The relationship between Kristy (McCormack) Herrera and SBS Farms, Inc., spans decades. It was Susie Schoellkopf and Jennifer Alfano who started Herrera's riding career at 9 years old, taking her to her first USEF Pony Finals as well as finding the one horse that holds a special spot in Herrera's heart, her Children's Hunter horse Sprout.
SBS Farms, Inc. is responsible for catapulting Herrera's career, and on Saturday, August 20, Herrera returned the favor tenfold, winning the 2016 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in Lexington, Kentucky, with Miss Lucy, the 14-year-old mare owned by Helen Lenahan.
In May 2016, Alfano was injured during the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, falling during a course with Miss Lucy, tearing her ACL and fracturing her knee, an injury that takes approximately six months to recuperate from. With the help of her friends, the string of hunter horses that Alfano shows consistently at the nation's foremost horse shows continued to garner top awards, but finding a catch rider for each show would prove difficult, which made Herrera the perfect person for the job.
Herrera, based in Wellington, Florida, began training with Alfano and Schoellkopf when only a child and living in New York, and SBS Farms, Inc. has always been a special memory for her. Herrera started filling Alfano's job in June, a task that Schoellkopf laughingly said, "is not an easy job to do, but she has done it brilliantly."
Alfano, the 2012 USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion with Jersey Boy, stood ringside for the first time since the championship's inaugural event in 2009. Herrera sat snugly in third place after Friday's Classic Round, and she kept her composure before heading into the ring for Saturday's Handy Round. Herrera shook off the pressure and put all of her faith in Miss Lucy to lay down a spectacular trip, earning scores of 90.5, 90.5 and 92.5 from the three judging panels to combine with her 25 handy points and all of the high options. Herrera's round brought Alfano to tears.
"I'm still in shock," Alfano said with a smile. "Everyone knows that that horse has such a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons, and so does Kristy. It was hard for me to be here and to not be the one riding, but I was in tears and had goosebumps. It was so beautiful, and to watch the two of them together was just—I mean I'm so proud of both of them. It's really amazing. It was meant to be."
Herrera finished the competition with the cumulative score of 587 points, 5 points ahead of Kelley Farmer and Kodachrome, owned by Nina Moore. Third place was awarded to defending and three-time USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion, Liza Boyd, this year aboard Stella Styslinger's O'Ryan.
"I really didn't imagine this," Alfano said. "I'm so happy. To be honest, I was a little nervous about tonight. Miss Lucy is an incredible horse, and Kristy is an incredible rider, but when you come to these handy rounds, that is when you really need to have a partnership with your horse. You have to know where all the buttons are. I think Kristy did something tonight that not a lot of people could have done."
"I still can't believe it," said Herrera as she fought back tears of joy. "This is obviously a dream come true, and, of course, I have to first thank Jen for letting me ride Miss Lucy. I can't believe it. Miss Lucy loves being in that ring, and I just steered, really. She just rose to the occasion. It's unbelievable. I was in there riding, and I knew Jen was riding from the side for me. Every jump felt unbelievable, especially the last one."
Earlier in the week, Herrera rode Lenahan's Girl Crush to the fifth place finish overall in the 2016 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship. They finished on a score of 260.25 points.
Schoellkopf said, "We can't do it without the support of the owners, and Helen [Lenahan] has been a friend and a client for more than 40 years. She has never second guessed either Jen or me, and she has believed in us since day one. She has great input as an owner, and she always believes in the young horses. Right now she has two fantastic hunters in Miss Lucy and Girl Crush."
During the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show held in conjunction with the USHJA Championships, SBS Farms continued their successful performances. In the Regular Conformation Hunters, Herrera rode Alfano's Candid to second place in the handy and also picked up third place in the model. She continued her excellent performances with Miramar in the Performance 3'6" Hunters, placing third over fences.
Herrera, Schoellkopf and Alfano all acknowledged the hard work of the team behind the scenes, Alicia Heberle, Hannah Duffy and Abby Strollmeyer, who worked to keep the horses fit and healthy day in and day out.
"I obviously haven't been on a horse, and Kristy doesn't live near us, so they have them ready to show," said Alfano. "They're fit. They're the ones that ride them every day, and they had those horses ready to perform at this show. That's hard to do when you don't have somebody home jumping and schooling them. They've done everything."
Herrera smiled, "I have to thank them as well. They made my job just to be able to focus on me and they're unbelievable."
SBS Farms, Inc., would also like to give their appreciation to Ron Danta, Hugh Kincannon, Bobby Murphy, Colleen McQuay and all of the people behind the scenes for their continued support of the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive and International Hunter Derby Programs.
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 the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, please visit www.thebtrc.org.