More tricolor ribbons adorned the Finally Farm banner during week 2 of the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit in Wellington, Florida.
Dalliance earned his second consecutive Performance Working Hunter championship for owners Avatar Real Estate LLC. Just a year ago, Dalliance, a Dutch Warmblood by Indoctro, was competing in the Amateur-Owner Jumpers. Last fall, he transitioned to the hunters under Liza Boyd, and since then he's enjoyed success in the Performance Working Hunters, this week taking the 3'6" title.
"He’s really consistent now and stepping up to plate for 88s and 89s," said Liza. "He has quickly become a solid show hunter. We did a USHJA National Hunter Derby at the Kentucky National last fall, which he won. Then, when we went off to the fall indoor shows he went home with his owners. He returned to us fat, shiny and looking like a hunter."
Liza believes Dalliance will become an excellent Derby horse because of his bravery, but she also sees him excelling as a Junior Hunter due to his kind nature and unflappable nature.
"I was so proud of him this week. He just keeps going in there and doing better and better," said Liza. The 3’6” PWH is a solid division here, with Come Monday and Fredrick, just to name two stars, and he stayed solid in every single class. We’re excited."
Liza also credited Assistant Trainer Tamara Berkowitz for her dedication in preparing Dalliance as well as many of the 25-30 horses in the Finally Farm show string.
"Tamara has been helping with him a lot. She flats him regularly," said Liza. "We couldn’t get everything done without our team, to get the horses to the ring here, including Mackenzie Armour and Randi Button. The numbers are huge. Every class we went in had at least 25 horses, from 3’3” Juniors to First Years."
Tamara also has the challenging role of directing Liza and her father Jack Towell to the different rings where Finally Farm riders are competing. In between, she prepares horses and makes sure each one is ready and prepared for the day.
"It's really amazing how she does it. I had five in the PWH 3'6" division, and every horse was at the ring on time, flatted and warmed up. All I had to do was get on and jump a few jumps and go in the ring. We can’t thank Tamara and the whole team enough. All the horses look great, and it really helps me as a professional to not stress about anything. There's no room for error on my part, and you have to be perfect in every class. Being able to focus on my riding is huge, especially when I don't have to think, 'Is that horse going to make it back for the jog?' "
Maddy Thatcher's week went especially well, with ribbons galore aboard her Amateur-Owner hunters and jumpers. A highlight was the Amateur-Owner Hunter, 3'3" reserve championship aboard Early Applause.
"It was fun to see that horse go so well, and I think the 3'3" section is a great niche for him," said Liza. "He really jumps great and curls around the jumps. He's a veteran who has been around for a while, and the 3'3" is easy for him and keeps him happy. He and Maddy excel in the handy classes, and it's always fun to watch them go. They did an inside turn I didn’t even realize was there!"
Alley Milam and Castelli earned the Small Junior Hunter, 16-17, reserve championship in their last show together on the WEF circuit. Alley, 17, of Greensboro, N.C., starts an internship in Washington, D.C. this month working for a senator and will put her horse showing on hold until June.
"It was a hard decision, but she has one more junior year so she thought it would be great to take advantage of this opportunity," said Liza. "It was exciting for her to leave here on such a good note. Her horse will stay and show with a catch rider here to keep him fit, tuned and showing. She was second in the handy, and she rode with a lot of confidence, and I was really proud of her."
Chestnut Avenue earned excellent ribbons in the Performance Working Hunter 3'6" section before doing the same in the Amateur-Owners with owner Joann Loheac. "This was his first show here, and I couldn't be happier with him," said Liza. "He stepped right into the 3’6" Performance and didn't miss a beat. I showed him here a few years ago, and since then he's matured so much. He walked into the Grand Hunter Ring and scored an 87; I remember two years ago when he was jumping the mud puddles and jumping way too high, and two years later he’s a made horse."
The pony kids also joined the WEF fun this week, with Mr. McGregor and Zola Thompson and Highlands Heaven Sent with Ruby Sloan both earning ribbons. Each duo spent time practicing at home before WEF started, and their hard work paid dividends.
This was Ruby's first show with Highlands Heaven Sent, a Medium she's leasing. "She got a second-placed ribbon on the second day, which was huge for her first time at WEF and with this pony," said Liza. "The first day she was a little wide-eyed. She had a nice round that would have been a good ribbon at home, but here she didn't get a jog. Then she realized there was no room for errors, and the next day she stepped up and had an excellent round. I was thrilled with her!"
Overall, Liza was pleased with the first two weeks of the WEF circuit, and she's already observed Finally Farm horses and riders gaining more confidence, which will carry them far into the new show season.
"When everyone leaves here they'll go home stronger," said Liza. "They'll have more confidence in their riding, with the numbers so high here it takes better performances to get ribbons. The courses are also more technical, and it's good to push yourself, for the kids and myself.
"I already feel sharper," added Liza. "I was so sore after Week 1. Elle asked, "Mom, why are you walking sideways down the stairs?' Nothing can get you as fit as going in the ring. Show fit is an even better level of fitness. This week I felt great, and it was the same with the horses. I think we were all body sore during week 1, coming back from vacation and holidays and then you get back into groove."
Addison Byrd, 17, picked up excellent scores on Too Cool in the Small Junior, 16-17, section while also picking up valuable life lessons. Addison is doing an externship for school and spending three weeks working for Finally Farm.
"She's keeping a diary of each day's activities that also shows her hours," said Liza. "She gets up with me at 5:30 a.m. and we get home at 6:30 or 7. The first day she fainted, and I thought, "Oh no." But I don't think she was used to the heat. Ever since then she's been perfect.
"I think this experience has been an eye-opener for her," added Liza. "She had no idea what went on behind the scenes, from the work hours Tamara spends at the barn to the number of times we have the vet to the time and attention we give to each horse. She's been a huge help and has been taking the pony kids to the ring and helping us with organization. Throughout the process she's also gotten to know her horse better, and it's been a great experience for her. And for her to do so well in the ring this week was a huge bonus."
Grace Howard, of Concord, N.C., also enjoyed new experiences during week 2 when she leased a jumper and competed in that ring for the first time. Howard partnered with Hiho Houdini, a recent import from the barn of Natalie Macken. Grace and Houdini placed 12th of 53 in the Low Children's Jumper Classic.
"She’s going to be really good at the jumpers," said Liza of Grace. "I couldn’t believe how brave she was for her first time! I'm really impressed she was able to figure out the jumpers so quickly. She's going to have lots of fun with this horse."