Eliza Herman & Freeman
by Katherine O. Rizzo
While the majority of Maryland event riders were hiding their heads in snow this winter, staying indoors or escaping to warmer states, the 2013 Equiery Perpetual Eventing Trophy winner Eliza Herman bundled up and soldiered on. “It was a really rough winter to stay motivated but we kept going,” Eliza said after just completing an early March combined test with her winning partner Freeman.
Determination to constantly improve on her riding and improve on her horse’s way of going is what motivated Eliza to push through and it’s what makes her such a successful eventer. “She is a really hard worker and very disciplined,” her mother, 2006 winner Mardi Herman, commented. Eliza, who also happens to run two or three marathons a year, added, “I need to always have a goal to keep motivated!”
Born in the Saddle
Eliza, who was 33 years old when she won this award, is the eldest of Mardi and Mark’s three children, all of whom rode at some point while kids. Eliza however, is the only one who continued with the passion into adulthood. Mardi and Mark ran a successful racehorse operation out of Red Oak Farm in Darlington for many years. The couple is now slowly transitioning the farm away from racehorses and into a retirement boarding facility, and Eliza works part time at the farm and the rest of her time is spent riding and working at several barns in the area.
“We bought her first pony from Olney Farm for her first birthday but she was on a horse as soon as she could sit up,” Mardi reminisced, adding, “It was Pony Club that really directed us into eventing.” Trish Gilbert was the District Commissioner of the now defunct Churchville Pony Club at the time and told Mardi that Eliza had to be of reading age before she could join the club. “Luckily, she started reading at an early age,” Mardi said with a laugh. “She was really young when she first started competing.” The Pony Club tradition ran through the family as Mark was a B Graduate and Mardi eventually took over as DC of Churchville.
“I did some hunters as a kid but we quickly got priced out of that sport. It was through Pony Club that I was introduced to all kinds of other sports, like games and jumpers,” Eliza remarked. “My mom, though, is the reason for my focus in eventing.”
When Eliza graduated from Gettysburg College in 2001 with a degree in history, she started following her mom around the Maryland eventing circuit mainly out of necessity. “She had the trailer so I hitched a ride.” The eventing atmosphere quickly grew on Eliza. “I love how low key and friendly everyone is. There is a real community feeling to the sport. Plus I just love cross-country!”
“It was really great going to events with Eliza. We bounced ideas off each other, helped each other out, and thankfully never ended up competing against each other,” Mardi said. Eliza’s competitive spirit pushed her through the levels with a variety of horses, including Passing, who she rode through Preliminary. “I was hugely jealous of my mom when she won this award! I kept trying to win it with Passing but things never seemed to line up.”
That was, until the 2013 season and a horse named Freeman came along. Although Eliza and Passing were successful through Preliminary, they never got the scores at Maryland events needed to win the award. Then in 2012, Passing had colic surgery and was retired from eventing. Enter Freeman.
Eliza first started riding Freeman for owners Janet and Bob Henderson of Nutramax/Cosequin simply to help keep him fit and calm for his owners. “We got Freeman when he was only four and we needed help keeping all of our horses in line,” Janet explained. The couple travel often and wanted their horses to be safe and sane when they were home riding. Eliza was recommended to the Hendersons through their mutual farrier Brooke Daneker. “Eliza has been invaluable to us and is very proactive in helping us manage the horse and farm.” The Hendersons own God’s Blessing Farm in Street where they now have six horses used mainly for pleasure riding.
“I started hacking Freeman for them about six years ago and just really liked his way of going and his attitude. When Passing colicked, I asked if I could borrow Freeman for a few low-level events and we took him over to Nancy Verzi to start him over fences,” Eliza stated. “He was green but super enthusiastic.” Eliza, who now trains with Sally Cousins, started him at the very beginning, with Plantation Field’s starter event at Elementary being his first competition. “I like starting the horses at the schooling events as they are much less expensive and closer to where we live.” After a few Novice events in the spring, Freeman was ready for his USEA-recognized debut at Training level.
Their first event was Olney Farm on July 21 where the pair jumped clean on cross-country after a few jumping faults in show jumping. They finished in ninth place overall that day. Next up was Fair Hill International where they improved on their dressage score and show jumping phase but finished 19th.
“He absolutely loves to jump and has a great long stride. He is happy to just cruise around cross-country but that stride can be hard to package in dressage. He is a big horse at 17 hands and I need to set him up in the dressage ring but keep him moving forward,” Eliza explained.
“I just love that he is doing something that he clearly enjoys,” Janet said. “For me it is like being that mom watching her kid do something fun. He really wants to please and gives 100% all the time.”
Eliza said her big goal of the season was to be able to qualify for the Training Three-Day held at Waredaca in the fall. She had done this event with Passing in 2010 but was technically eliminated by forgetting a jump on cross-country. The qualification runs that Eliza needed to get for the Three-Day coincided with many of the qualifications needed to win this award. “By October we had already done six events at the Training level,” she said.
The highlight of the season was their second place finish at Marlborough Horse Trials in September. “Everything just came together at that event.” The pair scored a 44.1 in dressage and jumped clean in show jumping and cross-country with only 1.6 time faults on cross-country. The pair did compete at the Three-Day putting in a decent dressage test. “We just had a green stop on cross-country at the Key Hole. It was the second to last jump on course and he had never seen that sort of fence before. I should have taken the option.”
After Waredaca, Eliza ended the season with a sixth place finish at Full Moon Farm in November. For 2014, Eliza plans to move Freeman up to Preliminary when he is ready. “The eventual goal is a one-star but that might not happen this year,” she said.
“It was very exciting to realize I had won this award. I was kind of in shock, too, all at the same time,” said Eliza, who also volunteers her time as secretary and point keeper for the Maryland Combined Training Association. “There are still people out there striving for this award and winning it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Six events are a lot for an amateur rider.”
“It was super exciting to hear that Eliza had won. It has been really fun to watch her and Freeman progress and kind of neat that we have both now won it,” Mardi said. “I’m very proud of her. She worked really hard to get here and the goal of this trophy really helped her keep going.” As a side note, Mardi’s Equiery Trophy winning partner Zoe had her first foal, a grey filly, in 2013.
“They are both such sweethearts,” Janet said of Mardi and Eliza.
“I’m just very grateful to have the support of my parents and the opportunity to ride Freeman. Janet and Bob are just great people to work with,” Eliza added.