Split Rock Farm owner and professional Grand Prix show jumping rider Derek Braun has accomplished a lot on the backs of horses. Competing throughout the U. S. as a child and into his teenage years, Braun’s prowess for guiding thousand-pound animals through courses of jumps nearly as tall as himself was quickly realized when, at age 16, he won the U. S. Equestrian Team’s Talent Search Finals, which helps the Team identify future international competitors.
Braun did go onto compete on the international stage, competing not only in the U. S. and Canada, but in Grand Prix events throughout Europe and as a member of the U. S. Equestrian Team in Brazil. Many of those wins came under the banner of his Split Rock Farm, his base of operations for his training, buying and selling top-level show jumpers.
While Braun’s accomplishments in the saddle are many, it’s what he is doing on the ground lately through his newly created Split Rock Jumping Tour that is garnering attention and praise from equestrians throughout the country and the Lexington community at large.
An Experience like No Other
Inspired by the high-end European horse shows in which Braun has competed, the Split Rock Jumping Tour is a world-class celebration of show jumping that caters to all audiences, from spectators and fans to horse owners, sponsors and competitors. Braun’s goal with the event is to revolutionize the way international show jumping events are presented and run in the United States.
While the Split Rock Jumping tour is in its third year, it is an idea that began percolating in Braun’s head eight years ago.
“I saw a niche that wasn’t available in America for a horse show to truly cater to the needs and wants of the riders, the spectators and the sponsors to create something truly special–a ‘can’t miss experience’–for all of them,” said Braun. “Simply put, others do it better than we do here in America. Horse show organizers in Europe, Canada, South America and elsewhere are more attentive to the riders and connections of the horses competing.”
Braun invested not only his time and experience, but his own farm to create a world-class venue for the inaugural 2015 Split Rock Jumping Tour show. After completion of a massive construction project that included a new Grand Prix arena, vendor village area, wider farm roads to accommodate eighteen wheeler horse vans and more, the top horses and riders from across the country came to compete, enjoying luxurious hospitality, outstanding facilities and a show staff that was unwavering in their commitment to make the experience one of the best they’re ever had at a horse show.
Spectators from around Lexington were treated to an unparalleled show jumping experience as well. In addition to watching top-level Grand Prix horses and riders, including a number of Olympians and World Equestrian Games competitors, soar over jumps set at 5-feet or higher, guests enjoyed live music, shopping in the vendor village, food truck fare, children’s activities and more.
Braun’s commitment to elevating American show jumping has not only endured, but has thrived. His 2016 Split Rock Jumping Tour included spring and fall shows, both of which were well attended. This year, after the opening weekend of the Split Rock Jumping Tour at his farm on Bryan Station Road, Braun will be taking the show on the road.
“The whole idea was this to truly be a ‘tour.’ We’re in our third year and this year we’ll have three shows in our series. We’re excited to partner with Matt Harris, whose fantastic equestrian show facility in Columbus, Ohio will host two of the shows,” said Braun. “I always want to have at least one show each year here at Split Rock Farm, but the goal was and is for this series to evolve and host shows elsewhere, eventually hosting Split Rock Jumping Tour shows at venues throughout America.”
After growing up in New York and later in Florida, Braun moved to Lexington due in large part to the opportunities for equestrians in the surrounding area and its close proximity to the Kentucky Horse Park. As he gained experience as a competitor in other markets, it became his motivation to elevate the quality of horse shows available in Kentucky and beyond.
“Our approach with the Jumping Tour is largely influenced by the fact that I’ve been a part of each of the audiences we’re catering to,” said Braun. “I come at it from the standpoint of an internationally competitive rider, but I have also been a horse show sponsor and a spectator,” said Braun.
“My perspective comes from knowing every part of this business and understanding what each audience wants. We set lofty goals, but people are learning that we can deliver on our promises.”
In addition to being the driving force behind the Split Rock Jumping Tour, Braun remains competitive at the Grand Prix level. He admits it can be a bit of a balancing act to train and compete a string of horses while also managing a national horse show series.
“I always start my day off riding, then spend my afternoons in the office focusing on the Jumping Tour,” said Braun. “I’m very goal-oriented, and right now my main goals are to compete at a high level but also to expand the Tour into a long-lasting, sustainable business. I couldn’t accomplish either, let alone both, if it weren’t for the incredible team I have working for me in the barn and in the office.”
Since moving to the Bluegrass, Braun has developed a strong sense of loyalty to the area and to the equestrians who compete here. As a member of the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, he is eager to someday see his innovative horse show series represented on the premier equestrian competition venue’s hallowed grounds.
“The Kentucky Horse Park is what brought hunter/jumper competitors here in the first place. It, in large part, is what brought me here, so I am passionate about making sure we do right by the Kentucky Horse Park and the equestrians here in the area,” said Braun. “Our lives in the Bluegrass revolve around horses. They’re an important part of our community and I am committed to creating truly outstanding experiences for everyone involved.”•