Aiken, South Carolina--Though they had to contend with a day full of rain showers, the spectators who braved the stormy weather at the $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing Invitational at Bruce's Field (part of the Aiken Horse Park) were treated to world-class riding. Thirty-two riders competed in the dressage and show jumping phase of the modified Advanced class and will finish tomorrow over Capt. Mark Phillips' cross-country course.
Leading the field after the first day of competition is Elisabeth (Liz) Halliday-Sharp with Fernhill By Night ("Blackie") who took an early lead in the dressage with a 28.7. Boyd Martin and his 2018 World Equestrian Games partner, Tsetserleg, were in second with 30.2, and Doug Payne and Vandiver rounded out the top three with 30.8.
"Blackie's kind of a special one," said Halliday-Sharp after her test. "He’s the world's laziest event horse, so I literally had, I think, ten minutes of warm up, because I kind of got my time wrong, but I wasn’t worried because that's how much we usually give him."
Overall, she was pleased with her test, but said, "I think they're judging tough today as well. But I don’t think this is going to be a dressage competition."
Her prediction rang true after a tough show jumping course later in the afternoon. A double-clear round ensured her and Blackie the lead heading into tomorrow, though the top several places shuffled as riders tackled Michael Villaincourt's course. Payne and Vandiver moved up one spot into second, while Lauren Kieffer and her long-time partner Vermiculus took over third.
Spectators were also treated to a masterclass performance by British eventer William Fox-Pitt who's here catch-riding Sandro's Star, a talented black stallion usually partnered with Chris Talley at the three-star level. The pair finished their day in 4th with a 31.3.
Halliday-Sharp is a veteran of the eventing showcase type of competitions, which feature modified divisions. "I think it's great for the sport. I did all the Wellington ones and they were brilliant and I think especially with eventing because it's hard to get the level of money and sponsors in it. So this sort of thing gives eventing a bit of a show. Everyone can sit here and enjoy it, drink a glass of champagne and watch all the phases from the VIP tent. I think the sport needs a few more of these around to freshen up the sport and give us a chance to win some more money and give the owners and sponsors a chance to see an event better."
"It gives horses like Blackie another outlet, because he's not going to do another long format. It gives them a sort of special thing they can go and try and win," she added.
The day wraps up tomorrow as riders gallop over Capt. Mark Phillips' cleverly designed track. The course features 22 jumps over the beautifully manicured grounds and winds throughout Bruce's Field.
Tune into the live feed and watch your favorites. The first rider heads out on course around 2:30.