Cooley Quicksilver proves once again his competitive nature with another 4*-S win. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

We knew we wouldn’t see every pair going for the notoriously difficult optimum time at MARS Great Meadow International, but a few of the top 10 riders gave it a good crack in the CCI4*-S conclusion this hot, balmy afternoon.

In the end, it would be Liz Halliday-Sharp with The Monster Partnership’s (Ocala Horse Properties, Renee Lane, Deborah Halliday) Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer – Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond) who steadily crept up from their starting placing of fifth to take the overall win. She wins by the skin of her teeth on a 25.6 — just one second of time added on cross country — as Team USA member Tamie Smith let the Ahearn family and Eric Markell’s Mai Baum (Loredano 2 – Ramira, by Rike) cruise home to finish on a score of 26.9.

“Monster”, who is 11 this year, has already proven himself to be a competitor: he was fifth at Luhmühlen’s 5* in June, just after winning the tough Lexington 4*-S in April. This is his second 4*-S win, and Liz says the Irish gelding is feeling more professional with each go.

“I was completely thrilled with him,” Liz commented. “It’s his first run back since Luhmühlen, and he just keeps getting better. I mean, he’s only an eleven-year-old, so he’s done quite a lot. But he is still young horse and he was just totally professional in all three phases, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”

A 26.5 is a competitive finishing score anywhere in the world, Liz noted. “And that’s something I always strive for.” Liz has penciled the Maryland 5 Star in for both Cooley Quicksilver and her stalwart partner, Deniro Z, also owned by Ocala Horse Properties, who finished inside the top 10 on a score of 36.1.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Shanroe Cooley pick up a win en route to a trip to France this fall. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Liz also secured a second win in the 3*-S this weekend with Ocala Horse Properties Shanroe Cooley (Dallas VDL – Shanroe Sapphie), who at seven will aim for October’s FEI World Young Horse Breeding Championships in France. This was a wire-to-wire win for Liz, finishing the weekend without adding any penalties to their dressage score of 26.1.

Partnered with Liz since his four-year-old year, “Dallas” has been tapped for Le Lion for some time now as Liz produced him through the levels. “He just finds it really easy,” she said. “So it’s nice now because I’m going to go to his next run and just tone everything down a little bit since this was the first time I put a bit of pressure into him. And I think that was good for him. Now we can just settle down a little and have a nice run a Stable View [in September]. And then hopefully he’ll go in a really strong position for a lovely young Seven Year Old World Championships.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum cruised around with just a few seconds of time. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Team USA Ticks the Boxes

For the combinations heading to Pratoni for FEI World Championships, today was intended to be a challenge without asking too much of each horse. Chef d’equipe Bobby Costello reaffirmed his role as supporter, noting that each rider knows their horse best and knew the type of ride each needed.

Tamie Smith said she opted to let Mai Baum pick the pace out of the box, saying she was even a bit surprised to see she’d only come home with 6.4 time penalties as she thought they’d just cruised around.

“This is his first run since Badminton,” Tamie said. “And this is kind of what I do before a big Long format…He actually went faster than I expected him to. So I was kind of pleasantly surprised to that I only had six time when I got through the finish flags.”

With a handful of problems scattered around the course but primarily time playing a factor, some riders noted that the course felt somewhat ‘soft’, however Tamie says it suited what she felt her horse needed.

“I don’t think you can really say it’s too soft,” she explained. “Because, for me, I’m not trying to have, you know, a really hard run. I’m just trying to get him thinking and look in between the flags. And that was enough to do out there to get the horses back on their game.”

Ground also played a role in riders’ decision to crank on the gas pedal; several pairs simply opted to withdraw, including second-placed Will Coleman (Chin Champ – Wildera, by Quinar Z) and Hyperion Stud’s Chin Tonic HS. Will had been on the fence on Saturday night regarding cross country today, and opted to save his talented young horse’s legs for another run. Despite the harder summer ground, riders were also complimentary of the organizing and grounds crews’ efforts to aerate and work the track.

“But it’s very challenging anywhere in the Mid Atlantic,” Bobby Costello said of the going. “I think everybody rode their horses very intelligently. The riders rode very smart, quick enough to give their horses a work but nothing crazy. So I was really happy.”

