A Hat Trick

For The Hunter

The prestigious Emerson Burr Trophy is annually bestowed upon one rider in the hunter divisions over fences (any breed). Liza Boyd has won the award three times. She has also earned 30 USHJA Hunter Derby wins with her crowning moment being the unprecedented three-peat at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals in 2013, 2014 and 2015. She accomplished this aboard her famous mount, Brunello, whom she co-owns with Janet Peterson. Here’s the tale of how they did it.

"He makes my life easy. He’s just really, really special. I can’t thank him enough."
—Liza Boyd

Young Dreams

As a young girl, this highly regarded hunter professional never questioned what her eventual career would be. Liza grew up the daughter of equestrians, living on a farm, riding horses with her brothers, Ned and Hardin, nearly every day. The farm itself was the result of a dream her parents, Jack and Lisa, had for many years that they were "Finally" able to achieve. Horses were Liza’s dream, too.

She stepped away from Finally Farm only briefly in an attempt at a traditional college experience after a successful junior career. "As I made the transition from the upper level of the juniors, to the bottom of the professionals, it felt like a good time to take a break and it gave me a chance to experience a little bit of 'normal' life." But habits die hard, and Boyd soon found herself hanging around the barn while away at school, riding and giving lessons. After graduation, she took the opportunity to work with several established trainers in the area, including Sandy Lobel, Tom Wright and Chris Kappler. "I got to work with several amazing trainers that I learned a lot from. My time away at school also made me truly appreciate what I had at our farm with my parents. I was so fortunate to have them, the facility and the access to great experience," recalls Liza.

The Dream Horse

Brunello, better known as “Ike” around the barn, is slightly bigger and more outgoing than most hunters. The 17-year-old Hanoverian gelding is sweet and loves human affection. Although, his personality changes dramatically when it comes to other horses, especially if there are people around. He pins his ears, sliding his teeth back and forth. Ike would rather school in the pasture than near other horses in the schooling area. In an effort to protect him and (mostly) the other horses, his stall is padded at Finally Farm as well as at every show. (While stalled at the World Equestrian Games in 2010, he slammed the wall when he became agitated at Jersey Boy and moved the stall row several feet!)

The Dream Team

The success of a team is dependent on the chemistry between horse and rider, and Liza and Ike have an amazing connection. At the end of every show day, the pair spends quality time together while she hand-grazes him. Ike and Liza know each other well and you can sense that each wants to perform well for the other. As fate would have it, they would both get their chance to come through when the other one needed them most.

The multi-year journey that culminated in the three-peat, was born of patience, sweat and love between horse and rider. He’s the kind of horse people want to root for, as if he’s their horse. She’s the kind of talented rider you aspire to be but also humble, helpful and quick to give Brunello much of the credit for their success. She compliments the groom, her father, mother, husband, brother and owner when it comes to discussing her career. It’s a refreshing team-centered approach in a highly-competitive sport of individuals.

"There’s nothing else for him to do. We can’t top what he accomplished at the 2015 Derby Finals. It was smoothness. It was perfection."

— Liza Boyd

Hunter Derby Finals Championships


First Win

"We weren’t showing for second place!" Liza Boyd and Brunello went for it, and they celebrated their first Hunter Derby Finals Championship!


Second Win

Liza and Brunello won the Hunter Derby Championships again, just two-and-a-half months after Boyd gave birth. Liza knew her horse had truly come through for her, compensating for her lack of readiness.


Third Win

Taking it easy on jumps 1, 2 and 3, the team turned it on after that, choosing the high fence options on every opportunity. The crowd started cheering mid-course. Liza and Ike had claimed an unprecedented third win!

Near-Wins at Hunter Derby Championship

In 2010, Brunello placed third at the Hunter Derby Championship. Liza blames herself for him not winning saying, "he just wasn’t quite himself that year. I don’t think I had his stomach quite right at the time. Now, I am aware of how much of a difference that makes." The following year was especially disappointing as Liza went off-course in the handy round. "As a new mother that year, I don’t think I had figured out the right mother/rider balance for us, and that resulted in a mental error on my part." After that mistake in 2011, Boyd admits to riding to “stay on course” rather than riding to win in 2012. She was very nervous after the mental mistake the year before and didn’t compete with the edge it takes to win a class like the Hunter Derby Championship. She took second by a heart-breaking quarter of a point. Boyd said, "I truly believe that it was Jennifer Alfano and Jersey Boy’s year. All things happen for a reason, and no experience is ever wasted." Little did she know the three near wins would be followed by three years of celebration.

1. First Hunter Derby Finals Championship

The pair reeling off five USHJA International Hunter Derby wins is how 2013 started. Brunello was an obvious favorite when he won USHJA National Horse of the Year that year! After being third and then second, by a nose, in the previous years, Boyd felt like they had nothing to lose. Brunello was in a good spot after the classic round, and Liza knew she was going to go for the win this time. "We were either going to win it or not. We weren’t showing for second place!" She went for it, and they celebrated their first Hunter Derby Championship! Not long after, Liza discovered she was pregnant with her second child and took off the next seven months from riding.

