Derek Braun, rider and founder of the Split Rock Jumping Tour is adding Sonoma Horse Park dates to his circuits. I caught up with him at the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix during HITS Desert Circuit in California.
WH: How did you get started in riding?
DB: When I was younger my sister rode on Long Island. She did the children’s hunters locally and my mother would take me to all the shows with her. I was 5, 6, 7 years old and I thought I could do it as well.
WH: What is your horse show plan for California and what prompted this novel idea?
DB: In general my tour is intended to reach every market in the US, so California was a natural progression because I knew that the environment here needed a new face, a new kind of horse show to expand on better FEI jumper shows.
WH: What horse will you ride in the Million?
DB: I’ll ride Lacarolus. He’s 15 years old. I’ve had him since he was six. I know him like the back of my hand and he knows me like the back of his hand. At this level he’s the best grand prix horse I’ve ever had.
WH: What are your impressions of the Desert Circuit?
DB: I flew out here last year to do the Million on the same horse. I really enjoyed it. I thought the hospitality in the VIP was really good, the food was excellent and the atmosphere was excellent. I thought because I was doing a show in Sonoma it would be a really good idea to get to know everybody and get to know the market and establish a presence out here.
WH: What is your opinion of the equitation as foundation for jumpers?
DB: That’s a good question.
I just judged the Ronnie Mutch Championship jumper portion. I feel fifty-fifty on it. I was brought up doing the equitation. I won USET Finals in 2007. I trained with Bob Braswell and he was a mentor to me. However the jumpers are more important now for creating better show jumpers for us. I’m not as big a fan of the Medals and Maclay, but I do think it creates a foundation for discipline, structure, routine, repetition and those aspects of the training process.
WH: I understand that you hold a college education in high esteem. Has a business background been useful in your pursuits?
DB: Yes, that’s how I was brought up. My family supported me through my junior years. My family ran a nice business through my senior years then deferred a year to go to work for Debbie Stephens for a full year. Then I chose Rollins College in Orlando, Fla. in order to get my degree, work, and to ride at the same time. I think it’s important for everybody, no matter what business you go into, to be educated. You need to understand things that only college and school can teach you. I think it’s important even in this industry if they’re going into it as a professional, to finish their education.
WH: To whom do you credit your indomitable spirit?
DB: My late grand father Marvin Neuwirth. He was the foundation of our entire family. He was a hard working entrepreneur and set the standard for our entire family. He helped start the telecommunications business in the tri-state New York area.
WH: Is there an example of a horse that you have or have had where a certain piece of tack or equipment has made a difference?
DB: No, not really. I believe simple is better. I’m not interested in going all these but changes. I try with my team to do all the prep work beforehand to educate the educate the horse for the show ring. I don’t use “unique mechanisms” to make that happen.
WH: What are your goals for 2018/2019?
DB: My goals for my jumping tour are to continually add shows across America. Hopefully at rate of at least one show a year indefinitely.
My goal as a rider is to keep competing at a high level, being successful in the grand prix, being consistent. For me in this world, consistency is the most important thing. Getting blue ribbons or red or yellow ribbons isn’t really the thing. As long as you have clear rounds and your horses are healthy and consistent, that’s what matters.
WH: Can you share details about horse that currently hold most promise for you?
DB: I have one new horse Baretto Z, a 10-year-old that had a clear round last week in the grand prix. I own it with a couple of other people. He’s a sale horse so he may not be with me much longer. Then I have Color Your Day, a 9-year-old that I’ve owned since he was six. I intend to keep him for myself. Since he was six I thought he was the best horse I’ve ever tried. He’s really sensitive, really careful. He over thinks everything so since the beginning I thought he would take longer than the average horse. He’s now jumped some of the Friday grand prix really successfully. I think if I give him a little more time he’s going to turn into a top grand prix horse. He came from the person I usually get my horses from in Germany. We specifically saw this horse and thought he would be good for me. I knew the horse broker because I spent the summer after I graduated from college in Germany and this person helped coach me. My relationship with this person started fifteen years ago.
WH: How do you manage the difficulty of a peripatetic lifestyle being on the road so much?
DB: It is difficult, all the scheduling and juggling. I’m divorced. I FaceTime my 6-year-old daughter ever day. When I’m on the road in a Winter Circuit like Thermal, I do try to see my daughter once every two weeks. When I’m home, I have her half the time. She goes to school in Lexington, Ky. so it’s important for her to stay there.
WH: What is your advice to a young professional rider who is on the road a lot?
DB: Routine and consistency. Believe in your own path and your own process and have your own way of doing things. Take a little from everybody but confidence is the biggest thing, stick to your own process. For some people success happens faster, others later, but just stick with it.
WH: What are your thoughts on competing in Europe vs the US for ambitious American riders?
DB: Well, obviously Europe is the center of our sport. The majority of the best riders are in Europe and the biggest shows are in Europe. However, I do not think it’s necessary any more for riders to go over there. We have fantastic shows here and lots of them throughout America. You can make your way without feeling like you have to be where everybody else is. You can make your way up the ranking list just the same here in America without having to go abroad.
WH: What was the concept behind heading to the West Coast and Sonoma Horse Park with your circuit for shows and what is your opinion on the current state of show jumping in the US?
DB: Part of the reason I started my business is that I thought the horse showing landscape needed to improve greatly. The quality and the type of horse shows here in the United States needed to improve. I don’t intend to compete with any other horse show managers. My intention is to start my own path and create my own shows as a platform and way for people here in the United States to get ranking points and produce their horses, as well as make sure the environment in which they’re competing is in perfect contrition and the details are right. For me that’s the most important thing. Our horse shows need to adapt and get better. That way we’ll attract more people here and more business here and the level of riding will improve. I’m looking forward to my show in Sonoma, Calif. We have a lot of support from the riders out here. I have a goal of reaching about 400 horses at that show and then it would be a huge success. If that show is successful then I intend to create some more shows on the West Coast and in the Mid-west. I’m open to seeing any facility or any option where someone is willing to bring my team. I like to consider my team and my horse show like a horse show in a box. We come with everything needed and a full team ready to produce a show to our standards as long as the facility is ready for it.
WH: How important is the live-streaming to promote the sport?
DB: I think it’s a very important aspect. With my shows I do it an elaborate live-stream every single show and archive every class and division on my website for the history of my tour. I think the announcers and commentators, the people who are educating the people who are watching, are extremely important to the sport and to growing the sport. It’s a great way to get bigger demographics and get the word out there.
WH: Did you compare notes with Ali Nilforushan on his new Temecula show?
DB: I’ve had conversations with him, but he has his very own way of doing things and so do I. I have a lot of respect for him for putting himself out there and starting something new because I know it’s not easy and it takes a long time to succeed in this world of shows.
WH: Derek, Thanks you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and good luck with your yours!
Read more about Split Rock Jumping Tour’s added venue of the Sonoma Horse Park next fall, marking the new, innovative series’ West Coast debut.
About the author
With a background in filmmaking, fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman, navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan.