Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp is synonymous with the top echelon of eventing. In recent years, “Liz” has produced top results up through the highest CCI5* level of eventing in national and international competition helping to establish her as a recurring member of the U.S. Equestrian Eventing High Performance Training List. She has been selected for multiple Nations Cup teams and was the reserve rider for Team USA at both the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games and the 2019 Pan American Games. In 2018, Halliday-Sharp and her superstar horse, Fernhill By Night, won the Advanced at Pine Top and the CCI4*-S at the Ocala Jockey Club Three-Day Event. In 2019, they won the Carolina International CCI4*-S, and in 2020, took first place in the CCI4*-S at Stable View Oktoberfest. That year, with 16 national wins and 9 international wins, she was named the 2020 USEA Rider of the Year — the first female to be awarded this coveted distinction in almost 40 years. With her current right-hand man, Deniro Z, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding, Halliday-Sharp was selected to represent the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Liz Halliday-Sharp: “The easiest way to describe eventing is that it is the triathlon of horse sport. It is three different phases — first dressage, then cross country, followed by show jumping. All phases are completed on the same horse. The challenge in the training and in the sport itself, is having your horse relaxed and obedient to do a beautiful dressage test. But then the next day to be bold and brave and fast and gallop around a big, solid cross country track with all kinds of questions, including waters, drops and ditches. And then on the last day, when they're tired, to still be organized and jump around clear in the show jumping. It really is a triathlon. That's what I love about it — the different training every day, and that the horses truly love it. No horse events at a high level unless they love it.”
Halliday-Sharp's equestrian story begins as many of the great riders' often do: She was the random horse-crazy girl of the family. With no history of riders anywhere in the family tree, Halliday-Sharp recalls it as something magnetic that she just always wanted to do. “I remember being very, very little and riding the tree in the backyard with a towel on a jump rope for reins and pretending I was on a horse before it ever happened,” she remembers. She passed a little stable down the road in Fallbrook every day on her way to and from school. “I basically just wore my mother down enough until she let me go and take riding lessons. And the rest is history,” she says laughing. The lessons started when she was 8. As an active member of the United States Pony Club, Halliday- Sharp rose through the ranks learning riding techniques, competition skills and valuable lessons in equine care.
While riding horseback may have been a new venture for the family, horsepower was a familiar familial trait. Halliday-Sharp's dad, Don Halliday, had a keen passion for auto racing and was a motorsport instructor for over 20 years. Halliday-Sharp shared his love of fast cars, and, by age 16, she was the one behind the wheel speeding around the track. Don was her first instructor and watched Halliday- Sharp climb up from a beginner to driving on the professional circuit, competing in some of the biggest races in the world. From 1997 to 2010, she raced professionally in sports car and GT endurance and is the most successful female driver in the American Le Mans Series, based in the U.S. and Canada. As a natural talent at not one — but two — high-speed, adrenaline- charged professional sports, Halliday-Sharp raced cars and ran horses simultaneously for the majority of her adult life — and loved every second of it. She says: “I was either on a plane or in a race car or on a horse, just bouncing all over the world. It was fun to do both for a long time in my life.”
A native Californian, who was born in San Diego County in 1978, Halliday-Sharp was enrolled at the University of California — Santa Barbara studying marine biology when her mom and dad invited her to visit them in England. Don had health issues and wanted to race some of the tracks in Europe before he was unable to drive anymore due to neurological problems, so they lived there for the summer. During that visit, her dad encouraged Halliday-Sharp to live in another country. Take a year off of school, he suggested. Try something different because that's what you should do while you are young. “My dad was a real believer in taking risks and doing stuff that was a little outside of the box,” she recalls fondly.
During her stay in England, a friend rang up legendary three-day eventer and Olympian William Fox-Pitt and recommended interviewing “this American girl” for a job. Halliday-Sharp got it, and under Fox-Pitt, she honed her riding skills and soaked up horsemanship techniques from the best in the business. When she left the Fox-Pitt yard, Halliday-Sharp remained in Great Britain. For 20 years, she split time between the United Kingdom and the U.S. creating a successful business producing and selling horses, as well as providing an opportunity to compete and train in both Europe and America. What was supposed to be a spring break trip turned into two decades and a dual citizenship.
Deniro Z helped Liz Halliday-Sharp earn a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team USA in three-day eventing.
PHOTO BY SHANNON BRINKMAN
Liz Halliday-Sharp doubled as a professional racecar driver and an international CCI5* three-day eventer for years.
