own off-track Thoroughbred, Palm Crescent (Quiet American xx – Edey’s Village xx by Silver Deputy xx), who at 18 years young is aiming at both his and Meghan’s first attempt at Badminton this spring. Meghan and “Palmer” scored a 29.3 yesterday to place themselves competitively and will end up moving two places into fourth once Cooley Moonshine’s withdrawal is official.

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent. Photo by Sally Spickard.

“He’s a very seasoned horse at this point which I’m just grateful every time I have him at a competition now at 18 years old,” Meghan said. “He just doesn’t feel like it, and he just shows up and gives 110% — if anything he’s always almost trying too hard, so it’s been a huge long journey of figuring him out and trying to make the recipe just right for him to have a career mindset that allows his best performances.”

Meghan has benefitted from the care of longtime groom Emma Tuit keeping Palmer in his best shape, and on the flat from Barend Heilbron and Ian Woodhead. “We all know those are key players that you can’t be successful without, and I know its part of my recipe of finishing a competitive weekend here. This year I have Badminton on my mind, that is my spring goal and I think with an Ian [Stark] track it was the right thing to bring him to.”

In total, 14 pairs of the 35 starters delivered double clear efforts over Marc Donovan’s always-influential track set on grass in front of the Carolina Club. A handful of fences elicited the most problems, with the triple combination heading toward the Carolina Club at 7ABC causing a total of 9 pulled rails. The time allowed was adjusted down from 88 seconds following the first few riders, and four pairs accumulated time penalties over the course of the division.

Emily Hamel and Corvett. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Tomorrow’s Yanmar America 4*-S cross country is very similar to the 2023 version, with a few minor tweaks here and there. This is the final year Ian Stark will design courses, but he’s got a full roster on his plate before he fully hangs his hat up, including the Bramham 4*-L in the UK and the Maryland 5 Star this fall.

“It’s the same flow the same course as last year,” Ian remarked. “I’ve just tweaked a few things. And the first water for example, is probably a little friendlier with the last water is quite intense. I got to the end of last year, and I kind of — my attitude was this year’s gone really well, maybe I should bring my own retirement forward a year! So I didn’t want to do big changes this year. I’m trying to get through this as smoothly as possible as the idea, but no, I mean, there’s plenty for them to jump out there. It’s not going to be a walk in the park, that’s for sure.”

Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle. Photo by Sally Spickard.

With the idea in mind that many riders use this as a prep for a spring 5*, Ian factors this in as he thinks about his design. “If I look at it that it’s early in the year and back off, then it’s not giving them a proper introduction to Kentucky or Badminton. And I’m a great believer in encouraging the riders and the horses to come up to the level, not taking the level to them. So, I’ve never really been shy at asking the questions. I’m kind of nervous on cross country, always because you ask the questions and you think, ‘oh, yikes, they’re out there.’ And it’s all your responsibility. But I think for the horses and the riders for me, it’s important that they get the chance to jump a decent track, before they go to the big competitions.”

Cross country begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. ET with the Intermediate division, followed by 3* around 9:30 a.m., 4* around 11:45 a.m., Advanced around 1:51 p.m., 2* at 3:03 p.m., and 1* to close the day at 4:25 p.m. You can view the live stream for all divisions on cross country on Horse & Country here.

Stay tuned for a more extensive course preview of the 4*-S coming your way first thing tomorrow morning. Until then, stay safe and Go Eventing!

Carolina International CCI & H.T. (Raeford, NC) [Website] [Schedule] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Cross Country Maps] [Live Scores] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

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