Each fall, the world’s best young event horses prove their mettle at the Fédération Équestre Internationale World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses Eventing World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion d’Angers, France. The championships test six- and seven-year-old horses in two separate divisions, giving the horses their first taste of world championship competition while their riders guide them through eventing’s three phases. Liz Halliday-Sharp is a frequent competitor at the championships with horses she has produced up the levels herself, and she finds the championships to be valuable steppingstones for event horses and their education.
“It is a wonderful event. I love Le Lion; this is my fourth time there,” Halliday-Sharp explained. “It is a fantastic event in so many ways. It really makes the horses grow up.”
Halliday-Sharp added that the championships can also benefit riders in their growth by helping riders face the stressors they will experience at the top levels of the sport.
“I think you are under a huge amount of pressure at Le Lion,” Halliday-Sharp explained. “It does feel like a big championship, and that can only be good for the riders. It exposes us to atmosphere and pressure. We feel like we are performing at a mini Olympics. It is a good experience all the way around really, and the more big competitions you go to the more you learn. It is hugely competitive; these are outstanding riders and horses, so it is always very, very competitive.”
Halliday-Sharp did note that the championships may not be for every horse who qualifies for the event. Not every young horse may be up to the challenges posed by the championships. There is much to take in at the venue, so some developing young horses may need more time before they tackle the world stage.
“I think there is a difference between having one qualified and having a horse who will be ready and benefit from Le Lion. I have certainly had horses before that were qualified that I sort of knew straight away that this wasn’t the event for them. Most of the ones I brought, I knew they were ready for it,” Halliday-Sharp explained. “I think for the horses that are ready for that experience, they can really come on from it, because they see a really intense atmosphere that you really don’t see anywhere unless you are at a big championship. They see huge amounts of crowds, and the course is challenging without being overly difficult. They run a long distance, usually maximum length in both classes or at least close to it. I just think the whole experience for them is great.”
Halliday-Sharp has been a member of the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team in Nations Cup competitions and competes at the CCI5* level, but she also relishes developing young horses and helping them reach their potential. She first attended Le Lion d’Angers in 2014 with Cooley Ground Control, and she made her second appearance in 2017 with Cooley Quicksilver. In 2018, Halliday-Sharp secured impressive placings with Cooley Moonshine and Cooley Quicksilver, respectively earning the bronze medal in the six-year-old division and seventh in the seven-year-old division. In the 2019 edition of the championships, held October 17 through 20, Halliday-Sharp piloted Cooley Moonshine and Flash Cooley to top placings in the seven-year-old division. She and Cooley Moonshine earned the silver medal, while Flash Cooley was not far behind in 13th place.
“I love producing young horses,” Halliday-Sharp said. “It is a real pleasure when you are there at a big competition like this, and you know that you have produced them both from near enough the beginning.”
Halliday-Sharp found continued success with Cooley Quicksilver in 2019. The pair was named as the traveling reserve to the U.S. Eventing Team for the Lima 2019 Pan American Games this summer. They also were on the U.S. team at the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ The Netherlands in mid-October. Halliday-Sharp believes Cooley Quicksilver learned and matured a great deal from his experiences at Le Lion d’Angers in 2017 and 2018.
She hopes Cooley Moonshine and Flash Cooley will follow a similar development track after their strong results at Le Lion d’Angers in 2019. Halliday-Sharp was thrilled with their performances and plans to continue their education in 2020 after a much-deserved rest.
“Both horses will aim to move up to the Advanced level in the spring. I think they are both ready for that,” Halliday-Sharp said. “They have shown me they are ready for that, but we’ll let them take their time and tell us how they want to progress. I have fairly high hopes that both of them will move up to Advanced confidently next year. I have a really exciting string; I am really proud of both of them and very happy for their owners as well.”
Halliday-Sharp hopes more U.S. riders can make the trek to France with their horses to be tested on the world stage at Le Lion d’Angers. “I think it is a great experience for the rider and the right horse, and it will set them up for bigger and better things.”