PHOTO BY TAYLOR PENCE/US EQUESTRIAN
With 16 national wins and nine international wins, Liz Halliday-Sharp was named the 2020 USEA Rider of the Year — the first female to be awarded this coveted distinction in almost 40 years.
Halliday-Sharp doubled as a professional racecar driver and an international CCI5* three-day eventer for many years. However, when Don Halliday passed away in May 2012, she decided to re-assess her athletic focus. “A lot of factors were involved. My father was a big part of my life in motorsport. I was named to the USEF High Performance list for the first time, and I didn't want to do anything halfway, especially after being at the top in both. I wanted to stay there, and I just said, ‘Right, that's it. This is the switch.' It was a very hard, cold turkey approach that I had to do.” She adds with a smile: “I cut it off and focused on four legs instead of four wheels.” Once retired from motorsport, she turned her focus fully toward her equestrian ambitions and has not stepped foot into a racecar since.
Although Halliday-Sharp is not racing cars anymore, she still uses her vast driving experience every time she sits in the saddle. Surprisingly, the sports have many similarities. “Both sports are very much based on balance, weight management and trying to be the most efficient through a question on the course. You're not going to drive a hairpin in the same gear or the same speed that you would a big, wide open fifth gear corner. From a cross country riding perspective, you wouldn't ride into a bounce combination the same way you would ride a galloping fence. You would want to have a different weight balance, a different speed, a different gear, so to speak, for different combinations, just like you would on the racetrack.” She adds with a laugh: “Obviously, the biggest difference is that one has a brain, which makes it wonderful and challenging all at once. But also, what makes horse sport so rewarding is having that partner.” At the end of 2019, Halliday-Sharp returned full-time to the U.S. setting up equestrian headquarters in both Lexington, Kentucky, and Ocala, Florida. It was a hard decision to leave Europe, but — in true Halliday-Sharp style — she was all in to do whatever it would take to represent the United States on the national team.
PHOTO BY SHANNON BRINKMAN
PHOTO BY LESLIE POTTER/US EQUESTRIAN
PHOTO BY SHANNON BRINKMAN
Eventing provides the unique test of asking horses to be fluent in three very different “languages” — dressage, cross country and show jumping. Particularly challenging is that an eventing horse is required to be obedient enough to perform a dressage test, fit and bold enough to gallop for miles around cross country and also must have the longevity for stadium show jumping on the final day. So, how does one train a horse like that?
Preferring to train up nearly all of her horses from green youngsters, Halliday-Sharp greatly enjoys the challenge and the fun of finding and producing the “next one.” “I'm always looking for a prospect with the brain for the job,” she says. “That's as important as the physicality. Having a brain that is very trainable and can be kept in the box when they are that fit. I can tell you when you take a horse to the Kentucky 5*, and they are fit and ready to run for 11.5 minutes, they have got to be trained and understand that each phase is separate. The good ones with the right brain understand that the phases are separate. That does not mean that it's not a challenge. But that's part of my job as the trainer is to teach them.” Halliday-Sharp adds wryly: “Some do it better than others!” The variety in eventing and training a horse to do three completely different phases fascinates Halliday-Sharp. She thrives on the training and works daily planning and executing how to make each horse better and bring out the best in the individual.
While training at home is invaluable, most horses learn a lot from competition, which Halliday-Sharp considers the real gauge. Fortunately, over the winter when the Halliday-Sharp team is in Ocala, they are close to the World Equestrian Center, which they take advantage of. The younger horses are able to compete in jumper classes, away from an eventing situation, as well as dressage shows for practice and experience. Halliday-Sharp is adamant about listening to the individual horse to know when one of her horses is ready to level up or if they need more time and confidence. “I believe that good event horses are always looking for the next challenge. Just like good athletes in any sport are looking for a new challenge,” she says. “I can feel them at the show, when they start to really find it easy. They get a bit bold, and the horses will tell us when they're ready. If you're listening, they will tell you when they're ready for the next challenge. It's very important to pay attention to that.”
With a string of truly athletic horses in her care, what makes one a standout 5* horse? Halliday-Sharp has a recipe. One of her unbending rules is that they have to be light on their feet. She watches the way that they move across the ground, and how they land off a fence. Without this lightness, the sport can be too difficult, and they run into soundness issues. She looks for a horse with “blood” — they have to have an engine with a natural gallop. They must have the scope for big fences and the hardiness to get themselves out of trouble. Her last musthave trait — quirkiness. “If I have a young horse that is too perfect all the time, it makes me nervous. The day that it comes out and it rears bolt upright with me in the arena, I think ‘Ah, now we might have a real one,' ” she says. “They have to have a bit of spice, and they have to be fighters to do the big classes. No normal, average horse went and won a five-star. They've all got to have that little bit of quirkiness to them just like we do as athletes who are crazy enough to do this sport with them.”
