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February 5, 2010

The Chronicle's Show Hunter Horseman Of The Year: Jennifer Alfano

Jennifer Alfano had a banner year in 2009. Photo by Mollie Bailey.

Each fall, Jennifer Alfano’s parents would let her take a day off from school. “This was before I’d ever even shown in an A-rated show, but every year I’d go to [the Pennsylvania National Horse Show] and watch all day,” said Alfano, who grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. “I’d study all of the famous jumper riders and say to myself, ‘I’m going to be a famous rider.’ All of my friends at school would roll their eyes.”

But that’s exactly what she’s become—one of the top hunter riders in the country. And the Pennsylvania National is just one of the myriad of shows at which she’s made her name known with tricolors on multiple horses. In 2009, she not only rode a string of horses to championships all year long, but she also won four hunter derbies on Jersey Boy. The pair then placed second in the inaugural $100,000 ASG Software Solutions/ International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.).

“She’s made so many different kinds of horses into winners,” said Susie Schoellkopf, trainer and Alfano’s employer at SBS Farms in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Jen’s a true horsewoman in every sense of the word,” said Meredith Lipke, who has ridden with Alfano for 10 years. “She’s a perfectionist in everything she does—there’s one way to do things, and it’s the right way.’’

As a junior, Alfano showed locally until she was 12 and then moved up to the A-rated shows

with trainer Maxine Best. She didn’t have a big budget for horses, but she made a name for herself through her talented ability in catch riding.

After her junior years, Alfano headed to Florida for the first time, but not as a rider—she was grooming for Greg Best and Gem Twist. “It was supposed to be for a few months, but it turned into 21⁄2 years that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I got to go to the Pan American Games, the Olympic Games and two FEI World Cup Finals as Gem’s groom,” Alfano said.

After that, Alfano concentrated on her own riding career and worked at a sales barn. In 1990, she and Schoellkopf joined forces. “We’ve turned into a really good team over the years,” Alfano said. “I think the most important thing anyone can have is to have someone who believes in them, and she’s believed in me from the beginning.”

Together, Alfano and Schoellkopf have developed one top hunter after another. They begin with young talent and finish with top-class show horses. But when they first saw Jersey Boy as a green 4-year-old, they had no inkling he’d turn into the winner he’s become.

“Sometimes you buy a horse, and you think you have the next great one, but that wasn’t the case at all with him,” Alfano admitted. “We thought, ‘Oh, he’ll make somebody a cute horse.’ And somewhere down the line, he became a great horse! And he’s been a little difficult to bring along, so that makes it fun and even more special.”

“A lot of riders would have placed him in a situation where they were forcing him to do what they wanted,” Schoellkopf added. “But Jen eased him into making him a believer, just by not ever picking fights with him about anything.’’

Alfano makes it a priority to spend quality time caring for her horses as well. “She’s so hands-on; she really gets to know the horses,” Schoellkopf said. “She has such focus and dedication to this sport and to her horses. I haven’t seen a rider as focused as her in a long time.”

That focus extends to Alfano’s teaching of SBS Farms’ students. “When she’s teaching someone, she gives 100 percent to them,” said Lipke. “She’s tough, but she’s also able to make it a lot of fun.”

Alfano also served as the stable management clinician at the Region 2 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program Level II Training Session in November. “I helped the kids take care of their horses and did a grooming demonstration and helped them with their wrapping. I really enjoyed teaching them how to care for their horses—that meant a lot to me because I’m good at it,” Alfano said.

Although she certainly enjoys winning, her favorite time is after all of the ribbons are hung in the tackroom. “I love my horses,” she said. “They’re my best friends, and that’s more important than anything. I live at the barn, and I love going down at night and walking through, seeing them and hearing them settle in for the night.”

PERSONAL PROFILE

Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.

Age: 41

Favorite Moment Of 2009: “I was really excited about the ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. It was cool to be part of history, and with the spectators and riding in the big stadium, it was very special,” said Alfano. “I think riding in the derbies makes the horses better, the riders better.“

Always A Student: “Jen is always open to new ideas. She’s never one that says, ‘I know how to do it now,’ ” said Susie Schoellkopf. “We host a George Morris clinic every year, and she always rides in as many sections of it as she can. She wants to be a better trainer and a better rider.”

A Team Effort: “I’m nothing without the horses but also the whole team—Susie and [barn manager] Erin McMurry and our veterinarian, Dr. Steele, and [my uncle] Joe Alfano, our blacksmith,” Jen said. “It doesn’t matter how good the horse is or how well you ride; you have to have a whole army of people behind you to do this.”

2009 COMPETITIVE HIGHLIGHTS

JERSEY BOY

  • 2nd -$100,000 ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals (Ky.)           
  • 1st -$50,000 WEF ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby (Fla.)
  • 1st -$25,000 CN Chicago and The Chronicle of the Horse/International Hunter Derby (Ill.)
  • 1st -$10,000 HITS Ocala ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby (Fla.)
  • 1st -$10,000 Chagrin Valley The Chronicle of the Horse/USHJA International Hunter Derby (Ohio)

Regular working hunter champion-HITS-On-The-Hudson V (N.Y.); Chagrin Valley Hunter/Jumper Classic (Ohio); Skidmore College Saratoga Classic (N.Y.); Kentucky Spring Classic; HITS Ocala Tournament (Fla.); HITS Ocala Winter Classic (Fla.).

ROCK STAR

Regular working hunter champion-National Horse Show (N.Y.); Devon (Pa.); Lake Placid (N.Y.); Buffalo International (N.Y.).

KID ROCK

First year green hunter champion-National Horse Show (N.Y.); Buffalo International (N.Y.); HITS-On-The-Hudson V (N.Y.); Chagrin Valley Hunter/Jumper Classic (Ohio); Skidmore College Saratoga Classic (N.Y.); Suncoast Internationale (Fla.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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