Deborah “Debbie” Buchanan’s attitude about managing 17 horses that compete at multiple horse shows, in multiple derbies, with multiple riders, is much like the Nike maxim.
“We just do it,” said the barn manager of Lane Change Farm. Buchanan, who has worked for rider Kelley Farmer and trainer Larry Glefke for nearly a decade, believes it’s all in a day's work.
“It’s just part of the business,” she said. “[Hunter derbies] are Larry’s thing now, so they do five to six horses in one every week.”
Lane Change Farm has become a fixture in hunter derbies around the country, commonly sending multiple horses to different derbies in the same week with impressive results.
In fact, Farmer bagged seven derby victories aboard five different horses during the 2010-2011 series alone. Highlights included taking the top three spots at the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Showplace Spring Spectacular II in Wayne, Ill., on June 15, 2010. She captured three derby wins with Bases Loaded, rode Glefke’s Rosalynn to win the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby last January at the Jacksonville National Horse Show (Fla.), and more recently piloted Praise to two derby wins in May. When she showed in Keswick, Va., Farmer finished seven horses in the top 12. Most recently, she placed first through fourth in the derby during Week 3 of Horse Shows By The Bay, held on July 22.
More Than Just Elbow Grease
Glefke believes that an integral part of Lane Change’s success is the woman back at the barns.
“We run a sales barn, and Debbie is a master at making my sales horses look like horses that have been around forever,” said Glefke, who originally hails from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “They’re all fat, and every horse in my barn eats differently than the one before. Every horse gets the individual attention they need to do their best.”
For Glefke, 64, the title of “barn manager” does not aptly describe the myriad of ways Buchanan keeps their operation, which was originally based in Keswick, Va., but is now on the road most weeks of the year, running smoothly.
“She’s a jack of all trades at my barn, and there’s nothing she can’t do. She’s absolutely amazing,” he said enthusiastically. “She puts 100 percent into every day and her horses, and while Kelley is a lucky girl to have the string of animals that she does, she’s more lucky to have Debbie Buchanan taking care of her horses.”
Buchanan is solely responsible for each horse’s diet, but she wears many other hats, including groom and chauffeur.
“I really just do whatever anyone else doesn’t want to do,” she said with a laugh. “I drive the van, I longe some of the horses if a groom has too many, make sure horses are tacked up for morning ride. I just fill in wherever is needed.”
Constant competition means countless hours on the road not only for Buchanan, Glefke, Farmer and their five grooms, but also for the horses.
“I really don’t think it’s difficult [for horses to be on the road most of the time],” she said. “People seem to think it’s a terrible thing, but they do very well. That’s what they’re used to. People live in the city, and they get used to that. If we have a horse that absolutely has to get turned out, we make that happen.”
Additionally, the horses have plenty of time to rest between trips around the derby ring.
“The horses that show in the derby, as a rule, don’t even show in the horse show. Most of them only show once a week,” said Buchanan.
Glefke knows that riding and training the Lane Change horses is only one step in solving the equation that leads to trips to the winner’s circle over and over again.
“Trust is the key factor,” said Glefke, who has retired from the show ring but continues to train the farm’s horses. “I have to depend on her to tell me how a horse is doing, if they’re eating well. I really only see them when they come to the ring or if I’m on one of them or if Kelley is riding the horse during the day.
“If a horse is healthy and eating well and drinking well, you know they’re doing well. It helps me to have [Buchanan’s] insight on what is going on,” he continued.
A Lifetime Of Learning
Buchanan, 66, rode as a junior in her birth state of Pennsylvania. She switched her focus to managing the welfare of horses after she finished at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y. She opened her own business at Hollow Hill Farm in Valley Forge, Pa., in her early 20s with Maryann Charles as the rider. Then she left that business behind to take a position at Belcort Farm in Keswick, Va., in the late 1960s where she managed approximately 20 horses.
After her time at Belcort, Buchanan returned to her own business at Hollow Hill Farm with her niece, Sheila Camp Motley, as the rider. Then, having met Farmer along the way, the seasoned horsewoman moved on to Lane Change.
And although she no longer rides, Buchanan finds fulfillment in working with great riders and horses.
“People will say to me, ‘You don’t ride?!’ They think it’s crazy that I’ve been in the business for so long and don’t ride,” she said with a laugh.
“I don’t ride very well, and I’ve been lucky enough to have people around me that are great riders. It’s not that I dislike it, I just see no reason to do it if you’re not good at it, so if you can find a part of the business that you are good at, you do that,” she continued.
For her, the job satisfaction comes not from her own accomplishments but those of the team she’s helped create.