Will Coleman and Off the Record make quick work of a massive brush table on course. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Looking to the rest of the U.S. team riders: Will Coleman‘s Pratoni horse, the Off the Record Syndicate’s Off the Record (Arkansas – Drumagoland Bay, by Ard Ohio) is the next highest-placed on the weekend, picking up eight seconds of time but still moving up to third overall on a final score of 31.1. Ariel Grald and Annie Eldridge’s Leamore Master Plan (Master Imp – Ardragh Bash) collected 20 seconds of time to end in 11th on a 38.9. Boyd Martin came home 30 seconds over time with the Turner family’s Tsetserleg, who looked to be skipping around a Novice. Lauren Nicholson brought Ms. Jacqueline Mars’ Vermiculus home clear with 19 seconds of time to finish inside the top 20. Reserve pair Phillip Dutton with the Z Partnership’s Z (Asca Z – Bellabouche, by Babouche VH Gehucht Z) also turned in a steady clear round, amassing 16.8 time penalties.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

All Eyes on Pratoni

The riders and grooms will now focus on the long journey that begins this coming Friday, which will take the horses out of USET headquarters in Gladstone, NJ. The Americans are basing in France at Vittel, a venue east of Paris that hosts FEI eventing along with racing, polo, and training facilities. Eventing Elite Program and Team Facilitator aka Logistics Chief and Senior Cat Herder Max Corcoran along with Bobby Costello chose the venue while at Aachen earlier this summer, describing it as having all the facilities the team would need for final training: including ample opportunity for show jumping practice on grass.

It’s an established fact that the horses going to Pratoni have experience jumping on grass. Most jumped around Badminton this year, and they’ve all at some point competed at venues such as Carolina International and Red Hills here in the States, both of which have historically held show jumping on grass. But jumping on grass is not something we do much in this country, especially once you leave the lower level events in search of higher level offerings.

For his part, Bobby isn’t particularly fazed: “Honestly, we jump on grass all the time at my farm!” he laughed.

Most of the horses on the squad have clear rounds on grass on their records, but Bobby acknowledges the fact that this weekend, with its show jumping on groomed footing held ahead of cross country, would leave some space for necessary practice in France.

“I believe all of these horses that are on the squad have jumped and jumped well on grass, so I’m not overly concerned,” he said. “Also, the footing there is kind of an ash base, so I think it will not be overly slick conditions should they get some moisture. And we definitely will be jumping on grass while we’re training in France.”

It’s been an intense experience for Bobby, who was appointed Interim Chef d’Equipe in April of this year, a role last held by Erik Duvander. While Erik still works privately with most of the riders on the squad for Pratoni, Bobby’s the one steering the ship. While it may not have been on his to-do list in the moment, Bobby’s extensive experience lends itself well to this role: he’s competed at the Olympic level of the sport, working with multiple coaches and Chefs during these years, held positions on countless committees and leadership boards, and has acted as a High Performance selector. In many ways, one could surmise it was the next logical step for someone who is already quite well-respected within the community.

“I honestly didn’t know, going into it, exactly what it was going to take for me to do this job successfully,” he elaborated. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve seen every single part of [the sport], so nothing has been a surprise. But, no one has done this job strictly just as a Chef d’Equipe. You’re slightly one step removed, kind of looking in and being of support when it’s necessary. And kind of knowing when to step back because riders know their programs are working on all cylinders. I guess I didn’t know exactly what it would be like, but I’ve been very, very happy with the experience.”

Only time will tell if Bobby will consider keeping the position after Pratoni — for now, he’s contracted to lead the team to Italy, and he says he’s keeping an open mind but focusing on the task at hand first. The role is tough: there are many more weekends spent away from home, more pressure, more expectations. Bobby, who says he really enjoys working with riders as a coach, says he wants to ensure that he gives a lot of thought to what he wants to do next.

“I actually don’t think I’m going to know until I’m on the other side of Pratoni,” he said. “At least in the last several years, this has not been the ‘master plan’ for me. I truly love a lot of the coaching and helping riders at the upper levels, and I get a lot out of that. And in all honesty, that will be a big question: am I willing to give a little bit of that up?”

Overall, for Bobby this final outing for the U.S. squad ticked the boxes. “I think overall it was a really good prep event,” he explained. “I could not have been happier with the way the horses looked in the dressage. We all have in mind what their scoring potential is, and I think all the horses are right in that zone. Show jumping for the most part was good, but there were a couple of horses that underperformed a bit. But I think it will only make those riders go home and really give some thought to what needs to be tweaked — and I think it really is just more of a tweak. Today [cross country] I think went very well. I think everybody rode their horses very intelligently. I left it, after discussions with the riders, very much in their hands. I think they know I trust their judgement, and they all want to be very competitive in Pratoni. They knew the rides they needed to give their horses today and I am in full support.”

We still await the final confirmation of which four pairs will make up the U.S. team and which pair will compete as an individual — we can expect that announcement sometime between now and the final entry deadline of September 5.

It’s been a hot, balmy weekend at Great Meadow, but I had an absolute blast as always. I’ll leave you with some social media missives below, but in the meantime thank you for following along with us all weekend. Next up, Tilly Berendt will make a quick pit stop at a little event called Burghley before she heads to Pratoni the following week, so stay tuned right here on EN for all the eventing coverage you can handle and a whole lot you don’t need.

As always, #goeventing.

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