Lexington, KY - August 16, 2015 - Jennifer Alfano and SBS Farms defeated all odds during the 2015 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, rising to the top of the crop as the only rider with three horses returning in the top 10, and finishing with two mounts in the top 12, and Alfano did it all with broken ribs and a bruised leg.
On Friday morning, SBS Farms was off to a great start with Maggie May as the first of four qualified mounts for the Classic round of the championship event. The duo kicked off the event with a bang, bringing in the scores of 90, 89 and 89.5. They opted for all four high options, boosting their first-round score to 276.50.
"We are thrilled, absolutely thrilled. This is her four-year anniversary at this horse show," Steffee said with a smile. "Four years ago, she had just come over from Europe, and I think Jen has done a superb job, as has her rider and trainer."
Alfano attempted to duplicate her first ride aboard the 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood Miramar; however, a trip upon landing from the opening fence took both horse and rider down, with Alfano breaking several ribs, as well as bruising her leg and hip. For a moment, it looked as though the Derby Championships would be at an end for the 2012 Champion.
Alfano would let nothing deter her from the competition at hand.
She returned on Miss Lucy, who, after almost two years, has made resurgence in the hunter Derby world. She rode through the pain to rack up scores of 88, 88 and 89, plus all four high option fences for a total of 277. With one horse left in the hunt, Alfano knew she had to keep it together for 2012 USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion, Jersey Boy, the same quirky Hanoverian who came in second to Liza Boyd and Brunello last year. They finished the round with a total score of 274 points, guaranteeing Alfano three horses for the Handy phase.
The following day, the SBS Farms team, as well as friends and supporters worked diligently to help Alfano through the pain. As the Handy phase began, Alfano walked toward the schooling ring holding her taped ribs and sporting a slight limp; however, she gave it all she had, riding Maggie May to the lead and holding it until the final five horses of the class. Their scores of 90, 89.5 and 85.5, were combined with the four high-option fences and the handy points of 8, 7 and 5 for the eventual fourth place. Their top-five finish earmarked a page in history for Maggie May, as well as her owner Steffee.
"It's thrilling, just thrilling. It has been a long time since I have been involved in this level of the sport," Steffee said, referring All The Gold, the horse that etched his name into history for over two decades with Steffee at the helm of his career. "I told Susie [Schoellkopf] four years ago that I wanted to get involved at least one more time, and she made it come true. I am very proud of Jen and Susie, and everyone at SBS Farms; this was an amazing night."
Trainer Susan Schoellkopf watched the event unfold, and was astonished by Alfano's commitment to the horses and the SBS team. For the second consecutive year, SBS Farms was awarded the Best Turned Out Horse award for Miss Lucy, a testament to the hard work of the entire team.
"It was a great night for the SBS team," Schoellkopf expressed. "I think all the riders were in awe of Jen working through the pain. The Pre-Green Incentive and the Derby program are the best things to happen to the hunters, ever. I want to give a big thanks to Hugh Kincannon and his staff for putting on a top-notch event, as well as to Steve Stephens for amazing courses and to Ron [Danta], Colleen [McQuay] and Bill [Moroney] for making these two programs happen!"
Alfano could be seen walking with Boyd as she exited the ring from her championship-clinching round, smiling and congratulating her friend. Boyd and Alfano have always had friendly competition, riding and working with each other to excel in the hunter discipline and do the best that they can for their horses.
Earlier in the week, Alfano competed in the 2015 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship. She showed two horses, Castle and The Exchange to promising scores on the opening day, and then returned for the second round of competition to place first with Castle.
It was nearly one year ago that Jennifer Alfano spotted Castle in a schooling ring in Houston, Texas, being schooled by fellow professional rider Tracy Fenney. Alfano knew that she wanted the ride on the promising bay gelding. Sharon O'Neill stepped up to buy the 6-year-old, and it all paid off during the three-day championship event.
"He was great. He is just so easy and so fun to ride," Alfano said. "He has been an easy horse right from the start. He's quiet, and he doesn't look at anything. He's just so straightforward. Today he was awesome."
Alfano rode Castle to the scores of 86.5, 89 and 91 to not only take the first place as the high scoring round of the day, but also guaranteeing a return spot in Thursday's championship round, where she finished tied for the fifth place. "He was great all three days; he's really consistent. He is one of those horses you can really count on. You can really depend on him," Alfano described.
Castle's owner, O'Neill, said, "I should thank her [Jennifer Alfano], she picked him, she found him, she rides him, although I jumped every jump with her out there. I don't know how he got us both around, but he did. It was thrilling, and it is something that you think about, but you never count on."
Based out of Buffalo, New York, SBS Farms' Susie Schoellkopf and Jennifer Alfano run one of the foremost show hunter training operations in the country, and travel nationwide to compete in the nation's most prestigious horse shows.
SBS Farms, Inc. continues the proud tradition of the Saddle and Bridle Club as one of the top show stables in the northeast. Schoellkopf is also the Executive Director of the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, which houses both The Buffalo Equestrian Center as well as SBS Farms. Built in 1922, the 160-stall facility is a historical landmark, with its unique English Tudor and Gothic-style architecture.
For more information on SBS Farms please visit www.sbsfarms.com. For more information on the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, please visit www.thebtrc.org.