The Lesson of a Lifetime

Liz Halliday Sharp and Miks Master C. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s not every day you get to take a lesson with Liz Halliday-Sharp — and for amateur Leslie Maslowski, doing just that truly was a once in a lifetime experience. 

As part of Eventing Nation’s 12 Days of Giveaways over the holidays in 2022, Ocala Horse Properties sponsored a prize of one lesson with Liz Halliday-Sharp. Ocala Horse Properties owns several of Liz’s horses, including Deniro Z, Miks Master C, Cooley Nutcracker, Cooley Moonshine, Cooley Quicksilver, Shanroe Cooley, and Cooley Be Cool. 

Leslie entered the giveaway with plans to gift the lesson to her trainer, who would ride her horse. “I had hoped my horse would benefit from a jump lesson with her, as I don’t jump any more and wanted my trainer to ride,” Leslie says. “But I couldn’t work out two busy women’s schedules! Liz was most gracious about emailing back and forth several times. In the end, I rode in what was to be a dressage lesson.”

Far from inexperienced herself, 63-year-old Leslie has been riding horses for six decades. “I’ve had a succession of horses and never outgrew my love of all things equine,” Leslie says. “I’ve ridden and shown hunters, done barrel racing, shown on the Quarter Horse circuit, and competed in dressage and eventing. I’ve worked for two stables, including managing, riding and showing client’s horses, breeding, foaling and starting the young ones under saddle.”

Leslie’s dance partner for the day was her horse, She’s My Valentine (barn name “Swizzle”). She bought Swizzle three years ago when the OTTB was just 6 years old with a goal to go low-level eventing. Unfortunately, their plans were sent awry when Leslie had a fall while jumping. Together, Leslie and Swizzle work on the flat, while Leslie’s trainer takes her jumping and to competitions. According to Leslie, “Swizzle is very laid back, definitely a kick ride. She’s grey and very thin-skinned, and she hates to be groomed.”

Many riders would be intimidated by the thought of taking a lesson with a world top ten eventer, like Liz — and Leslie was no different. She admits she was more than a bit nervous for her lesson.

“I’ve been riding, taking lessons, and showing for over 60 years, but I was so undone by presenting myself to Liz, I was an anxious, nervous wreck,” she says. “And it showed! I didn’t ride well at all and consequently my horse wasn’t at her most cooperative.”

Despite the challenges of having the “yips,” Leslie kept her spirits up and Liz helped her work through some of her nerves throughout the lesson. The two focused on impulsion, transitions, maintaining connection, and Leslie’s “death grip” with her thighs. According to Leslie, “These were all things I already knew, but with emphasis on how MY riding was affecting my horse’s performance.”

This lesson sunk in deeply, as on that particular day Leslie’s nerves were having a big impact on how Swizzle was going. Despite the challenges, Leslie stayed positive throughout the lesson and had a great mindset. “But that’s why one takes lessons, to learn from our mistakes and improve, which we did by the time our lesson concluded.”

By the end of the day, Leslie and Swizzle were working together once again and had learned a few new tricks thanks to Liz’s expert guidance. “In the end we produced a couple trot-canter 20 meter circles, a proper transition here and there, connected and forward! Liz reminded me that I must always prepare for and ride proper transitions, no matter what, when or where. Even just hacking.”

Leslie took her lessons learned from Liz back to her own barn. She says that she’s been working on Liz’s advice at home, and it’s paying off. “At home we practice. Of course I’m much more relaxed, without feeling I had to be outstandingly perfect and impressive in Liz’s presence. My thighs are more relaxed and I’m working on keeping my right shoulder back and my upper body straighter. And Swizzle is responding to my conscious efforts — she’s much happier, which makes me happy and our rides less frustrating.”
A big thank you to Liz Halliday-Sharp for her time and effort and to Ocala Horse Properties for sponsoring such a great prize. Congratulations on winning this giveaway, Leslie!

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