Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 19
When Jersey Boy walked in the ring with Jen Alfano at the start of Saturday evening’s final round in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, one thing was clear—no one had told him he was retiring.
The 15-year-old gelding was all spunk and personality as Alfano wiped tear after tear from her eyes. As if on cue, “Lewis” started taking swipes at the bouquet of sunflowers Alfano held as everyone broke into laughs at his antics, because that’s just Jersey Boy for you.
A notoriously quirky horse throughout his show hunter career, Alfano watched as Lewis walked back to the barn with his groom, crow hopping and dancing around the end of his lead shank like an unruly youngster.
“Good luck to her,” Alfano laughed. She was quickly brought back to tears when asked to reflect on her long and storied career with Lewis.
“I’m sad obviously, I mean this is a great thing for him and a great place to do this for him, but it’s sad,” Alfano said. “He’s been a big part of my life for a long time.
“He’s everything, he’s the horse of a lifetime,” Alfano continued. “He did things that no other horse will ever do for me, and our lives will not be the same without him.”
Jersey Boy took a break from competition in the fall of 2015 after sustaining a minor injury, and just as he was coming back into form, Alfano suffered a fall that fractured her knee and tore her ACL, taking her out of the ring for nine months. The pair returned to the show ring in top form after 18 months off this spring, winning a performance hunter title at Pin Oak (Texas) their first time out. As of last week, Alfano and SBS Farms’ Hanoverian by White Star had been slated to compete in this year’s championship for the eighth time.
But on Aug. 10 the gelding was diagnosed with a tendon injury, and owner and trainer Susie Schoellkopf decided to retire him.
“Lewis” won his first international hunter derby in 2008 at the Chagrin Valley Hunter Jumper Classic (Ohio) and went on to win a total of 31 classes, including the 2012 final, becoming the derby program’s de facto poster child.
In 2010 he and Alfano were selected as one of six pairs to represent the sport at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.). Lewis won the George H. Morris Perpetual trophy as the highest money earner of the derby season four times, and he still leads the USHJA Lifetime Money Won Standings. He amassed a tremendous record in the performance ring as well, with championships at Devon (Pa.), the Pennsylvania National and multiple tricolors from the National Horse Show (N.Y.), Washington International Horse Show (D.C.) and Capital Challenge (Md.).
“We never thought he was that special when we bought him,” said Alfano, Buffalo, N.Y. “A lot of times you buy a horse thinking that it’s the next great thing. That was definitely not the case with him—we just thought he was a cute investment horse. I think that makes it more special when it happens like that totally unexpected.
“He taught me so much, especially about meeting the horse in the middle,” she continued. “It can’t always be my way. There are a lot of horses that you can train to do it the way you want them to, but he was not one of them. He trained me as much as I trained him. There are so many people that have been important in his career—I’ll forget someone if I try to name them. I mostly thank Lewis for giving me so many memories. There will never be another one like him for sure.”
Lewis will head to Prospect, Tenn., where he will retire on Stacy Sandbothe’s farm.