Turning Pro During Quarantine: How 3 Grand Prix Equestrians Take the Leap at Stone Creek Stables in Kentucky

Photo Credit Samantha Clark

Nicole Loochtan’s backstory of being a horse crazed kid is somewhat typical. She began riding at 8, competing ponies at local shows near her home town of Hawthorn, Illinois. Eventually graduating from the locals to recognized shows, Nicole began riding with Ronnie Beard and Michael Dorman, who were a big influence her junior riding career, taking her to compete in Wellington.

Nicole acquired her first big show jumpers with them, Carla De Kalvarie Z and Quaterman, stepping up to the Medium/High junior jumper classes and the U25’s at Tryon, Hits Saugerties, Hits Thermal, Vegas and Del Mar. It was during this time period that Nicole realized she wanted a career in the industry, recognizing that improving her riding skills and building a competition resume was going to take work and dedication.

Nicole spent the summer of 2017 riding in Kentucky and that’s when she was introduced to Olympic show jumper Sharn Wordley, once again fine tuning her riding and horsemanship skills as a working student. During her 6 months at Wordley Martin Equestrian, Nicole learned the intricate details of the horse industry at the grand prix level of show jumping. She then continued to ride, train and show with Sharn – with the eventual goal to launch her own professional program in Lexington.

Nicole and her family had previously purchased the 25+ acre property in Georgetown Kentucky, now home to Stone Creek Stables. The facility is state of the art, with a traditional center isle Kentucky barn, a custom made Wordley Martin arena and a professionally designed cross country course, which is open to the region’s event riders.

In 2020 after a successful winter campaign, Nicole officially turned professional. Nicole is grateful to all the key players who supported her over the past 15 years, as she worked diligently towards becoming a professional trainer. This was a calculated decision, yet the timing to take the leap didn’t become apparent till this past winter in Ohio – when she formed a relationship with two other talented riders, Kevin McCarthy and Keely O’Hara.

An Introduction to Kevin McCarthy & Keely O’Hara

The World Equestrian Center in Ohio was the connector this past winter season. Nicole made the decision to forgo her usual trip south to Ocala and Wellington in order to make an easier 2.5 hour commute from her Kentucky farm to WEC.

During the show circuit, she began to form a friendship with Kevin McCarthy and Keely O’Hara. Kevin and Keely would haul to to WEC from upstate New York, so in between shows, they began to layover at Stone Creek Farm in Kentucky.

Kevin, originally from Tipperary, Ireland has worked with some of the best in the industry – Margie Engle, Ralph and Holly Caristo, Darren Graziano, Frank Cunniffe, Paul Tracey, Niall and Cara Carey. Once a professional rider, he returned to being an amateur and switched gears with his career, opening McCarthy’s Pub in Cazenovia, New York. He continued to compete as an amateur and throughout his career earned multiple wins and top placings at Vermont, HITS, WEC, The Hamptons, Mexico City, WEF, Gold Cup, and Central Park.

Keely is also a lifelong horseman, having been raised in the industry at her family’s Evergreen Stables in Cazenovia. Keely is also a gifted rider, having competed extensively at HITS, WEF, Vermont, Saratoga, etc. She credits her mother, Suzanne McGowan, for helping her understand professional training techniques, and instilling in her the “moxy”,determination and patience to train young horses and to develop riders through their adult careers. Keely is also experienced at running horse shows, which will be beneficial to the future plans at Stone Creek Stables.

It Began as a Casual Conversation

These three riders began to chat, then the concept started to take hold. Kevin and Nicole were classified as amateurs, but both held their own in the grand prix ring. Kevin had previously been a pro, but had returned to amateur status to run a pub in upstate New York. He still competed extensively, with multiple grand prix wins under his belt. Keely, a 4th generation equestrian, also held her own in the hunter and jumper rings. Nicole was hot off of multiple grand prix wins at WEC over the winter circuit.

Why not take the leap?

Nicole had the facility, and all the stars were aligning. “I already respected Kevin very much as a rider, and I didn’t want to go into business alone. Having multiple professional creates a better environment with strengths coming from different people.”

Kevin and Keely wanted to get back into the professional aspect of the sport and their horsemanship skills aligned with Nicole’s. The decision was made to launch their business spring of 2020, and the wheels were put in motion for Kevin & Keely move from upstate New York.

The Upside of Quarantine

These past few months have been difficult for all Americans, but through challenge there is always a ray of opportunity. During this time period, the Loochtan’s have been hard at work getting Stone Creek Stables ready for re-opening. In fact, they are acquiring the adjacent 40 acres so they can expand the facility with more turn out, plans for an additional permanent barn and vision of a future derby field.

Kevin and Keely have officially relocated, having just closed on a house in Lexington and the horses settled into Stone Creek Stables the first week in June. During quarantine they have been taking the time to organize the move and to prioritize getting to know new horses and clients.

Nicole, Kevin and Keely are starting off their partnership with a full barn and the mindset of taking advantage of this time to get ready for the show ring. In speaking with Kevin he stated that, “ It’s the perfect time to start a business and have the time to learn about every new horse & client. We’re going to approach everything as a team and we will assess each client and horse and our individual strengths to decide who will sit in the tack.”

Some would argue that going pro during a pandemic is a risk, but that is not part of the mindset at Stone Creek Stables. They envision that their team concept will be beneficial for the clients as well, offering more eyes on the ground to evaluate horses and riders. With complimentary skill sets and established careers in the show ring, having several trainers will create a fun atmosphere for the clients as well.

Stone Creek Stables plans to offer training board, ship in lessons and show coaching for all levels of horses and riders. The cross country course has opened for the season, allowing participants to schedule, sign liability releases and pay online. SCS is also restricting the use of the course to 4 horse and riders during one time slot, thus respecting social distancing protocols.

As the show world begins to re-open, there are immediate plans to travel to Chicago, Travers City and to attend the Split Rock Tour in Kentucky. At the home facility, plans are underway to offer schooling jumper and combined eventing derbies this summer so riders have the opportunity to safely prepare to a return to competition.

To inquire about the services at Stone Creek Stables, please visit their website. https://www.stonecreekstables.com/