Split Rock Farm, owned and operated by international show jumper and trainer Derek Braun, sits nestled in the green countryside of Lexington, Kentucky. Home to the rapidly growing Split Rock Jumping Tour CSI3*, which takes place in the spring and fall of each year, Split Rock Farm has experienced an immense amount of growth in its relatively short time on the international radar. Just four years ago, Braun began hosting the “Split Rock Show Series,” small, one-ring jumper shows formatted closely after the European style. The concept was relatively new to local competitors, but the idea took off and Braun’s larger plan was set in motion.
“I really started that show series to get prepared for the International Tour,” Braun explained. “I had this all in mind initially, but I used the smaller series to work my kinks out, learn how to manage horse shows, and to get a feel for doing this. I was looking for the things that people want in a horse show and trying to figure out how I could provide those things.”
Driving into the Bourbon International CSI3* Split Rock Jumping Tour places one in the middle of a truly impressive and immersive horse show experience. From the flags lining the road to the elaborately decorated entrance, spectators and competitors alike are treated to the best that horse showing has to offer from the very moment they arrive on the premises.
From the format of the show itself, which closely imitates the European style, down to the impressive VIP hospitality tent and the high-end boutiques on vendor row, Split Rock is striving to change the game in every way.
“I think the main thing that is so different about this show is that, not only is it a one ring jumper horse show like a lot of the European- type international shows, we really pride ourselves on going completely out of our way for everyone,” Braun said. “We have more than enough staff on hand to be prepared for any kind of variable. We strive to make everyone on the property as comfortable as they can possibly be, whether you’re in the hospitality tent or you’re a competitor or a part of that competitor’s team… it doesn’t matter. We try to take care of everyone.”
Braun has been outspoken about the need to draw spectators to the sport. Without spectators, Braun has argued, there are no sponsors. Without sponsors, the sport has little to no funding, and without that funding, the sport would be all but irrelevant. In an effort to draw sponsors and funding to the Tour, Braun has taken steps to ensure present sponsors are promoted and potential sponsors are reached.
“Our sponsors can purchase what’s called a ‘Rider Package’,” Braun explained. “So that a rider comes and represents that particular sponsor only. It’s a great thing because it allows the owners of those horses to not have to pay any entry fees. The rider does not pay an entry fee. And it gives that sponsor the additional exposure by advertising through commentary, announcements… any time that rider steps into the ring we’re talking about that sponsor. So it truly benefits everyone and I hope its something that starts to catch on.”
While sponsors and funding were certainly a large part of Split Rock’s operation throughout the Bourbon International CSI3*, which took place October 5-9, it was clear that the riders and their equine partners were at the forefront of Braun’s vision. With a great deal of success as a junior rider and a number of top finishes at international venues such as the Winter Equestrian Festival, the American Gold Cup, Bromont, Angelstone, and more, Braun knows what it takes to make the athletes happy.
“I think all the competitors know that I am, first and foremost, their peer,” he explained. “They know that I am going to give them the details that they are looking for in a horse show. That’s the whole reason I started this. I felt that I had a leg-up on providing people with those kinds of details. I’ve competed all around the world myself, at horse shows big and small. I’d like to think that I’m a detail-oriented person and I see everything that I can. Those are the things that we as riders look for in a really great horse show. I’m striving to put all of those details into this brand.”
“The most difficult part of developing this show has been convincing people to come and trust in the product.”
Braun admits that promoting the show and putting it on the international map has been a challenge.
“I think the most difficult part of developing this show has been convincing people to come and trust in the product that we’re producing,” he said. “It is very much outside of the routine track that most people travel throughout the year. Riders are creatures of habit and they tend to go to the same places and the same horse shows year in and year out. Slipping a new horse show on a new date into the yearly schedule is not easy.”
But promote it he has, and riders have taken notice. Throughout the weekend, praise was high for the horse show, its staff, and Braun’s management. Colombian rider Ilan Bluman made sure to express his appreciation after winning the $40,000 Amalaya Investments CSI3* Grand Prix on October 7.
“We need more shows like this one here in the U.S.,” Bluman said. “This is my first time competing at this event, but I will definitely be back next year.”
As for the future of the Split Rock Jumping Tour, Braun has set his hopes and sights high.
“The plan is to go to different venues,” he explained. “Maybe we’ll stay here in Kentucky but we’re open to going other places as well. We would love to bring this product to other shows throughout the year. The idea behind creating this here at home was that I would be able to control all the variables on my own time. That’s what we’ve done and now that we have developed this product and become more established, people know what we’re able to produce. Honestly, our goal is to be the very best at this. We want to produce shows in the future that people can rely on and trust.”
As the Tour comes to an end for its 2016 season, planning for next year has already begun. With Derek Braun’s passion and dedication to his vision, he hopes that the 2017 Split Rock Jumping Tour will be on the “must-attend” list for riders all over the world.