If you live in Northern California, especially if you’re north or east of Woodside, you can easily find yourself driving upwards of three hours one-way to school cross country, which can result in yet another (pricey) weekend away. Well, we have good news for you! The fine folks at Dragonfire Sport Horses, Jennifer and Earl McFall, have just invested a ton of time and money creating a purpose-built cross country schooling field that poses all the right ‘questions’ and jumps, for every level from Intro to Advanced.
Their gorgeous, leafy equestrian facility, located in Wilton, CA, is just a stone’s throw from the famed Murieta Equestrian Center, and in a prime location to serve many of NorCal’s eventers. We caught up with five star rider, trainer and owner, Jennifer McFall, to find out more about their new project. And this just in: Dragonfire will be launching a new Derby Days summer series running from June through September with a High Point Championship for all levels from Intro to Preliminary. Watch this space for more information.
What prompted you to build the cross country training course this year?
We honestly have Covid to thank for that. We have wanted to build this for several years now, and this season we finally had the time!
How big is it?
It’s around eight acres, and we have a ditch complex, mounds, banks, water feature, and a sunken road. We have around 25 portable fences, including brush, a Gatling gun, logs, and more, to create changing lines around our permanent features.
How long did it take to build?
All summer (building season) and of course, Earl will never stop building and improving.
Will you be able to use it year-round?
No, when it is wet, it will be closed. So people need to take advantage of the dry season!
What levels would benefit from training there?
All levels. Even though I had a selfish reason to build so that I can train the Advanced horses at home, we were careful to include the intro/beginner novice level to make sure green horses and beginner riders have a great place to learn. We also have the babies we have bred, and I wanted a positive introduction for them to cross country.
If a rider wants to come without a trainer, can you offer lessons?
Yes, riders are welcome to book a cross country lesson with either Earl or myself. Otherwise, their trainer will need to book with us and have us named as an additional insured.
What’s your favorite thing about the new course?
I love the fact that we have every type of question that you will find at a show, but you can teach the entire thing from one spot under a tree. No more walking around endlessly from complex to complex wasting time!
What advantage does it offer young and amateur riders to have a course like this to use regularly?
When schooling at a show venue, the experience is very often the exact same for sometimes years at a time. Our schooling field will be a great advantage to any level that comes regularly because we will be changing the lines often to offer new learning experiences for everyone.
What’s the biggest myth you’d like to dispel about XC training?
Cross country is one-third of our sport, with the highest chance for penalties. Riders and horses must practice more often in a cross country setting – not just in an arena: that is simply not good enough.
Tell me about the Derby series
We wanted to provide a fun and cost-effective way for people and horses to gain experience competing at the most neglected phase of our sport on the West Coast… cross country! We also see the need for one-day competitions that do not require people to take time off of work or stay in a hotel. By making our sport more accessible, we hope to encourage new riders to give it a chance and see how much fun it is!
Will you ever leave home again?!
Ha! Nope… my favorite.
A few weeks ago, my son, Benjamin Heckman, and I, were lucky enough to school on Dragonfire’s new training field under the tutelage of Olympic rider, Hawley Bennett, and I can attest that this is not an experience you want to miss. We can’t wait to get back out there and try some new challenges.
To book a schooling session at Dragonfire you can contact Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Alice Chan is an amateur eventing rider. She and her son Benjamin, also an eventer, live and keep their horses at their home barn, Wold Farm, in Sonoma County’s Petaluma. Alice can be reached at email@example.com.