"You're Always Working on Yourself"
After graduating with a degree in psychology, Liza spent a couple of years working for different barns—Scott Kemery in New York, Sandy Lobel in New Jersey, and Tom Wright in Ohio. "I needed to do that before I jumped back into the family business. You see a lot of different training and business approaches, you learn a lot—then you can mold all that input into whatever works for you."
As her professional career evolved, she continued to love the type of ride that was familiar from years of helping to improve difficult ponies and horses—often hot and opinionated, but usually forward as well. "I'd rather have a horse that's going to take me a little than one that's way slow." At the same time, she learned to adapt to the quieter warmbloods that were supplanting Thoroughbreds in many divisions. The challenge with every horse, she says, is "figuring out the exact kind of ride you need to get that perfect jump. You're always working on yourself, because the horse is not going to change. You can work on their weaknesses but at the end of the day, I think you need to go into the ring and sort of adapt to them."
The business at Finally Farm works somewhat the same way in that family members adapt to each others' strengths and gravitate to the areas at which they're best. "We try to help each other out in that way," explains Liza. "Hardin has a mare that's a little hot and he said to me, ‘Would you flat her for me before the grand prix? She always goes better after you flat her.' He is bigger and stronger than I am and has these long legs he can really wrap around a horse, so if one of mine is getting really strong with me, I may say, ‘Would you get on this one? I can't get to the bottom of him!' My dad is great as a groundperson but he can also flat a horse better than anyone I know, and has great natural feel. If one of us is struggling with a flatwork issue, we ask him to get on while we watch. Just by watching him work my horse, I realize what I wasn't doing right—even though words couldn't explain it.'"
The "backbone" of the operation, she says, is her mother, Lisa, who manages the office work and is considered to have the best eye for a horse in the whole family. She also is a consistent, informed source of comment on training and showing from her vantage point at the kitchen window or in the spectator stands. "She'll call me on my cell and say something like, ‘I think that student's stirrups need to come down a hole," and I'll usually say, ‘You're so right! How did I not see that?'"
Hardin, now attending Florida Atlantic University and commuting to the shows when the barn is not showing in Florida, has gravitated to the jumpers as a professional. "If it comes down to a decision on who shows what, I would show the hunter and he would show the jumper," Liza says. "But we can cross over and do both." Hardin has done well with Rockefeller, a grand-prix horse that Liza brought along as a 5-year-old. "I'm a really good owner!" Liza laughs. "When he wins on that horse I get just as excited as if I had been riding it." Meanwhile, she won the 2007 Indoor circuit "triple crown" of Regular Working Hunter championships on Brunello, a warmblood-cross originally destined to be Hardin's ride when he was purchased in Europe.
High on her current list of showing excitement is the recently introduced Hunter Derby format. She won two of these classes in 2008 on Castello, imported as a jumper for his owner Roger Smith. "Castello jumps in such good style that we turned him into a hunter. His owner rides him in the Amateur-Owner division and he's really nice in the Derbies. He turns well and isn't spooky. I tell Hardin that the Derbies—where the second, ‘handy' round is like a jumpoff—are the hunter equivalent of grand prix."
Something New Every Day
The family business at Finally Farm acquired a new dimension with Liza's December 2006 marriage to Blake Boyd, whose mother, Lee Boyd, was a college friend of Lisa Towell's. "The family had ended up buying a farm here in Camden and when my mom saw Blake for the first time, she came home and said, ‘I've found you the cutest guy!' and I thought, ‘This is crazy,'" Liza remembers. She stopped laughing once Lisa had invited Blake's entire family over for dinner and Blake and Liza hit it off and began dating.
Blake, an equine and farm insurance agent for EMO who also does business in real estate, grew up around horses and has his own horse transportation company. As soon as Jack Towell noticed how well Blake handled a truck and horse trailer, Liza says, "It was ‘Oh! You can drive us to the horse shows!'" Blake now typically ships the farm's horses to the show, helps the family unpack, then returns home for a few days before returning for the weekend classes. "It's a good balance. We're able to see each other, and he's actually working at the show himself, not just hanging out. He has great horse sense and is good at handling them. He's involved, but can also leave for a while to do his own thing," Liza says.
Turning 30 this year and with more than two decades of major Junior and professional titles to her credit, Liza continues to have a fresh sense of excitement about every day in the horse business that has little to do with competition itself. "The horses teach you something new every day, and that's what's really fun. My dad has done this forever, and I don't think there's ever a day when he's bored. He's so open-minded, always trying new things. That keeps you really motivated—you're always wanting to get better. Of course everyone wants to win blue ribbons but you also like to bring along a young horse, sell it and see it go really well for the new owner. There are always so many things to be excited about."
You Have To Listen To Your Body
|Everyone has some kind of physical issue that they need to manage, says Liza matter-of-factly. Hers happens to be mild epilepsy. The Epilepsy Foundation describes epilepsy as a neurological condition that, from time to time, produces brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain. Intermittent bursts of electrical energy that are much more intense than usual may affect a person's consciousness, bodily movements or sensations for a short time.
"I am very lucky," Liza points out. "Some people with more severe cases can't drive and have other limitations." She was already in her senior year of college when she was diagnosed. "Looking back, I realized I'd had it for a long time because of little side effects I had felt when I got really tired." Her younger brother Ned was also diagnosed with mild epilepsy during high school. "I understand it is hereditary but we don't know of anyone on either side of the family who had it. I think it was probably back in earlier generations when people didn't speak of the problem as openly."
She began taking medication only recently: "My doctor recommended it because of the long hours and stress of my work." Getting plenty of rest is her first line of defense. "You just have to listen to your body. If you know you have to be at work early, go to bed early and take care of yourself."
Jack and Lisa Towell organized a 2008 benefit in Wellington, Florida, that raised more than $10,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of America and the Epilepsy Foundation of South Carolina. Almost 100 guests, including many luminaries of the hunter/jumper world, attended.