If there's one rider on the circuit who loves a challenge, it's Liza Boyd. So, when she returned standing fifth after the Classic Round aboard Like I Said in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Devon, she knew what she needed to do: go all out.
And, the resulting Handy Ride vaulted her and Pony Lane Farm's 8-year-old mare to the head of the class with scores of 95 + 3 (high options) + 9 (Handy Bonus) and 93 + 3 + 10 from the two judging panels.
"For me, it was one of those rounds that we strive for as riders," said Liza. "That’s why we do this. It’s our addiction to have rounds like that. And when I came out of the ring, I couldn’t critique my round in one single place. I never do that. So, that's always the ultimate feeling--everything came up exactly how I wanted, she jumped every jump a 10 and obviously the judges agreed. It was another round that will go down as top rounds I’ve ever had."
Liza also rode Billie Steffee's Maggie Mae to seventh place overall after taking over the ride when friend and fellow professional Jennifer Alfano injured her knee earlier in the week.
"I'm really grateful that they chose me to ride Maggie," said Liza. "Any time you have more than one horse in a derby your chances are a lot greater, and you get to ride the course and get more of a feel for it. Maggie is more seasoned than my mare, so it was great to get in the ring first on her. She was so good, and it was so much fun to ride her."
After winning the First Year Green Handy class aboard Like I Said earlier in the week, Liza had hoped "Sally" would do well in the derby.
"I went in without any real expectations, though. In the first round she shied away from crowd a little," said Liza. "It was nothing bad, and I was so happy with her and as a First Year horse she was so good. Then, for the Handy, I’m always good at returning as an underdog because I figure there's nothing to lose.
"After I came out of the ring, I thought I'd probably end up third in my mind, and I thought that was great," she continued. "I didn’t think Louise Serio (standing second) would play it safe and Nick Hanness (standing first) had a substantial lead. I think Nick could have jumped the last low jump, but he chose the high option and had the rail down. That’s what makes these derbies so exciting for people to watch--anything can happen. It’s like a jumper class rather than hunter class, where you're better able to predict the outcome. These classes are exciting because there's so much strategy involved, and you just never know what will happen."
Even though Liza is a three-time winner of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship aboard the venerable Brunello and has won countless derbies throughout the country on a variety of mounts, this particular class had eluded her until this year.
"To win this class was so special," she said. "I was excited to get this under my belt. Brunello and I could never conquer that derby, so it’s a fantastic accomplishment for me."
Liza also credited the entire Finally Farm team for their support and allowing her to focus on riding and showing to the best of her abilities.
"I have to thank Randi Button, who takes care of Sally. She knows that mare so well and the day of the derby she told me, 'She's her playful self, Liza. She's on.' Randi was right. And when she said that, it gave me so much more reassurance. If Randi says she's going to be good, then she will be."
In addition, Assistant Trainer Tamara Berkowitz had another contingent of Finally Farm horses and riders at the Tryon horse show in North Carolina, while Max Mandel was at home base in Camden, South Carolina, riding, teaching lessons and preparing a second group of horses that will be traveling to Tryon next week.
"I really couldn't do this all without the backbone of this amazing team," said Liza, also noting the support she received from her parents, Jack and Lisa Towell. "I think sometimes people forget that the horse and rider winning these big classes don't do it alone; there are so many others who make it all possible for us to stand center ring for the awards."
Finally Farm's success wasn't limited to the derby, however. Lily Bennett's Maraschino earned the Small Junior, 15 and under, reserve champion with McKayla Langmeier aboard, while Maddy Thatcher had excellent performances in the Amateur-Owner hunter and jumper sections aboard Summer Place and Show Show.
To view Liza and Sally's Handy Round performance on USEF Network, please visit their Facebook page.
For more articles and photos about Liza and Sally's winning performance in the USHJA International Hunter Derby, please click on these links!
Special thanks to The Book LLC for the beautiful photography.