Countdown to Kentucky: Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z

Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp talks about Deniro Z, her mount for the Kentucky Three-Day Event in April and hopefully the Tokyo Olympics.

At the Carolina International Horse Trials, I spoke with Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp about the upcoming Kentucky Three-Day Event and her five-star horse, Deniro Z. Deniro was unable to compete at Carolina due to some foot soreness, but Halliday-Sharp filled us in nonetheless on all the details about her top mount. 

Can you tell us about Deniro Z — your top mount for the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

Deniro Z is my main hope for Kentucky. The [Carolina International Horse Trails] didn’t go as planned, but I’m hoping he’ll be totally fine in a couple of days. But yes, he’s my big hope for Kentucky and Tokyo. 

He’s 13 this year and he’s a Dutch horse (KWPN) owned by Ocala Horse Properties. I’ve had him from the very beginning of his career. I got him when he was 7 and he’d done almost nothing. He was actually bought to be a sale horse and luckily ended up not suiting everybody, but suiting me. Ocala Horse Properties got involved in 2017, which was amazing. And he’s been an incredible horse. 

Actually, nearly to the date, he did his very first event and three years later he did his first five-star, which is pretty cool. I always say me and Deniro are very, very good friends. He always tries his hardest. Physically, he’s probably not made to be as good on the flat as he’s become, but because he has such a big heart and we just keep working to teach him to do things that his body’s probably not meant to do, and he keeps getting better. [Carolina] didn’t go to plan, but we’re not worried that there’s anything major. It’s just bad timing, some sort of foot soreness. I think he’ll be totally fine. And then hopefully we’ll have the best five-star results of our life [at Kentucky] and on we go. 

Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z © Amy K. Dragoo/Equine Network, LLC

How did you bring him along?

Within about five days of having him I did my first event on him in England. I mostly just thought, “Oh, I’ll just chuck [him] in the training level event.” It was a local event in England and I remember I finished the event and I said to my groom, “Man, this thing can really gallop.” He was very good. Green, but good.

We kicked on from there and he did his first one-star that year as a 7-year-old. Then we brought him over to the U.S. for the first time and from there he started to win quite a few FEI events after awhile. And luckily, I’ve gotten to keep him. Most of my horses I’ve had from the beginning of their career, which is nice. I know them all very well and I think that’s the best way to do it. It feels like forever, but once you get them there, it’s pretty cool because you’ve got that partnership. 

Are there any specific training exercises that you’ve worked on with him?

He’s an interesting one because actually, he didn’t jump that well when I got him. I remember … I had a lesson on him with my jump coach at the time a couple of days after I got him, and he said, “What’s this piece of crap you bought?” because he just had such an odd style. I think that’s what has taken him time, because he’s a real power jumper. He jumps a lot like his grand-sire Chin Chin, so he’s got all the body working hard and that’s where it’s taken him time to find himself. 

Certainly on the flat, he’s built quite bum-high, so it’s really hard for him to sit and collect and push. That’s why flying changes have taken years. We’re going on three and a half years now working through them and he’s just starting to get them clean. But, not for lack of trying. It’s just physically really hard for him.

Erik Duvander said at the [$50,000 Lift Master Grand Prix at Bruce’s Field] … Deniro finished not far behind Tammie Smith’s Mai Baum on score. And he said, “Those things are freaks. Scandalous RF is a freak, Mai Baum is a freak. Deniro is a normal horse.” He just tries really hard. That side makes me really proud. We’re still getting better, he’s still getting better all the time. He’s only 13 this year and I feel like he’s hitting his peak just now.

Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z © Amy K. Dragoo/Equine Network, LLC

Does he have any quirks or funny personality traits?

He’s a horse that is always happy to work. Every day he’s ears forward at me like, “What are we doing today?” He’s a very happy horse. He’s quite a handful at a show, as anyone who’s seen him at the jog knows. We get to a point where Erik has to hold him at the jog because I literally can’t hold him. I was the only rider at the [Burghley Horse Trials] that rode to both jogs and back again, because we would have lost him. He’s a cannon. But he’s gotten a little bit better to ride around. He used to be one who would launch in the air randomly at the shows when I was on him, but he’s gotten much better. In the ring, he is always professional and always has been from the first day. He goes in the ring and he tries his hardest. He gets it now, he knows the job. But, he takes some management. Like, at the [Tryon International Three-Day Event], we asked if we could jog him first so he didn’t have to be in the group. It’s a real management process so he doesn’t hurt anyone.

