Halliday-Sharp encouraged by promising March International outings

• Cooley second on CIC3* comeback
• Minor Cross Country errors cost Blackie potential podiums

Liz Halliday-Sharp continued to reap the rewards of spending this year’s European winter in Florida after both Cooley (HHS Cooley) and Blackie (Fernhill By Night) again demonstrated their ability at International level this past month.

Early March saw all three travel to Red Hills International Horse Trials in Tallahassee, Florida, where both USEF High Performance Training Listed horses were entered in the CIC3* competition.

Cooley hadn’t contested an International event for almost a year but was back in the groove immediately, scoring an excellent 43.4 Dressage test good enough for third overall.

An all-but impossible optimum Cross Country time ensured that no pairing came close to completing the course without incurring penalties. Nevertheless, a solid error-free run ensured Liz and Cooley entered the Show Jumping phase in second place overall. A faultless clear round on the final day kept them in victory contention, but an equally precise performance from the leader saw them ultimately lose out by just 0.7 points.

Like his stablemate, Blackie had also made a strong start to the competition and led the field following an assured Dressage display. His victory chances came to an end during the Cross Country though when a miscommunication prompted Liz to pull him up mid-course and save him for another day.

“Once again both horses have shown how comfortable they are in this company, which is great,” explained Liz afterwards. “Cooley performed really well throughout the event and was excellent in all phases for a horse that hasn’t competed at International level for nearly a year. It feels so great to have him back this season and I am really excited about his future!

“Pulling up Blackie wasn’t ideal but I already had one eye on future competitions and didn’t want to do anything silly around a course that really didn’t suit him. He’d proven his class in the Dressage and it was my fault for taking a poor line to an early combination that resulted in the run out. These things happen though, and I know there is more to come.”

Indeed, Blackie was back in CIC3* action last weekend at the Carolina International where, despite another promising start, a Cross Country mistake again ended what would have been a top-three result.

Another confident Dressage test helped he and Liz initially occupy fourth amongst the competitive 52-strong entry, before a typically clear, clean and tidy Show Jumping round moved them up a place further. That was followed by another strong start to the Cross Country round, only for their efforts to be thwarted by the tight striding to a corner leading out of the final water complex.

“He was really flying around the Cross Country and looking good for a top result,” continued Liz. “I knew the last water was going to be very difficult striding for him, but despite trying to hold it together we just got there on a half stride and he couldn’t do it. It’s always been tricky with a big, rangy horse like him when the striding is so tight, but it’s still disappointing not to get it right when I know how capable he is now. We enjoyed a lot of good clear rounds last year on some big, difficult European three-star courses, so I am trying to remind myself of that, stay focused on the job and keep improving, rather then dwell on these little blips that we have had along the way.”

Blackie and Cooley head to The Fork CIC3* in North Carolina later this week as final preparation for the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* on April 23-26.