Jen McFall: The Quest to Breed an American Champion

In our next Athletux rider blog, Jen McFall shares the philosophy behind the breeding program at Dragonfire Farm, which has produced Classic Twain DF, 2013 USEA 4-Year-Old Young Event Horse West Coast Champion, and Axiom DF, winner of the 4-Year-Old Young Event Horse class at this year’s Event at Rebecca Farm. Many thanks to Jen for writing.

Jen McFall and Classic Twain DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Jen McFall and Classic Twain DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

From Jen:

We all want to find ways to give back to this great sport of eventing. Each of us has our own reasons for loving eventing, but whether you are a professional that makes a living at it or a weekend warrior, it seems we are all die hards that cannot live without it. Personally, this sport allows me to dream up big goals and reach for them, to continuously strive to be better, and to raise my daughter in an environment that promotes hard work and sportsmanship.

I would like my contribution to the sport to be significant and enduring, while still fulfilling my intrinsic need to dream big. So amidst wanting to compete internationally at the top level of eventing, I would also like to provide American riders with international quality horses bred here, stateside!

I understand that with the desire to be successful at something, a plan must be in place prior to the start of the endeavor. It might sound simple, but skipping this step before knowing exactly where you intend to finish is detrimental. For me, this requires starting at the beginning and making the foundation of my program strong. It is not always easy to stay in the present while focusing on a long-term goal.

Classic Twain DF. Photo courtesy of Jen McFall.

Classic Twain DF. Photo courtesy of Jen McFall.

I want to produce an Olympic athlete, but more importantly, I want to produce talented, useful and pleasurable individuals on my way to producing the Olympic mount. Every horse produced at Dragonfire can be considered a stepping stone on the path to my eventual goal of an Olympic athlete. The ultimate goal may or may not happen, but done correctly, my program’s success will not be measured by whether or not a DF horse wins a gold medal. Above all, I endeavor to produce a useful, successful and enjoyable athlete every time I breed a horse.

When thinking about Dragonfire’s sport horse breeding program today, I would be remiss to forget the lessons I have learned in the past from watching breeders in the Morgan world, as well as my own Morgan horse breeding program with Dragonfire. Successful programs revolved around a strong band of broodmares, who were either successful performers themselves, or directly related to winning horses of the time.

As far as stallions were concerned, staying current with the fashionable blood was important to produce winners in the show ring, while using older, established lines helped with trainability and soundness. A mixture of both could produce that magic combination that was unstoppable for several seasons running.

Earl McFall and Axiom DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Earl McFall and Axiom DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

The farms that continuously produced winners stayed true to the style of horse that they most admired and were not swayed by what was working for other farms and trainers. I think this, above all, has to be in any breeding program. The breeder must believe in their product and produce horses they personally like. At Dragonfire, I breed and sell horses that I want for myself; I do not just breed horses to sell.

Never fear breeding because you feel you don’t have a big enough farm or enough broodmares to produce a champion. Being a boutique breeder has its advantages. For me, it is a happy circumstance that we don’t have much time or money to dedicate to my breeding program.

Breeding with a small budget may be what has made Dragonfire produce winners time and time again because we have to agonize over the virtual crosses before ever spending any money. And because we run a busy competition barn, we only have so much time to dedicate to the youngsters, essentially keeping our numbers in check.

The USEA has two programs that I find useful in my breeding business. The Future Event Horse Series, or FEH, is designed to evaluate the potential of yearlings, 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds in hand to become successful upper-level event horses. The Young Event Horse Series, or YEH, tests under saddle and is meant to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition that, with proper training, can excel in the uppermost levels of eventing.

Axiom DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Axiom DF. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Both of these programs help the American breeder better their stock through early competition. Although you may not always agree with the outcome, the benefits of the experience are undeniable, as your horses become familiar with competition in a low-stress environment. Furthermore, the judge’s critiques at the championships can help to redirect potentially wayward programs, as they have seen and judged the young stock across the nation and have a firm finger on the pulse of American breeding.

Of course, there are many that will argue that it makes more sense to buy horses than to breed them. Fortunately for them, not everyone will follow this advice. If we did, we could very well find ourselves with no horses at all! For those who do venture into breeding, you will join me in an entirely new way to enjoy horses.

The pride you feel when a horse of your breeding is announced victorious is priceless, while the joy you feel when one of your horses is another rider’s best friend is immeasurable. In my quest to breed an American champion in the truest sense, I will enjoy the process and the lives I will be a part of through my horses.

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