Even though the Finally Farm training team was split during the week of April 15-19, the results were impressive from Las Vegas to South Carolina.
With Jack and Lisa Towell attending the Longines FEI World Cup Show Jumping Finals to support son Hardin Towell, daughter Liza Boyd held down the fort at the Aiken Spring Masters Horse Show in South Carolina.
"It was a busy week but so rewarding," said Liza. "Hardin had a good experience in Las Vegas during his first World Cup Final, and we were so proud of him."
Because Hardin's more experienced grand prix horse was injured and unable to compete, he chose the young grand prix horse Lucifer V, owned by Jennifer Gates, as his partner. They placed 21st in the first day's Speed Phase, and then Hardin elected to retire the 9-year-old on course during Phase 2 due to the difficulty of the course and not wanting to over face the less experienced horse.
"Lucifer jumped well and did so wonderfully with the crowd and impressive atmosphere," said Liza. "It's his first year at the international level, and such an experience was really good for a young horse."
To read a fun article about Hardin's experience at the World Cup Final, click here for a story published in the LA Times.
Liza followed the competition in Las Vegas through social media, texts and phone calls while simultaneously riding and training more than 30 horses at Aiken, where Finally Farm collected nine tricolors and numerous classic wins.
"We had a great week, and I have to thank everyone, especially [assistant trainer] Tamara Berkowitz for stepping up to the challenge," said Liza. "It was truly a team effort this week."
Liza was especially impressed with Pony Lane Farm's Scripted, who earned the Conformation Hunter championship.
"This horse show features a big field, and it's like an outside course," she said, "so it's different from most horse shows we attend. Most of the lines out there are 12 or 13 strides, so it's really fun. I will admit that it takes me a round or two to get used to that type of ride again, and the same for the kids, who are used to smaller rings and set numbers down the lines. A lot of fences were also options, with two fences set side by side. For example, you'd have two oxers or two verticals and you could choose to ride the right or left sides and take the inside or outside track, which changed the distances and the striding."
Liza said this scenario was great for Scripted, who has a large stride. Rather than riding him compacted to shorten his stride in the lines, Liza could open him up and allow him to flow.
"I could leave a stride out and no one even noticed," she said laughing. "This venue really suited him, and he's so brave that he just galloped around nicely. I feel like I’m starting to understand his ride. Kelley [Farmer] had him for a year before we bought him and knew him so well. He only had Kelley as his rider through his Pre-Green and First Year Green years, so we're really getting to know one another now and feel like strong partners."
While Scripted does have derby experience, Liza is focusing her rides with the Second Year Green hunter more in preparation for his role as Maddy Thatcher's Amateur-Owner mount. Maddy and Scripted collected top ribbons this week as well.
Maddy also made her presence known in the jumper ring. Aboard her newest jumper Skilliane De Varnel, a 9-year-old chestnut mare, Maddy won the Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic and also placed second aboard Dolce Vita.
"I think Maddy's new horse really loved the grass field, too," said Liza. "We don’t show on grass very often, and you could tell that mare had shown on grass before. She was secure with the footing and confident. She was just great, and Maddy is starting to get to know her. She's such a solid mare."
Pony Lane Farm purchased Skilliane De Varnel from McLain Ward shortly after she'd been imported to the United States earlier this year.
"Lee McKeever, who works for McLain, said, 'Liza we wanted to keep her. She puts blue ribbons on the banner.' They were right. She goes in and tries every time to win. When you get a good mare, and a chestnut one at that, they're special. Maura [Thatcher] loved her from the beginning. The mare has great bloodlines, and Maura liked her breeding. The horse is all business, too. She wants to win and goes in the ring and is careful, fast and brave. She’s going to be a great horse for the future for Maddy."
Erin McGuire, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, also collected top ribbons in the jumpers, riding Kasarr to second place in the $7,500 Welcome Stake and placing eighth in the $25,000 Aiken Spring Classic Grand Prix.
"Watching Erin grow and mature as a rider has been so rewarding," said Liza. "She came to us when she was doing the Junior Hunters, and seeing her progress has been so much fun. It really hit me this week. She’s really learned a lot and taken on more and more responsibilities. She’s smart about the classes she chooses for that horse. She plans out the week and his work every single day, and I’m really proud of her."
Stella Styslinger has also matured in her riding, and her dedication paid off at Aiken. Aboard Eloise, Stella earned the Small Junior Hunter championship. Stella also picked up impressive ribbons in the equitation, including victories in the Pessoa/USEF Hunter Seat Medal and WIHS Hunter Phase classes with Centerfold K.
"Stella did the equitation classes before the hunters, and that experience really helped her," said Liza. "Out on the field, the course designer used broken lines and bending lines, so from the technical Medal and Maclay courses she was well prepared. I could tell her to jump in and ride off the feel and not ride a specific number of strides, so everything she learned in Florida and having the equitation experience really helped her with Eloise in the hunters."
Stormy weather on Sunday afternoon disrupted the horse show, causing some minor damage. "The storm blew all of our ribbons off the banner and messed up the tack room set up," said Liza, who gathered everyone together to clean up. "I said, 'Jack is coming back today, and we have to get the ribbons back up! We have to show him how well we did!'"