ou don’t have to be a philosophy major to have heard of the ancient Chinese concept of dualism, or yin and yang. The basic theory that all seemingly contradictory forces may actually be complementary and intersected extends to all aspects of life: light and dark, fire and water, winter and summer. And, to even the most casual observer, it’s a concept that’s present in almost every facet of American eventer Liz Halliday-Sharp’s career.
Take, for instance, her seasonal, winter lodgings at Horsepower Equestrian — her Stateside homebase for the last six years. Tucked away in the heart of Ocala, the sprawling 110-acre facility is a slice of quintessential Northern Florida. The mornings here are misty and crisp, the afternoons bright and sun-baked. Small egrets prowl ponds and waterways in search of quarry, while Spanish moss trail moodily from the surrounding trees, blanketing the landscape in a kind of silver luminescence.
In location, scenery, and scale, it’s a far cry from Liz’s 15-acre base at Chailey Stud Equestrian Center, HS Eventing's U.K. foil in the rolling countryside of East Sussex, two hours south of London. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We kind of make do with the space we have in our English place, and we’ve used up every little bit of land that we have there,” Liz explains. “It does work for us, but we’ve got so much space here [in Ocala] for hacking.
“We had sort of a great opportunity to buy [Horsepower Equestrian], and we’ve touched it up as we’ve gone along, but everything was pretty much in place here already.”
In addition to 36 stalls, HS’s Ocala home boasts a 60 x 20-meter outdoor dressage arena, 70 x 40-meter jump arena, grass gallops, a six-horse walker, and a cross-country course constructed by 2015 Pan American Games course builder, Greg Schlappi. Winter mornings begin early, with Liz in the saddle by 7:30 a.m. on busy days. “I try to ride pretty much all the horses myself, if I can,” she notes, adding that the daily ride list typically includes 10 to 12 horses in total.
“At our farm, it’s great, because we can do trot sets on the horses if we want. I would say, probably once or twice a week they would go for a hack and a good trot set session — typically up to 30 minutes,” Liz explains. The eventer also supplements the conditioning of her top horses with twice-weekly workouts on the water treadmill at nearby Lane’s Mark Farm.
“Occasionally, I’ll school different horses two days in a row on the flat, but mostly, I try to do something different every day. So, maybe, they’d jump one day and they’d school another day, and then they’d do some trot sets and go for a gallop,” Liz explains. “We just try to keep a lot of variety for them.”
Variety is something that Liz knows plenty about herself. Born in San Diego, California, Liz grew up riding horses as well as driving race cars, a passion she was introduced to and shared with her father, Don. In 2000, she moved to the U.K. to work for William Fox-Pitt, but decided to stay where she eventually met her husband, Al Sharp, and took to life as an expatriate. In 2010, the couple established Chailey Stud, and, for a time, Liz continued to juggle an international auto racing career alongside her burgeoning eventing program.
“I’m not doing [driving] and riding together anymore — I’m mostly just riding. But for many, many years, I did do the two at the same time [and] there are a lot of similarities. Both are sort of all-body, physical sports. You have to be quite fit for both, I think,” Liz says, adding that the way she’s learned to walk courses has also been impacted by her racing days.
“Certainly, there are also correlations in that you would set up for a certain jump on the cross-country course just like you wouldn’t drive every corner [on a track] the same way,” she says. “I’m really working hard, when I walk a cross-country course [now], to walk the racing lines. I figure, that’s something I know how to do, to be faster and more efficient on the courses, and to give myself the best line through the trees or wherever on the course that I am.”
In addition to a steady supply of pure adrenaline, both sports are notoriously mentally challenging. According to Liz, the sangfroid required to compete in team endurance auto racing is hard — harder even, than say, leaving the start box to embark on a large and technical cross-country course.
“You’ve got the whole team behind you, and [you’re] very much under pressure to produce a time every lap, and there might be someone else who might be quicker than you, but you’re all in the same car [together],” Liz says. “I just found it was more pressure, mentally. Not that equestrian sport isn’t tough — because it’s very tough — but it’s just you and the horse.
“[Still], nothing really compares to going into the show jumping round when you’re in the lead,” she continues. “[Especially] when there are a lot of people around you, you know? That is a high-pressure situation. I suppose they’re both similar in that way, and that’s why I like them. I enjoy high-speed, high-pressure sports. That’s sort of what I’ve always been into.”
Fortunately, the need for speed is a passion Liz shares with two of her closest and most talented four-legged friends. The first, her longtime partner, Fernhill By Night (owned by Liz’s mother, Deborah Halliday), a 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse known as Blackie, with whom she won the Carolina International CCI4*-S in March. The second is 11-year-old up-and-comer Deniro Z (owned by the Deniro Syndicate & Ocala Horse Properties), a KWPN gelding known as Niro, who placed second to Blackie at Carolina and finished eighth in his CCI5* debut at the 2018 Luhmühlen Horse Trials.
“They’re both very sweet, lovely horses; they’re both affectionate, and we’re all very good friends. But they are extremely different,” Liz laughs. “Blackie is probably the world’s laziest event horse. He notoriously has a 10-minute warm-up for dressage at the highest level, and I never do the arena walk with him because I want him to be surprised by the atmosphere.
“[On cross-country,] he’s careful and he really needs you to put him in the right place and to look after him a little bit. I’d say, Niro — he’s just like a lion, you know? On cross-country, he’s a beast, he’s just so brave,” Liz says. “I wouldn’t say he’s hot, but he’s a much more forward ride and a much different horse than Blackie on the flat, and a different sort of feel all the way through.”
Nearly all the horses at HS Eventing are projects that Liz has produced up the levels herself, and like Blackie and Niro, all come with their own set of preferences, personalities, and quirks — and that’s okay. “I try to treat all of our horses as individuals. A lot of people [tell me], ‘Oh my gosh, your horses are all so different!’ and, I suppose, I don’t really have a type. I just like them to be talented,” she says.
Typically, Liz maintains her operations at Horsepower Equestrian in Ocala through the Kentucky Three-Day Event in April, after which she returns home to East Sussex where she’s based for the remainder of the year. She still straddles the line of her two passions of riding and racing, working as a commentator for motorsports while continuing to bring her horses up to the highest level of the sport.
Of course, the notion of “balance” seems to mean something different to every person, and to athletes in particular. At HS Eventing, the truest form of balance — and with it, success — seems to be found at the intersection of opposing forces: two farms, two countries, two sports, and two very different, yet equally impressive, top horses. For most, that would be enough to rest on a lifetime’s worth of laurels. For Liz, it’s just a place to start.
“Even when I [win], I’m still thinking to myself, ‘I could have done better here,’” Liz reflects. “Every year, we just keep trying to figure it out and to learn more — and by no means do I ever think I’ve got it all right. I’m definitely trying to keep learning and to get better all the time.”
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Photography by Shannon Brinkman for NoelleFloyd.com.