When horse shopping, buyers are often looking for a mount in a set age group and might turn away an older horse. But for Liza Towell Boyd, a bit of age is actually one of her top preferences when searching for a horse to add to her string. “I really like the seasoned brain of an older horse,” she says.
As one of the country’s most successful hunter riders and trainers, Liza’s top mounts justify the saying that age is just a number. Although she’s not against purchasing a young mount, she credits the seasoned mind and experience of an older horse to get her to the winner’s circle.
To prove it? Enter: Brunello (Yep, just like the fine wine).
He was bought as a 10-year-old after competing in the jumper ring in Belgium and went on to become the three-time winner of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, USEF National Horse of the Year, and a Breyer horse model.
Liza explains why she prefers the seasoned mind of an older mount.
“Brunello didn’t win his first Derby Finals until he was 16-years-old,” Liza says. “He got better with age, like his name, the wine. He got physically stronger and some of his weakness as a 10-year-old actually improved the more ‘hunter-fit’ he got.”
“I think that if you give them a lot of time off, they age.”
What’s the secret behind improving the longevity of her horses? Always keep them in work.
“My opinion with the older horses is you need to keep them in work,” says Liza, who keeps her horses fit through a routine of trail rides, paddock time, and treadmill sessions. “I think that if you give them a lot of time off, they age. Just like a person, you can’t just sit around; you’ve got to keep exercising and moving. I try to keep them moving a lot, maybe even more than a younger horse — it’s key.”
One of Liza’s other rides, O’Ryan, has a similar background to his stablemate Brunello. He's taken home numerous top honors in his career, like the 2017 U.S. Open $50,000 Duchossois Cup at the Central Park Horse Show. Now 17 years old, he's still going strong.
“A lot like Brunello, he doesn’t take much to get to the ring,” Liza says of O'Ryan. “Obviously we all want quality ... but sometimes a good brain and a strong character that has the desire to want to win. The characteristic to want to win and the good brain is so key for the longevity of the horse.”
With the combination of modern veterinary medicine and the ability to find out so much of a horse’s past online, Liza suggests not to balk at the purchase of an older horse.
“You want to do a thorough vetting and make sure there’s not a lot of wear and tear. With the older horses, it’s important to know their history and the way they were brought along,” she says. “All the older horses I’ve bought, I really know they had good care, good riders, and good management.”
Photography by Sportfot.