As a teenager in Long Island, New York, Derek Braun knew he would make show jumping his profession. He had been competing for years and had won several national championships, but his competitive spirit started even earlier. He watched his older sister ride when they were growing up on Long Island. “She was pretty good at it,” he said. “My mom dragged me along to all her horse shows.”
By age seven, he took up the reins himself. “Over the years my sister dropped the sport and I ran with it,” Braun said. “I realized I was good enough to make it my entire life and be serious about it.”
Combining his love of equestrian sport with his degree in economics, he made horses his business in 2009 as the owner of Split Rock Farm, a training facility for hunters and jumpers. This past year, he launched a new concept for the farm called the Split Rock Jumping Tour. “I brought it to Lexington because I saw a real need for another sporting event,” he said. “Horses are in the community’s blood in Lexington.”
The sport of show jumping can be as exciting as a basketball game or NASCAR race. The Split Rock Jumping Tour is a five-day event held in spring and fall. “People can come out, experience sporting action from the best horses in the world, and have a full family day,” Braun said. Bands play live music all day; there’s also a vendor area and plenty of fun things for kids to do.
“Even if you weren’t interested in watching show jumping, there are activities for everybody,” he said. The dates for 2016 are May 25-29 and October 5th - 9th at Split Rock Farm in Bourbon County. For event details, check SplitRockJumpingTour.com.
“I anticipate expanding the tour to several shows throughout the country,” Braun said, “for the best horses and riders in the world, not just America, to compete at the highest level and to bring the sport of show jumping to a new light.”
As a rider, Braun has represented the United States in Canada, Brazil and all over Europe. His first visit to Kentucky was in the early 2000s for a show jumping competition. “I loved coming and competing during the summer,” he said. Today, he still competes at the Kentucky Horse Park six to eight weeks every year. He is also on the board of directors of the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.
“If you take away Thoroughbreds and racing, show jumping is the most popular horse sport in America,” he said. Prize money is increasing dramatically around the world. “It’s a good time to be a competitor and definitely some good business to be made from it.”
Braun earned his degree from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. “I knew as soon as I graduated I wanted to start my business in Lexington,” he said. He made the Bluegrass his home base in 2007. In addition to being the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington made sense from a location standpoint. Because Braun travels every week to compete, he can access any area of the country within a day’s drive.
In 2009 Braun bought a horse farm on 40 acres of land in Bourbon County and named it Split Rock Farm. His grandparents had lived on Split Rock Road on Long Island and Braun has used the name in various ways over the years in his equestrian career. He has a three full-time employees at the farm who coordinate his horse shows, handle billing and bookkeeping, and manage the property. Everyone lives on the farm.
“We’re like a big family,” Braun said. “That’s one of the things about the horse industry—once it’s in your blood, you can’t let it go. I enjoy every part of it, all the variables the horse world throws at me every day.”