“Both sports are very much based on balance, weight management and trying to be the most efficient through a question on the course. ... From a cross country riding perspective, you wouldn't ride into a bounce combination the same way you would ride a galloping fence.”
— Liz Halliday-Sharp, 2020 USEA Rider of the Year says of comparing motorsport and three-day eventing
Cooley Moonshine, a top young horse, has won six events in Europe, including two international 2* titles. Eventing provides the unique test of asking horses to be fluent in three very different “languages” — dressage, cross country and show jumping. An eventing horse is required to be obedient enough to perform a dressage test, fit and bold enough to gallop for miles around cross country and also must have the longevity for stadium show jumping on the final day.
PHOTO BY SHANNON BRINKMAN
There are many horses that have influenced her career, but Halliday-Sharp has a few that hold a sacred place in her heart and helped to define her as a rider. Bally Supreme, known as “Cheese” in the barn because in the winter he got very fat and looked like a ball of cheese, took Halliday-Sharp from her first Intermediate all the way to her first 4*-L in the pouring rain. What Cheese lacked in scope, he made up for with “the biggest heart in the whole world,” she says. HHS Cooley was another very special horse to take her around her first 5* event. She produced him from the beginning of his eventing career. A wonderful horse with a big engine, he truly loved the sport. In 2016, he was euthanized following a tragic accident at England's Burgham International Horse Trials while on cross country. He was an incredibly brave horse with a gigantic heart that Halliday-Sharp credits as being one of the best cross country horses she has ever had. With many talented horses and many that have been pivotal in her career, there is a standout in a sea of great ones — Deniro Z.
He is a stunning rich bay 2008 Dutch Warmblood gelding. Deniro Z or “Niro,” and Halliday-Sharp have been on a special journey together, and she is quick to call him her “best friend.” Niro was purchased in 2015 as a green 7-year-old who had done virtually nothing. Halliday- Sharp started competing him in the lower levels in England and was immediately impressed with his effortless gallop. As is a major part of the business, Halliday- Sharp bought Niro as a sales horse with the plan to bring him along, produce him and find a buyer. A few people tried him, but nothing panned out. Then Halliday- Sharp started winning with him and brought in Ocala Horse Properties as owners, deciding to keep the talented horse to ride herself. Within three years, he was competing in his first 5*.
While being an incredibly talented and very kind horse with a wonderful work ethic, Niro is one of those quirky ones. At the trot up, he can be a handful. Known to randomly launch in the air with all four legs off the ground, Halliday-Sharp rode him to and from both jogs at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials fearing that he might get loose and run away. But during competition, he is all business and the consummate professional. There is no doubt that he wants to win every time he comes out.
In 2019, Halliday-Sharp started turning heads on the indomitable Deniro Z, winning the Advanced at Georgia's Pine Top Horse Trials and, in 2020, besting the fields at both the CCI4*-S at both Great Meadow International in Virginia and Pennsylvania's Plantation Field International Horse Trials helping to secure her as the 2020 USEA Rider of the Year. Aboard Niro, she was selected to represent the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games. About her special relationship, she says, “We're just really good friends. He's always been my horse since the minute I got him. He's the horse that got me named to the Olympic team for the first time, which is a big deal.”
Liz Halliday-Sharp recently won the CCI4*-S aboard Cooley Quicksilver at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
PHOTO BY SHANNON BRINKMAN
“Niro” is as athletic as he is beautiful and is Halliday-Sharp's “best friend.” Known for his antics during the trot-ups, he is all business during events and is a fierce competitor with a huge heart.
“Monster” is a CCI5* horse that Liz has ridden since the beginning of his eventing career. He is the adored class clown of Horsepower Equestrian.
“Billy” is an uber-talented horse with a limitless future. He won six events in Europe, including two international 2* titles and a bronze medal at the 6-Year-Old World Championships in France.
