BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Regionals are one of the most highly anticipated events of the fall circuit. After months of preparation and qualification, the top junior riders gather at the prominent regionals for the chance to succeed and qualify for the notorious finals. SBS Farms working student Luke R. Olsen is one of the few who has paved the way to his chance to battle the best at the Alltech National Horse Show in one month, riding to the 22nd position during the Region 1 ASPCA Maclay Regionals.
It has been a winding road to success for Olsen. His grandmother, Mary Walsh, was the only hunt seat rider to ever make the Good Hands Finals when it was open to both Saddle Seat and Hunt Seat riders in the 1940s. Her talent and passion for horses has been a source of roots in Olsen's life, fostering the same love of the equestrian sport.
"When I was younger, my dad and I used to drive by this old barn on the side of the road and stop to look at the horses in the pasture," Olsen described. "My dad knew nothing about horses, but they had always been a part of my family. Eventually I started taking lessons at that barn, and my love for horses grew more. Everything took off from there."
Olsen continued riding until he was nine years old, and after taking a bad fall, he took a break from riding for nearly three years. Around the age of 12, the pull was too strong and he climbed back in the saddle. Olsen learned a lot from the western discipline, attending local shows and making the 4-H a huge part of his teenage years. As he became more and more curious about the sport, Olsen dabbled in eventing.
When he was 16, Olsen pursued a career as a working student with Anne Kurzinski. "This was my first experience working with an "A" circuit barn. It was eye opening, and I really learned how to run a prestigious establishment. I knew that this was something that I wanted to do," Olsen explained.
In 2011, a terrible accident occurred. Olsen, crossing the street one afternoon, was hit by a car. He fractured two bones in his leg, five ribs, punctured a lung, and had over 100 stitches in his face. It took nearly six months to recover, and he spent the next year working diligently to get back into shape. It was during his recovery that he found a position working with Susie Schoellkopf and Jennifer Alfano out of SBS Farms, Inc.
"I can't say enough about the amount of things Jen and Susie have taught me in only seven months," Luke smiled appreciatively. "It is unbelievable to see how far I have come with them, and especially in such a short amount of time. To have had the opportunities I have, and to be able to qualify for the Maclay Finals in my last junior year is just overwhelming."
And qualify for the ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Finals he did. Out of 78 fellow riders, Olsen nabbed the 22nd place aboard Sports Talk. The Grand Fall Classic was alive with hunter and equitation action throughout the weekend, and Olsen made sure to take advantage of his time in the saddle. Not only did he earn a score of 83 in the 3'3" Regional Medal Warm-Up, but he also schooled Sports Talk in the Level 2 Jumpers to make sure they were focused.
"Sports Talk and I are a new partnership, only a week actually," Olsen stated. "He is the perfect horse, so awesome and really quiet. He went into the ring and knew his job, and he acts like he really enjoys doing it, too."
"This is so unbelievable to me," Olsen exclaimed. "I only started doing the 3'6" in the middle of February, and I have been working so hard and riding so many different horses to get where I am right now. As hard as I have worked though, this is still so surreal."
Out of the 78 horse and rider combinations, the pairs were asked to return after their rounds over fences to continue into the flat phase. Olsen was called back in the third section, and his consistent efforts allowed for his position as 22nd to stay solid and permanent.
"I wasn't really nervous going into the competition because Jen and Susie had helped me so much to be confident, prepared and mentally focused. The truth is that there was really tough competition out there and the course was definitely challenging, but using all of my training, I felt good out there, and I think that made all the difference," Olsen concluded.
Based out of Buffalo, N.Y., 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 information on SBS Farms and the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, visit www.thebtrc.org.