Highlights abounded for Finally Farm horses and riders during the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit Week 6, the WCHR CSI 3*, held February 15-19 in Wellington, Florida.
The $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Palm Beach Hunter Spectacular was a featured event, and once again Liza Boyd didn't disappoint. The three-time winner of the class, now in its 21st year, placed third aboard Lily Bennett's Maraschino with two brilliant performances under the lights of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center's International Ring.
"She really stepped up, and I was so proud of her," said Liza of the 10-year-old chestnut warmblood. "McKayla Langmeier showed her during the week in the Junior Hunters, and I had a good feeling about her going in there. She's 10 now, old enough and experienced, so I could ride her boldly."
That decision proved to be a great one, as Maraschino rose to the occasion, even making up for Liza's fall from Cassanto earlier in the first round when he bucked and played after a particularly brilliant jumping effort.
"Thankfully, I had Maraschino to redeem myself! After I fell off Cassanto, I got mad but in a good way. I said, ‘Come on mare—you can do this!’ Our philosophy is that third place in that class was like a victory," Liza said. "Catch Me, the horse that won with Scott Stewart, is in a league of his own, Scott's an amazing rider, and Private Life was great, too. Being on a veteran Junior Hunter, I chose to make it a bit more exciting and really go out there and be bold.”
Liza added: "Now that Lily is doing the jumpers, Maraschino is for sale, and I know she'll make someone an amazing Junior or Amateur horse. She's also more than capable of doing these big classes under the lights, which is great. She's really an amazing horse."
Unlike a USHJA International Hunter Derby, the WCHR Hunter Spectacular is a Hunter Classic, therefore it doesn't include a Handy Round. Nevertheless, Liza chose to take some tighter turns and show off Maraschino's bravery in Round 2, which certainly impressed the spectators and judges. Strategizing in Hunter classes is a skill that Liza and her father Jack Towell take seriously.
"We knew that if Catch Me went well we weren't going to catch him, since he was so far ahead after the first round," said Liza. "So, we decided to do something a little different. Jack said, 'Why don't you pick up the pace and make it more exciting? Ride the course with more of a gallop, and I think that will encourage her to jump higher and make it more exciting.' So, that's what I did. Some people had to hold their horse's hands out there in that big ring under the lights, but I had the luxury of being on a made Junior Hunter and could really go for it, and it worked out."
Despite Liza's unexpected dismount from Cassanto in the WCHR Spectacular, she was proud of the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding for his consistency throughout the week. In addition to earning a 3'6" Performance Working Hunter section championship with Liza in the irons (including winning a class with 106 entries!), Cassanto also carried Stella Styslinger to excellent performances in the Large Junior, 16-17, section.
"He's really a phenomenal horse," said Liza, who estimated she'd shown him in just five classes prior to the WCHR Spectacular. "Now that I know him a little better after this week, I'll be better prepared in the future. We plan to do some derbies this year, and I really look forward to forging a partnership with him. He's very special."
Stella also earned her own accolades over the weekend, taking top ribbons aboard O'Ryan, including a score of 87 in the Small Junior, 16-17, section.
In addition to watching Maraschino star on Saturday night, Lily Bennett welcomed a new jumper to her string, Westpoint Baros. They started out strongly with ribbons in the Children's Jumper, 15-17, section.
"I want to thank Darragh Kenny for the new horse," said Liza, of the recently imported 11-year-old wamblood by Balou Du Rouet. "They are already a great match together."
Lily also earned top ribbons aboard Zimba in the Children's Modified Jumpers, including a second and third out of 25 entries.
Elly Ficca was thrilled to stand center ring on Saturday night to receive one of the coveted WCHR High-Score Awards. Elly and Quatrain earned a score of 88 in the 3'3" Junior Hunters, winning two over fences classes, on their way to a tie for the High-Score Award. They also placed eighth in the 3'3" Junior Hunter Classic.
"They were great!" said Liza smiling. "She was really clicking with him, and it was the perfect weekend for them to do so well together. I rode Quatrain earlier in the week, and I think watching me helped her out. She and Maggie Hill also watched me in the WCHR Spectacular on Saturday night, and the course for the Junior Hunter Classic the next day was almost identical. It was great for them to watch and then go out the next day and ride the course. Maggie was fifth and seventh, which was great for her, too. I was really proud of Maggie to step up and go in the big ring for the first time."
During Saturday night's press conference after the WCHR Hunter Spectacular, Liza took a moment to formally acknowledge assistant trainer Tamara Berkowitz for her hard work and dedication to the Finally Farm team. She also credited the entire team for helping to prepare the horses and stepping in to assist the clients during the busiest week of the WEF circuit.
"I don't think people really know how important our assistant trainers are to our programs, and I want to thank Tamara, who was up in the dark with Maraschino, teaching lessons and giving us pros the time to focus and keeping the show running," she said. "Without our team we wouldn't be sitting up here."