2. Second Hunter Derby Finals Championship

Just a few weeks after giving birth in May 2014, Liza got back in the barn and set what she thought were appropriate expectations for her and her horse. "I wasn’t feeling the pressure to win at all. I just wanted to get back in the saddle and get fit." Liza’s goal for 2014 started out as a Top 10 finish at the Derby Finals, which was less than a few months away. But after a few weeks passed, her competitive nature was telling her that being in the Top 3 was possible if she worked hard.

By the time the show rolled around, Liza and Ike had a secret goal to win. No horse had ever won two Hunter Derby Championships at that point. She knew Brunello had it in him, but she was concerned that her fitness level could keep them from repeating. "I am sure others were thinking, 'can this girl even stay on?' " laughs Boyd. "It was physically my most difficult year, though mentally it was the easiest because Ike is such an amazing horse, and we had already done this once. I just felt that we could do it again." So, as the story goes, Liza and Brunello would go on to win the Hunter Derby Championships again, just two-and-a-half months after Boyd gave birth. Liza knew that her horse had truly come through for her, compensating for her lack of readiness, and she was so appreciative.

3. Third Hunter Derby Finals Championship

In all their years at the Derby Finals, Ike and Liza had never finished the classic round in first place. That changed in 2015. This was unchartered territory for the team who usually knew who they were chasing and had a plan for the course based on their strengths that gave them the best shot to win. But being first meant everyone else was chasing them! On top of that, Liza hadn’t forgotten what Ike had done for her a year earlier, and she intended to not let him down after his brilliant effort the year prior. For the first time, the pressure seemed to mount to a point that Boyd had never been more nervous. Liza remembers it was very different from the previous finals because "in the classic round, he won it, and he had never done that before, so the pressure just seemed to increase for the handy. I knew he was on his game, so the only one that could mess up was me. I was pacing. I was an absolute mess in the schooling area. I really couldn’t get it together."

This uncharacteristic behavior from Boyd suddenly fell away when they entered the ring. "I felt a sense of calm come over me, and as the handy unfolded, the more calm I became." Things went exactly to plan. They took it easy on jumps 1, 2 and 3, really turning it on after that. On every opportunity, they chose the high fence options. The crowd literally starting cheering mid-course, which is unheard of in hunter classes, after Brunello cleared the fourth jump with lots of air between him and the rail! He seemed to save his best for last, bounding effortlessly over the 4'9" oxer at the very end of the course. Liza and Ike had claimed an unprecedented third win in 2015 after what some say was the most brilliant handy hunter round ever. "I was so glad that I found my focus and settled in for him. That round was a culmination of years of flat work, training, strengthening and continuous improvement," says Liza. The big chestnut gelding "was fit and in perfect balance, both physically and mentally."

The excitement of the hunter derbies is making the class a real fan favorite. "I’ve had people say that that round (2015) has made an impact on the sport. What else can you ask from your horse?"

"I’ll never have another horse like him again."
—Liza Boyd On Her 3-Peat Champion Mount Brunello

Brunello’s Future

Brunello isn’t cantering off into retirement after that amazing handy at the Derby Finals. But after winning that class three times in a row, Boyd isn’t sure if he’ll do that class ever again. "There’s nothing else for him to do. We can’t top what he accomplished at the Derby Finals. It was smoothness. It was perfection." Some people suggested retiring him, but how do you retire a horse that loves what he does and just did it that well? "I think he’ll let me know when he’s ready to retire." She plans on continuing to show Ike at the HITS $100,000 derbies, which gives them another goal to ride for. On the horizon, Boyd has a couple of up and coming derby horses in her string. The 7-year-old Shamrock as well as the 6-year-old stallion, Coronado, who bares an eerily similar look to Ike. "Both of the horses are scopey chestnuts with hunter style and show a lot of promise. I’m excited for their futures."

Advice for Young Dreamers

Liza is still a student of her profession and knows young riders can truly benefit from studying experienced riders' tips and techniques, "learn as much as you can. Read books and articles about the discipline. Soak up everything you can from trainers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I‘ve learned a lot from older horseman that are no longer riding. You know, Tom Wright told me something when I was younger that offended me at the time when he said, 'a rider doesn’t get really good until they are 30.' Now, I understand exactly what he meant!"

Liza Boyd's Nutrition Program

Supplementing for Performance

"Chris Kappler is the trainer that really got me to think about how important a horse’s diet is and how nutrition can affect health and performance. Now I give all the horses a timothy/alfalfa hay mix, Nutrena grain and a customized Platinum regimen. I usually give them some grass forage at lunch, too. I go slow with any changes in their diets. I was initially interested in using Platinum for gut health. So, I started out using just the Platinum Balance, a probiotic. Slowly, as I’ve read more and learned more, I utilize a full regimen of Platinum formulas. Every horse gets one of the Platinum Wellness formulas and from there we customize a supplement program for each individual horse."

For Example, Brunellos’s Plan Includes:

Amy Quintana
  • by Amy Quintana, Platinum Performance®