With the onset of the cold weather, it’s a great time to cozy up and get to know some of your favorite riders. We’ll be posting Q&As with riders throughout the upcoming months, giving you an inside look into their life as equine professionals and getting tidbits of advice that we can all put to good use. Do you have a rider you’d like us to profile? Email [email protected]on.com and we’ll get the chinchillas on it!
West Coast rider Jen McFall successfully completed her first CCI4* with High Times at Rolex in 2014 and has her sights set on coming back to the Bluegrass State this year. One of C4 Belt’s sponsored riders, she also runs a breeding operation with her husband, Earl, at Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, California. Read on to find out more, and be sure to look for a special C4 promotion code at the end of the post!
EN: What was the major highlight of your 2014 season?
Jen: “Finishing Rolex and being super excited for Taylor and what she did with Prince. The rider in me says Rolex, and the mom in me says Taylor.”
EN: What events are on your bucket list?
Jen: “Obviously I want to do all of them! But actually we already have talked about what I’m going to do this year with Hawley (Bennett-Awad) and Buck (Davidson), and I think what we’re going do, fingers crossed, is Rolex again this year and then go to Blenheim in the fall. I guess my bucket list is to start with Blenheim. Considering I’ve never been to England, it will be two-fold.”
EN: What’s the biggest thing you think Morgan blood brings to the sport?
Jen: “It brings a lot of good temperament — the personality you want in a horse: really personable, a lot of heart. They’re just triers. They also bring an element of soundness; they’re sturdy and not as big. I think you’ll see longevity in the end; I think you’ll see that these horses last a little longer. And, of course, they bring beauty. They’re really pretty horses, and it never hurts to be on an attractive one. They’re beautiful, and they’re your best friend. How can you go wrong?”
EN: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring upper-level rider, what would it be?
Jen: “I think first off that I’d say make sure that you really know what you want. It’s easy to breed because you have a mare; instead of that, you want to think of “what do I really want to end up with?” Kind of like how you would have a goal of going to Rolex; then you go backwards from there.
“Breeding is the same way. You don’t start with the beginning before you know what you want at the end. Also, I think you have to be a little bit of a gambler. That’s what breeding is. Even full siblings can be total opposites. You have to be willing to enjoy that little bit of a gamble because there can be big payoffs.”
EN: How do you balance a horse family and horses?
Jen: “It’s pretty easy because we’re all just obsessed with horses, and that’s all we talk about. We love what we do all day long, and then at night we’re talking about what we’re going to do. I have babies on the ground that are 2 days old, and I’m already thinking ahead. We all love it; we’re lucky we’re all obsessed.”
EN: What would you say is your biggest strength as a rider?
Jen: Adaptability. I kind of roll with the punches and go with the flow. I can usually get on any horse and look at any situation and say, “Alright, here we go. Figure it out!” with things like courses.”
EN: What was going through your head walking to the start box at Rolex?
Jen: “I was dying for them to start me, not because I was like, “Oh let me at it.” I had a pretty late number, so I had such a late start. It kind of became agony sitting in the tent watching other people go. Honestly, I was in the start box, and they were counting me down, and I was just like, ‘Just let me start,’ instead of thinking. I just wanted to go and get in the zone.”
EN: Do you remember a certain point on the course where you felt like you were in a rhythm?
Jen: “Fence one! Fence one was easy, and after that I had to get into him over fence two because he was like, “Are you sure, mom?” He’s really easy for me to get out of the box and be in a rhythm; I don’t have that problem with not feeling like we’re in sync. At fence two, he looked — it was just a table, but I think he looked just at the sheer size of it. I had to be pretty aggressive at two and three, and then he kind of was like, “OK, we’re doing cross country; I got this, mom.
“We had a little bit of a surprise with the crowd; it was definitely different for both of us. Not having the wide open galloping look that California or even Montana has where there’s not a lot going on around our jumps — this course took some getting used to.
“I was a little caught out by noise, but I think next year it will be better. Billy was definitely caught off, especially coming down to the Head of the Lake. That’s a view you never see — you’re coming down a hill, and it’s fully enclosed by people. He saw that more than what we were jumping. But I think next time both of us will be out there having more fun.”
EN: What is one of the biggest things you’ve learned from coach Hawley Bennett-Awad?
Jen: “I guess I would have to say that she’s just a believer. She’s one of those people with a lot of conviction. When she believes in you, it helps you believe in you. She’s been that person for me — not that I don’t have any other people in my life who believe in me. To have her back you, it makes you feel like you’re ready for this or that. She gives me the tools I need, technically speaking, to do what I’m doing at this point.
“You know when she does believe in you, she means it. She doesn’t just hand it to anyone. Her belief in you allows you to let go of that side of you that makes you question yourself because you don’t need it.”
EN: If you could take six months off without worrying about keeping your business going, who would you go learn from?
Jen: “William Fox-Pitt. We had that moment at Rolex! We bonded already, and I think we meshed great. In all seriousness, though, I have to say that’s where I would go. If I’m going to go and get my ass kicked, I would like it to be from someone nice. He’d never really call you an idiot, but you’d get the drift.”
EN: What horse would you take a spin on, past or present?
Jen: “I’ve always wanted to ride Gem Twist. So beautiful. Wouldn’t that be fun to ride a real show jumper? That, to me, would be pretty awesome. Those jumps scare the heck out of me. I know they say we’re the crazy ones, but I’m not so sure.”
EN: What’s your most embarrassing moment related to horses?
Jen: “I tend to be the one that people are horrified of doing something that will make them embarrassed to be around me. If they tell me that, of course, I do it. I’m the one who always takes the dare.
“I suppose some things that might embarrass other people have happened. I remember as kids we used to ride in some national park land, going out being crazy kids. One time we laughed so hard we all peed our saddles and had to ride three miles home. I didn’t think it was embarrassing, just really funny.”
EN: What is your biggest struggle?
Jen: “Now that I’m more of what I wanted to be — turning myself into an event rider — now what I have to focus on is being more competitive. Both me and my horse are capable of being more competitive, and I think last year was more about the journey for me. I think this year I feel the need to pinpoint areas to become more competitive in, which for us is our dressage and our speed cross country.”
EN: What do you love about C4?
Jen: “I love how personalized you can make your look with very few elements; you can change out your buckles and make a whole new look, which is really fun. We love them as neck straps; they’re pretty darn reliable and easy to see! So we have that ‘oh crap’ moment — grab for the red strap! The customization is so fun, and eventers are all about doing their own thing and being individuals, so I think that C4 fits perfectly into our personalities.”
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