In a breathtaking display, the tree-lined lane through Olive Hill Sporthorses in Lexington, Kentucky, winds through perfectly manicured grounds and leads to a picturesque barn.
If that sounds like driving through a dream, that’s because it is – a dream decades in the making.
A life-long passion
Olive Hill Sporthorses owner Diana Conlon has been riding horses since she could walk. Although she was born in California, Diana grew up in Lexington and realized quickly that there was no place she’d rather be than in the horse capital of the world. She spent her teenage years competing in equine events all over the country, as her love for horses and teaching others grew deeper. Juggling classes at the University of Kentucky and working with hunter jumpers didn’t leave her much free time, but Diana threw another element into the mix in college when she met her future husband, Brian.
A contagious dream
Brian grew up in central Kentucky and his family raised cattle and grew tobacco. Diana’s love for horses was contagious, and today Brian is a facility manager for a horse farm in Versailles. Diana and Brian married after graduation and began a life together in Lexington. Before long, the Conlons had the opportunity to take over a program where Diana rented a facility.
The program they managed focused on hunter jumpers and training horses and riders. After growing the program, the couple decided that it was time to stop renting facilities and purchase a place of their own. Diana and Brian soon found a beautiful piece of property on the north side of Fayette County.
“The land only had a red two-stall barn and some fence,” Brian recalled. But he and Diana had a vision for more and they knew just who to turn to help make their dream a reality.
Farm Credit was there to help
The Conlons worked with Central Kentucky Ag Credit to take out a loan through Farm Credit EXPRESS, the company’s equipment dealer financing program. and they enjoyed collaborating with Russell Gray, vice president of credit.
“We spoke the same language and it was easier for Ag Credit to understand our goals for our operation,” Brian said. “Whenever I had a question, I could call Russell and didn’t have to go through several people. It was very easy to know what we were getting and the timeline.”
With the help of Ag Credit, the Conlons started construction on a barn and an indoor arena in the spring of 2017. They also added fencing and an outdoor arena, creating the scene that captivates visitors today. Reflecting on that time in the development of their business, Diana was thankful that they finally had the land to build their own operation. “It was a blessing,” she said.
Collaboration for success
The Conlons make a good team as they work together to develop their dreams. Diana does most of the day-to-day chores and management. She is there to help with lessons and loves being around and developing the horses.
Brian focuses on pasture management and making sure things get taken care of around the farm.
The Conlons also employ four staff members who help make the operation successful. “Everyone who works here is very driven, but we want to keep it relaxed and fun as well,” Diana said.
Serving the needs of all customers
Olive Hill offers several different options for riders, with the goal of matching the potential of the rider with the right horse and ensuring customers are also having fun. Training programs range from beginner to grand prix, and riders travel around the country and show at all levels.
“There are riders of all ages here and each one has a different goal in mind,” Diana said.
Olive Hill also supports clients who show their own horses, as well as clients who care for the horses but wish for Diana to show them. In addition to the core business, Olive Hill also raises chickens and two heifers.
Agriculture for life
Diana still enjoys riding and coaching others on how to do the same. “I love riding and was lucky enough to be good enough at it to make it a career,” Diana said. “There are no days off; it is all about the horses for us.”
“It’s a lifestyle,” Brian said. “People say that about several things in life, but it is very true for farming. It’s the love for the environment, the lessons people learn – both indirect and direct.”
When asked about her advice to those who are interested in starting their own sporthorse business, Diana said, “The harder you work, the luckier you are; you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. It’s important to gain knowledge of all parts of the business.”
For Brian, “Education is a key to success. There are a lot of learning opportunities. Take advantage of everything you can,” he said.