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Tue, 2015-04-07 09:40

Introducing A Young Horse to Contact with Jennifer McFall

The product of hard work and patience: Jennifer McFall and High Times at Rolex Kentucky in 2013. USEA/Leslie Threlkeld photo.

Based out of Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, California, husband and wife team Earl and Jennifer McFall run a family owned and operated business with over a century of combined horsemanship and show ring experience. Jennifer started her riding career in Pony Club and went on to show her family’s Morgan horses at both the regional and National level. Her experience extends across the Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Dressage and Jumping disciplines. Through all her success in the various disciplines, Jennifer’s love for Eventing was the most powerful. She’s had multiple top ten placings at the three-star level with her partner High Times, and just last year the pair went on to complete the CCI4* at Rolex.

Jennifer’s success at the upper levels has translated to her youngsters that she and Earl bring up the ranks. She rode Classic Twain DF to the Championship title at the 4-year-old West Coast Young Event Horse Championships at Galway Downs in 2013, and had continued success with him in the 5-year-old division this past year.  

Jennifer likes to give her youngsters the feeling of a “job” as early as weanlings and has a methodical and comfortable way of doing it. 

“As weanlings we teach them how to lead, and then as yearlings we’ll begin to introduce the lunge line and continue their leading training with the Future Event Horse competitions in mind,” she said.

When her young horses are two years old, the bridle is introduced with long-lines. Jennifer explained that she wants them to learn that the bridle is safe and they can trust it and go to the bit. By the time her horses turn three, they are comfortable with the bridle, ready to be ridden lightly and begin to understand what is expected of them.

“When I first introduce the babies to contact, I like to take them on hacks and go up and down hills and get them accustomed to their bodies so they can figure out how to balance on their own,” she said. “I don’t start doing ‘lessons’ until they turn four because they are simply not physically or mentally ready.”

As 4-year-olds, they are ready for more work. Jennifer’s favorite exercise to introduce a more advanced version of contact is to have your horse spiral in and out on a circle. “This is a great exercise to do at both the trot and canter. This really teaches them to push with their hind end and to effectively respond to your inside leg and outside hand. This concept is imperative for them to understand when starting to jump so that they stay straight underneath of you.”

As riders, we sometimes run into “mental blocks” with younger horses, but Jennifer has some wonderful advice if you begin to hit this point in your horse’s training.

“My biggest suggestion would be to get out of the arena! Take your horse on hacks and establish moving forward and riding leg to hand. Especially in downward transitions, take your hand forward instead of back. Pulling back in essence makes your horse’s hind end ineffective. Ride your downward transitions from your leg and seat to encourage them to keep their neck long.”

Jennifer also has a recommendation for when your 2-and 3-year-olds start to progress.

Jennifer explains, “When training my 2- and 3-year olds, once they’ve hit a high note that’s when I turn them out and let them marinate on what they’ve learned. It’s my way of saying you’re doing a great job, go out and play with your friends for a month or two and then we’ll start back up again!”

Jennifer appreciates the Future and Young Event Horse program and the education that the horses get out competing in these divisions.

“It’s really great that this program is mirroring more of a European style on how to produce a young horse so that our American riders can go out and be competitive at the upper-levels overseas,” Jennifer said. “The judges have provided a great guideline on how to progress with your horse and what will make your horse successful. If you really read through the comments you can pick up a gem or two that will really help you and horse as you continue through the levels.”

To learn more about Jennifer and her program at Dragonfire Farm, please visit her website at


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