Raeford, North Carolina--After double-clear rounds on each of her three horses in the CCI4*-S division at the Cloud 11 ~ Gavilan North LLC Carolina International, Liz Halliday-Sharp claimed hold of the top two positions. She retained her overnight lead with Fernhill By Night (a 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Deborah Halliday), and moved up one spot into second with Deniro Z (an 11-year-old KWPN gelding owned by the Deniro Syndicate and Ocala Horse Properties). She also moved into the top ten with Cooley Quicksilver (an 8-year-old ISH gelding owned by the Monster Partnership).
"They were all amazing," said Halliday-Sharp after her rounds. "It was unbelievable. I thought it rode how I planned. I thought the time was easier than some years. I jumped the grey horse [Cooley Quicksilver] first and he was well inside the time. I suppose now I've been here enough and I know you have to keep moving no matter what, so that probably helped."
"I think it's one of the best rounds Deniro's ever jumped. I think it's one of the best rounds Cooley Quicksilver's ever jumped. I mean, Blackie always jumps well unless I do something stupid. I had some help from Richard Picken in the warm-up and I think we really got it just right with all three of them. I can't really ask for more. It's nice to have the owners here, too, because they're all here and they got to watch all three of their horses go, so that was very cool."
Even though Fernhill By Night ("Blackie") is known for being a bit sleepy in the dressage ring, he perks right up when it's time to jump. "Actually, Blackie is spicier to jump. He's not that lazy!"
Halliday-Sharp was especially pleased with Deniro, whom she plans to take to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event for his second CCI5* (last year he finished 8th at Luhmühlen in Germany). "I think Deniro is a lot stronger now, especially behind. Now I'm able to really get him into the base of the jump and he can operate and finish behind. Some of that's probably come from the dressage work this winter. I think he's the strongest he's ever been."
"Also, I think last year when I had some rails down at Millstreet [in Ireland], I went out and jumped a ton of 1.30 [jumper classes] in England. I just thought, I have to figure this out. It was interesting because each track he did, he got better, I got better. And those are big tracks in England! I think that actually helped me figure out how to ride him a little bit more. Because he does want quite a lot of feel. He's looking for the rider to do a fair bit. He's not like a light, fluffy ride. But today, what I thought was brilliant was he let me shorten him without losing his power, because he's got such a huge jump and covers so much ground. But where before, when he wasn't as strong, if I'd shortened him, I'd shut the back end off, but now I can compress him. It's a big step for us to get the shape, without feeling like I'm chasing him."
Photo Gallery: Top 10 in the CCI4*-S
Halliday-Sharp was making her last-minute plans for tomorrow's cross-country phase, designed by Ian Stark. "I'm about to go and walk the [cross-country] course again with Erik [Duvander] and really dial in my lines. Obviously, for Blackie he's not the world's fastest horse but he is quick enough. I need to be super efficient with him. Early on in the course, you have to really come out of the box [ready to go] because that's one piece where it's flat and you can get a bit of speed up."
"I think Deniro's definitely quick enough as well, I just to be efficient. He's so nippy. I know he's a young horse, but it suits him to run him quick and I like that better. That's how he's always gone around. I'll probably run them all quick enough.
The event crew have been hard at work on the footing and courses, especially after an exceptionally wet month. "The ground was a bit sloppier today than I thought it would be, so... big studs! But better that than too hard. I think it's a brilliant course. I think it's one of the better courses Ian's built here. I think there's plenty to do and it should be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it."
Hallie Coon moved up from seventh to third with her clear round aboard Celien, 12-year-old KWPN mare owned by herself and Helen Coon.
"It felt great. It was pretty easy for her. She's been jumping out of her skin this year. We've been approaching show jumping with a different view and mixing it up for her. She seems to really be benefiting from it. It's my job to get her there with a bit of a gap to the fences and she does the rest. It's really nice to feel her actually stepping up now, so I was really thrilled."
As far as her new approach, "Basically, just trying to shock her a little bit. We don't do anything crazy or wild, but mostly it's about getting her to the fences with not a lot of momentum.
Coon is also part of the first ever USEF/USET Foundation North American Futures Team Challenge, part of this year's event. "[Coaches] Leslie [Law] and Erik [Duvander] have been really great. We've sort of developed that team camaraderie, which usually comes with these things. I think it's been a really useful weekend to see Dr. Susan Johns [the team vet] and get to know her a bit. It's been a really great experience."
"I'm impressed. The course looks really nice. It's a really fair track, I'd say. A little bit softer than last year, knock on wood, but with some really good questions that I think are really going to prepare the horses well for Kentucky. Obviously, the main factor here is always time. I have an inkling that this year it might be a little easier to get because they've done so much work on the ground and so much clearing out there. The paths especially in the first part of the course are so much wider and it's so much easier to see where you're going."
Coon is aiming for Kentucky this spring with Celien--the mare completed her first CCI5* last year at Pau (France) and spent some time competing in Europe.
The CCI4*-S wraps up tomorrow afternoon with the cross-country phase which kicks off at 12:30.
Eventing fans can follow along with the competition on the livestream at EQSports.net.
Check out all the live scores at EventEntries.com.
The Carolina International is a favorite prep event for many riders gearing up for the upcoming Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Follow along with Practical Horseman's coverage of #KY3Day19 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitterand Pinterest. Special thanks to our sponsors, Absorbine and Dublin NA, for their support!