From Childhood Pastime to Life’s Work
Sophia Fischer and Michael Buchanan grew up half-a-world away from each other, yet their passion was the same – horses. American Saddlebreds, to be specific.
That passion led to their meeting at a horse show in 2014. Sophia was re-entering the world of horseback riding after nearly a decade, during which time she attended the U.S. Naval Academy and then served six years as a Naval Officer.
“They say once Saddlebreds are in your blood, you can’t get away from them. So I kind of just worked my way back into that world. And that’s where I met Michael.”
The couple was married in 2019. That same year, they opened their own American Saddlebred operation, Buchanan Stables, where they train, board and breed the majestic beauties that hail from Kentucky. Outside the U.S., American Saddlebreds are most popular in South Africa – where Michael was born and raised.
A History of Horseback Riding
Horses roamed in the fields surrounding Sophia’s childhood home on the outskirts of Jefferson County, Kentucky. By age 4, she was taking lessons, and by age 8, she won her first World’s Championship.
“I grew up riding Saddlebreds,” she says. “As a kid, my mom got me involved, just trying to introduce me to all kinds of different things. And horseback riding stuck.”
Some of Michael’s earliest memories are of riding horses with friends in his hometown of Brackenfell, South Africa. “We would ride every day after school for hours and hours. It’s crazy to think back on – we didn’t have saddles or bridles, none of the equipment I now use every day. But somehow, we always made it home safely.”
Upon graduating high school, Michael got a job at a renowned Saddlebred farm. Within a week, he says, “I knew it would be my life’s passion.” He built a career that eventually brought him to Kentucky, where he’s worked for some of the industry’s most prominent horse farms.
Ready to Make the Leap
After climbing the ladder “from stall cleaner, to groom, to jockey, to the colt guy, to assistant trainer,” Michael was ready to start his own operation. “I felt my training skills were ready, I had the right tools in my toolbox, and with Sophia’s expertise on the business side, we were ready to make the leap.”
The couple found the perfect property in Shelbyville: a lush green 27-acre farm that included a historic barn and modest farmhouse where they could live onsite. When it came time to finance their vision, they found what they needed at Farm Credit Mid-America.
Initially, Sophia reached out to the financial institution where she did her personal banking, but to no avail. “We didn’t fit their mold, and they refused to take the time to understand that this was a viable business opportunity. It was super frustrating.”
A friend referred them to Farm Credit, where she says it was obvious from the outset that they truly wanted to help. “The Farm Credit folks were able to adapt and ask the right questions. They were very supportive. They actually helped me build and tweak the business plan, which led us to ultimately getting approved for a loan.”
As a result, Sophia and Michael have turned their life’s passion into a successful business. It’s tough work that entails early mornings and long days, but Sophia says it’s worth it to be surrounded by such magnificent creatures.
“They’re just such intuitive animals, and they each have their own very specific personality. When you connect and find that bond with one and you earn their trust, there’s nothing like it!”