Memories of learning from William Fox-Pitt: ‘I was pretty wet behind the ears – but I got to ride Ballincoola and Tamarillo’

  • If US event rider Liz Halliday-Sharp makes her Olympic debut this summer at Tokyo, she’ll be the first to admit that she owes much of her success to her long apprenticeship in the sport in Britain, and particularly her time at William Fox-Pitt’s yard.

    “I actually spent most of my adult life in Britain until recently,” she said during an interview on episode 39 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, currently supported by NAF.

    “I moved there in January of 2000 originally to have a year away from college to work for William Fox-Pitt, so that was a big plunge to move from California to the UK in January. The year just sort of morphed its way into nearly 20.”

    Liz describes her time at William’s as great, but “a giant kick in the butt”.

    She admits: “I was not very quick – I hadn’t had much experience being a groom and stripping stalls [mucking out] and all that kind of thing. I was pretty wet behind the ears. I remember being not very good at it if I’m honest – I was pretty slow. I started out just literally hacking whatever I was allowed to hack, I was one of the grooms.”

    After six months full time at William’s, Liz was struggling with her back as an injury incurred during an accident while ski racing in college was reoccuring.

    “I ended up going off and doing my British Horse Society studies at Talland and I still came to William’s and just rode whatever they gave me to ride. I had a horse there and I did my own horse myself whenever I turned up,” she says.

    “I kind of ended up being there for nearly three years, which was a brilliant and really invaluable experience. I have so much respect for that whole team and for William and for Jackie [Potts, William’s long-standing head girl] and all that she’s done there and all that they taught me.

    “They taught me to work hard and all the different things I’ve learnt which I do things with my own horses now in eventing. I have so much respect for them and I consider William a good friend still.”

    Liz was at William’s during something of a golden era for the yard and remembers the European Eventing Championships team gold medallists Stunning and Moon Man, as well as other top horses.

    “I ended up being able to ride a lot of William’s best horses – it was really exciting to be able to gallop Ballincoola back in the day and getting to ride Tamarillo,” she says.

    “I still remember the day Ballincoola arrived at the farm for the first time as a novice horse. William was so incredible at just knowing if a horse was going to be a top horse. I remember he sat on Ballincoola probably that first day and he said, ‘This will be a four-star [now five-star] horse’. And lo and behold, he won Burghley Horse Trials.”

    Summing up her time at William’s, Liz says: “It was cool and I would say it was a very character building experience. Like I say, I was not very good at the job and it taught me to work hard and to graft away and just get tougher. I think that’s why I stayed and really made Britain my home.”

    Article continues below…

    You might also be interested in:

    Later, Liz Halliday-Sharp based herself with New Zealand rider Joe Meyer for nearly seven years.

    “He was very instrumental to helping me push on and helped to make me a better cross-country rider,” she says. “I got to help with a lot of the training of his horses, I rode a lot of the young horses and that was another great experience for me.

    “Eventually I went off on my own in 2009. I’ve very much got my own system now. All the things I learnt in Britain and the British way – I try to bring that back to the US with me.”

    If you’d like to hear more about Liz – and what she describes as “the best thing I’ve done in my life, next to Burghley”, listen to episode 39 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find out more about getting the magazine delivered to your door every week.

    You may like...