Pony Lane Farm's Scripted collected a variety of ribbons at the Aiken Spring Finale, April 21-26, but he saved the best for last when he was named Grand Hunter Circuit Champion for his performances throughout the Aiken, South Carolina series. In addition, the 9-year-old bay warmblood (by Sandro Hit) also garnered the High Performance/Second Year and the Conformation Hunter circuit titles as well.
"Scripted was amazing," said Liza Boyd, who received the Leading Hunter Rider title and celebrated her birthday at Aiken. "As I said last week, we're just really now forging a strong partnership. It's been six months since he arrived at Finally Farm, and I really feel like I know him so well now."
Liza also credited her father, Jack Towell, for providing them with some extra support this week, which really helped to fine-tune their performances.
"I had my dad back this week after the World Cup Finals. I share him with [brother] Hardin, so he's not here with me each week," said Liza. "Jack hadn’t seen Scripted for a while and gave me some tips. He spent about 30 minutes one morning doing groundwork and longeing him, and that preparation helped him go better for me. He also gave me tips for improving the horse's canter and improving the balance that he worked on with the horse."
Although Liza is a successful and sought-after catch rider, she said over the years she's come to better appreciate getting to know a horse.
One thing that's interesting is that the older I get the more I value those relationships you develop with a horse," she said. "I do catch ride a lot and can do it well, but I see now how much more important it is to know them as individuals. It's not just about finding the eight distances; it's more about knowing each horse's likes and dislikes, how one horse likes to be ridden and how it doesn't. A subtle change in your riding or preparation can really make a big difference."
This week Liza received a catch riding call from Megan Young and piloted Lee Cesery's Comanche to the First Year Green Hunter championship and the High Performance/Second Year Green reserve championship behind Scripted.
"Megan called and left a message and asked me to ride her horses because she'd broken her leg," said Liza.
"I called her back and asked, 'Which horse? I don't want to ride the one that broke your leg!'" she joked. "But it turned out that Megan was riding a bike when she broke her leg. So she asked me to ride Comanche, who is a really nice horse that's done well in the First Years and the derbies."
So, the first time Liza showed Comanche it was on Aiken's big grass field during the High Performance section.
"It’s a big, solid 4’, and all lines are 12 strides, so it's not typical of what we do. You really have to be sharp," she said. "This was a good example of the pressure of catch riding. Megan had had a lot of success, so I really wanted to do a good job for her because I’ve been in those shoes, standing and watching other people ride my horses."
Liza said she also enjoyed having trainer Rodney Bross assist her on the ground with Megan's horses. "It was really a treat. Rodney is such a good horseman," she said. "What I really enjoy about catch riding is when I ride for that generation of horsemen, my dad's generation. I rode for Jimmy Toon in Florida, and it's so cool to receive their input and ideas. Usually, I'm so busy as a rider and trainer that it's nice to get a riding lesson myself.
"The training Rodney does on the ground and what he told me made a huge difference," said Liza. "The small but important technical details are the difference between an 85 and a 90. You can learn something from everybody, and I told Rodney I’m going to take a few of his ideas and store them away in my files for horses that are similar to this one."
In the competitive $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby, Liza guided Tracey London's Smile to the victory and was featured on the April 25 installment of the Progressive Show Jumping Daily Highlights.
"There were 35 in the class, and it's really amazing how big and competitive these derbies are getting," said Liza. "It was a nice course and was especially fun on the big grass field. This class is a wonderful stepping stone to teach a horse to be an International Derby horse. It was held in the afternoon, with a party going on at the same time, so the atmosphere was festive. Smile really liked the activity and really shined in the handy."
Smile was fourth after the Classic Round with a score of 85.5, but Liza made up ground in the Handy Hunter Round to clinch the win with a 91. "He's really a super handy hunter, so it worked out to our advantage," she said. "He does the 3’3” Performance section. and he has some experience. I thought his handy flowed well, and he landed on all of his leads. You can really gallop on him, make neat turns and work off a fluid pace."
Smile is offered for sale and Liza believes he's ready to be a competitive junior or amateur hunter.
"Tracey has boys who are busy with activities and soccer, so she’s not going to be showing as much," said Liza. "He's so brave and talented that I see him going on to be a successful International Derby horse next year."
Liza was pleased that Finally Farm riders earned seven championships, two reserve championships and more than two dozen blue ribbons during World Championship Hunter Rider Week at Aiken. "I think we all step up our games. It’s such a special week for the hunters to be celebrated, and I really love how everyone receives [announced] scores, from the pros to the juniors and adults."
One of Liza's favorite moments at Aiken was on Sunday when she worked with Zola Thompson at the pony hunter ring. Zola finished the show with the blue ribbon in the Small/Medium Pony Hunter Classic aboard Mr. McGregor.
"All of the sudden a light bulb went off. Zola had three perfect rounds on Sunday. Every round scored 80 and above," said Liza. "That's hard for a Small Pony kid to do, or anyone for that matter! The courses were long, and she just really stepped up to the plate. When she came out of the ring after the third trip I asked, 'What did you have for breakfast? I've never seen you ride like that.' I had nothing to tell her to fix in any round. She had a hard-boiled egg, so I told her to eat one before every show.
"She’s ridden with us for almost one year now, and it was so rewarding as a trainer to see the pieces and lessons and her position all coming together," Liza added. "Zola and her family are very dedicated. They live in Alabama and make a huge effort to drive to Camden for weekends for Zola to train, and you can see the results. It's so wonderful."