What is he like to ride?

I love him to bits. We know each other so well now, so he’s amazing. But, he’s actually not the easiest horse to jump show-jumping-wise. I would say I get more nerves on him than some of them, because he is such a power jumper and he’s a different feel to my others. He takes quite a precise ride and I suppose that side of it has taken time. But, he always tries for me. I know he’s going to try. I go down the center line in a test and I know he’s going to try and that’s great. He always busts his guts cross-country and he is a machine on cross-country. He’s so brave and fast and he’s a great, scopey horse. But riding around, we have to manage him a little bit. Like, my girls don’t do a lot with him at home, and he doesn’t get led a lot because we don’t want him to hurt anyone. It’s always a management process. You have to plan your day with Deniro.

Are there any specific health-care routines that you follow with Deniro and your other horses?

Both Cooley Quicksilver and Deniro we’ll swim if I’m not there. I don’t let anyone gallop them but me. That’s something I’ve done for a lot of years now. It’s not fair to the staff if something happens, and also, I just want to gallop my horses myself. That’s worked pretty well. The ones that do swim it’s really, really good for them. I think it breaks up their plan a bit. It gets their heart rate up high without having to hammer their legs. So, we mix that up a little bit in the season. We’re lucky to have a gallop now in Kentucky, which is great. That’s partly why we’re moving them back early, so I can do that. 

Our horses go out a lot—a lot. I think that’s really important—to just be horses. They get fed four times a day with feed, the ones that are at the upper level. We break it up for them so they get hay four times a day. I think that’s really important for the horses, I’ve done that for years. Especially if the grain ups, I think you should spread it out more rather than just how much they get. Horses are grazers, so we’re trying to manage them that way and they like routine. That’s how it was done in England when I was there and I’ve brought the English system with me, which I’m a big believer in. I think it works well for them. Last year was a difficult year because we had just moved to the U.S. full-time and a new farm. I was very nervous about where they were going to be fitness-wise, but every one of mine came to their three-days guns blazing.

Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z © Amy K. Dragoo/Equine Network, LLC

How do you prepare physically for a big event like Kentucky?

Physically, right now, I’m riding a lot of horses and competing a lot, and I don’t do anything else because I don’t have time. I feel like I have a pretty good gauge on my fitness now. My rule has always been if I’m riding eight or more per day, or nearly every day, then that’s okay. If I drop below that, then I need to supplement. That’s been my rule for a long time, and so far that’s working. Right now, I’m riding usually around 10 per day if not more. 

And what about mentally?

It’s always a struggle for everybody and I just try to put myself in a good place. My owners are really supportive. They never push me to do anything more the night before. If I want to go to bed at 8:00 p.m., no one cares. My husband’s great about that too. I just have to be in my own box a little bit. I was under pressure for a lot of years in motor sport as well, so I think that a high pressure situation is something I’ve done a lot. I’m actually, for the most part, pretty good under pressure. Every time you’re in that place where you’re in the lead it makes you better, I think. Each time you’re in that place it’s like, “I can be here.” [Motor sport] was immense pressure. So much pressure. It was great, because I think it was set me up to be better now as a competitor. 

Do you have any pre-show routines?

The one thing I would say is, I really like to sit down and think through my whole course before I run cross country. I like to ride it in my head. I’m a really visual person. I used to do the same in motor sport—I would lie down in the dark and drive the track. And, I like to “ride” my best cross-country round. I’m so visual that I can bring my heart rate up while I do it. It’s very odd, but I’ve always been that way. So that’s important to me, even if I just shut my eyes in the tack room and put my head down and do the track. It’s a big part of my plan. I feel a little lost if I haven’t had 10 minutes to do that.

Do you have any superstitions?

It’s a little silly, I always [knock on wood]. And, I suppose, if I had a really crappy event with a number bib on and the number is still in [the order], I would choose a different number bib for the important [events] until I’ve cleansed it by getting rid of it and then I forget which one it was. I’ve eliminated a lot of the other [superstitions], I used to have more. But, when you have so many horses running, you can’t have all the same [superstitions]. Like, “I was wearing that shirt when I fell off.” So what? You have so many running. You could fall off one day, but you were also wearing that shirt when you won. When I was younger, I probably had more [superstitions]. Those are my main ones now. I’m slowly eliminating them as I get older.

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