As any fan of eventing knows, it is an extreme sport in more ways than one. The sport undoubtedly requires athleticism, power, speed and courage. But event riders are also faced with extreme emotional and mental peaks and valleys. After having a standout competition year, Halliday- Sharp and Niro underwent the arduous process of qualifying for the Olympics and were selected as one of three people to represent the United States in eventing. Then, they had to swallow the indescribable disappointment of having to stay home from the COVID-delayed Tokyo Games because of a last-minute injury in Niro. “I've spent my entire life wanting to be selected for the Olympic Games. It was heartbreaking,” Halliday- Sharp admits. “You put so much of everything in your life to try and get there and to have it fall apart so close was pretty horrible. But it was no question the right decision, and it was unanimous. I had to figure out a way to pull my socks up and keep going. I had to find a new strength in me for sure. I figured out that, if nothing else, I'm quite hardy.”
The huge support team surrounding Halliday-Sharp helped tremendously. “I'm not going to say there weren't some tears along the way because I don't think I would be human if there weren't,” she says openly. “I felt the overwhelming support from everybody behind me — my husband and family, my team, my fans. (Niro's owners) were incredible. We had a Zoom call after we went through it all. And they said, ‘Right, well, the first thing is that crisis equals opportunity,' which I thought was just brilliant.” While a truly devastating experience, the resilience that Halliday-Sharp demonstrated was really a new dimension of her for people to admire and a reminder that we are stewards of the animals that we love, and the needs of the horse come before all else.
After some time off and rehabilitation, Deniro Z is back completely to feeling fit and fabulous. He is in full work with competitions behind him already. With her best friend back in action, Halliday-Sharp looks next to the lofty tasks for 2022.
Nutrition plays a huge role in the Halliday-Sharp program with a focus on feeding her event horses like top athletes akin to an elite triathlete. She is attuned to the individual needs of the horse, making sure they have all of their essential nutrients and consistently trying to balance to keep each horse in his best shape and weight.
While all of her horses love to compete, they are still faced with stressors, such as travel and trailering. Adrenaline can be hard on the gut. Platinum Performance ® GI is her standard used across the board as a base supplement. Platinum Gastric Support® is added to support the stomach and digestive system. Every horse receives daily electrolytes.
Other specific supplements are added based on the individual horse. The feed chart is adjusted weekly depending on what the individual horse needs, relying on her team of veterinarians, physiotherapists and farriers to help assess.
Halliday-Sharp is a huge advocate for turnout time. Every horse goes out every day, with an emphasis on night turnout, especially for the young horses. “It's tempting to try and wrap them all in cotton wool all the time, but they have to have the time to be horses,” Halliday-Sharp notes. “It's good for their digestion, but it is so good for their brains as well — especially the hotter, busier types really benefit. It's part of their mental health.”
“Nutrition is crucial to the well-being of my horses, and that starts with supplements sourced with only the best ingredients. With a busy competition schedule, using Platinum allows each of the horses to stay healthy and well through it all. I love that the formulas are designed to give the horses everything they need to thrive, from their joints to their coats to overall wellness in one bucket.”
— Liz Halliday-Sharp, Platinum Perfomrance® Client since 2011
Halliday-Sharp's schedule would make some people need a vacation just from looking at it. She rides 10 to 15 horses daily and is on the road considerably more than she is home. And she would absolutely not have it any other way. “I'm very busy, and I have a ton of horses in work right now. But it's what I always dreamed of,” she says reverently. “I love being on the road. I like competing all the time. It's very much a full-time job, but I'm very lucky to be able to do what I love every day.”
For 2022, her sights are set on top three results at some of the toughest venues in the world. Halliday-Sharp recently won the CCI4*-S aboard Cooley Quicksilver at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day, America's Premiere event. Next, she will vie for a spot — and then a medal — at the FEI Eventing World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, in September. With unfinished business at the 5* Burghley Horse Trials in early September, Halliday- Sharp intends to return to top her 15th-place finish. In just two short years, there will be another Olympic chance in Paris in 2024. Many people might feel butterflies just thinking about this lineup, but not Halliday-Sharp. Touting a warrior mindset, she says unflinchingly: “I like pressure. I'm a very competitive person, and I feel that pressure makes me better, makes me rise to the occasion.”
Her laser focus is on producing capable mounts to have multiple horses for every championship. “That's really my biggest goal,” she says. “I want to represent my country on lots of different teams and hopefully help them win a medal. That's the end goal every day.” With Deniro Z, Cooley Quicksilver and Cooley Moonshine leading the charge of incredibly athletic event horses, we can expect to see her on the podium in 2022 and beyond.
“I want to represent my country on lots of different teams and hopefully help them win a medal. That's the end goal every day.”
— Liz Halliday-Sharp
by Emily Smith, MS,