Dragonfire Farm family hosts a busy hub of Northern California eventing.
by Kim F. Miller
Hosting horse shows is one of the few things the McFall family’s Dragonfire Farm doesn’t do. A visitor would be forgiven, however, for thinking that’s what’s going on during a typical day when Jennifer and Earl McFall, their daughter Taylor, and their clients are not away at an eventing competition.
Located in Sacramento County’s Wilton, Dragonfire is home to the Deer Creek Pony Club, the Academy@Dragonfire, the McFalls’ competition-oriented training program and a sporthorse breeding endeavor. And, oh yes, in early September, they hosted a Holsteiner inspection – the only one in Northern California – and later this month, a clinic with five-time British Olympian William Fox-Pitt.
“It does look a lot like a horse show,” acknowledges Jennifer of the scene at the ranch. “We teach a lot of lessons, from Advanced and Intermediate eventers to instructors that teach beginners, plus the Pony Clubbers. When our horses do go off property to a show, they’re very comfortable. It’s not a big deal for them.”
Another benefit is that the full-spectrum operation is a perfect and much-needed pipeline for bringing new people into the sport, answering a clarion call made at recent US Eventing Association meetings. “The Academy teaches basic riding and horsemanship and the older students often wind up going into training for our sport. It’s only natural when that’s what they see every day is the upper level riders. We’re happy to be creating new eventers and enthusiasts. It’s fun to see.”
Young riders have a lot to look up to. Earl is an A Pony Club graduate, was long listed for the 2000 Olympic Games and has excelled in Grand Prix jumping and dressage competition.
Jennifer tackled her first Rolex Kentucky Four Star in 2014, and this past summer, finished eighth in a big field at the CIC*** at Rebecca Farms on High Times. Sired by Hunter, he’s not a Dragonfire homebred, but the 12-year-old has been under Jennifer’s tutelage since he was 5 and she feels he is hitting his stride as an international contender. They are currently preparing for a trip back East, centered around the Dutta Corp International Fair Hill CCI*** in Maryland, Oct. 13-16.
Jennifer received a USEF Foundation/Rebecca Broussard travel grant to compete at Rebecca Farms in July and she made the most of it. Along with her good finish on High Times, she won the Novice Full Three Day section A on Stoneman DF and was second in section B with Be Real. These youngsters also finished fifth and sixth in the Young Event Horse 5-year-old division at the popular Montana show.
A seasoned campaigner, High Times doesn’t need more competition mileage during his Fair Hill prep, so Jenny concentrated instead on fine tuning their show jumping with the help of recent Show Jumping Hall of Fame inductee, Susie Hutchison. Jennifer has worked with specialized coaches on and off, but this time enjoyed a dedicated stretch of time working with Susie specifically on the show jumping phase. “As an event rider, you tend to be more aggressive and to be really good at making do with what comes your way, and quick to adapt to that,” she explains. “Susie helped me be more assertive and methodical. It’s learning not to ride show jumping as if it were cross-country.”
Dragonfire began in 1977 as a show, training and breeding program built around Cheron Laboissonniere’s passion for the Morgan horse. Cheron is Jennifer’s mother and Jennifer and Earl have a long list of accomplishments within the breed.
Dragonfire Kublakhan was one of the program’s best-known stars and Jennifer dominated the Morgan scene as a teenager and when she turned professional. Her resume includes many national and world titles in Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, dressage and jumping on the Morgan circuit, with Dragonfire horses and those owned by clients. She was later honored by the Morgan Horse Association for her contribution to the breed and especially for helping Morgans make inroads into the eventing world.
“My interest in eventing is what changed the barn’s emphasis,” Jennifer explains. “I thought my mom would be a Morgan person for life, but she loves the Holsteiners and has dedicated herself to breeding top Holsteiners like she did Morgans.”
The foundation sire of their program is The Twain, a full Thoroughbred, and the mission is to produce broodmares by him that will become Dragonfire’s foundation mares and be bred to outside stallions. That takes time. One of
The Twain’s daughters put a foal on the ground this year and that baby, Incantare DF, was set to take part in the early September Holsteiner inspection. Incantare’s sire is Mighty Magic, a three-quarter Thoroughbred, revealing the McFalls’ fondness for crossing Thoroughbred lines with the Holsteiners to produce great eventing prospects. They’re light, fast and typically bold and brave.
Galloping to her destiny as a third generation McFall is Jennifer and Earl’s 13 year old daughter Taylor. Not surprisingly, “She’s totally horse crazy,” mom reports. “She has a little stable of her own going and is pretty dedicated to coming out and caring for them all, working to earn money to show.” Taylor braids, mucks, cleans tack and periodically bakes, knits cute hats and sews custom projects to raise money for her expenses. She’s an old hand at it, having helped purchase her main mount so far, Kilbarry Prince. She and the Connemara gelding ran the Novice Three Day at Rebecca Farms in 2015 and again this year and have long been favorites on the circuit.
Taylor is now moving on to two new horses: a coming-4 year old homebred mare, Simple Dreams DF, who is doing well in the Future Event Horse ranks. She’s also bringing along an Off The Track Thoroughbred, Spitfire, with whom she completed a Beginner Novice division at the Woodland Stallion Station event in September.
Fun, WFP & The West Coast
The Dragonfire activity is not all on horseback. Riding and horsemanship education are interspersed with fun activities and social events. The Pony Club has movie nights, the Academy hosts day camps and pool parties and the competitive riders often get together for non-horsey fun.
Dragonfire hosts clinics regularly and the team is especially excited to have five-time British Olympian William Fox-Pitt in town Oct. 29-30. “It’s his first West Coast clinic,” Jennifer enthuses. “I haven’t worked with him before, but I’ve sort of stalked him for a long time!”
(WFP will also clin
ic at Hawley Bennett’s base in Southern California’s Temecula on Oct. 31 & Nov. 1. Both clinics are organized by Scott Hayes Productions. Visit www.shproductions.ca for riding and/or auditing opportunities.)
Having a star of Fox-Pitt’s wattage in the West fits with what Jennifer describes as a steady ascent for the region’s riders. “Certainly the eventing scene has really exploded. The shows have been doing very well and we have enough competitions, and enough difficult competitions, to prepare us for the hardest shows of our careers,” she says. “Lauren Billys did her entire Olympic preparation on the West Coast and did really well there. We’ve had local riders – Gina Miles, Hawley Bennett, Jil Walton, for example – excel in the past, but I think that was maybe outside the norm. Now I think there are a lot more people doing really well and being competitive internationally who have done the majority of their preparation on the West Coast.”
to be both beneficiary of and contributor to the West Coast’s growth. Especially from a now-busy base that not so long ago was home to only a house and miles of barbed wire fencing. “We did everything,” Jennifer recalls of the approach after purchasing the Wilton land in 2005. “It was a family thing. Taylor helped by laying bricks when she was just 5. We had several years there when we didn’t compete much because we were building this. If I have to dig another post hole in my life, I might puke!”
But the end result is clearly more than worth it and for three generations of family that now extends well beyond blood relations.
October 2016 - Horse People: The McFalls