Everyone in the equestrian world knows that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Our sport of eventing amplifies this theory exponentially, as it will put you in your place quicker than a grumpy nun armed with a ruler and a dunce cap.
I have to admit that I felt pretty low when faced with the realization that I would not be competing at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this year. It was simply inconceivable (as Vizzini so ironically repeated in The Princess Bride) that all of our preparation was for nothing, and that Billy’s improvements this spring season weren’t going to culminate in Kentucky. We had made such huge strides in the right direction, in all three phases no less.
I felt like it was our fate to have a fabulous run on the bluegrass, only to have the carpet pulled out from under us by a slight injury. It was actually a total turnaround from my attitude in 2014, where in the month leading up to it I couldn’t believe that I was truly a competitor at Rolex, and that they must have issued me a number by mistake.
Although it was 100 percent the right decision for my horse, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated that I wasn’t going to be able to prove myself a better rider this year, and my horse more capable of a four-star track. I’m not sure who I thought I was going to prove this to, whether it was just to myself or to the world, but I really felt the need to show that we could be competitive there.
In truth, my disappointment was fueled by my jealousy of the other competitors and their chance at stepping into the ring. In my deflated state, I tried to see the silver lining in the situation and make some lemonade.
After some cajoling from my coach, Hawley Bennett, I was convinced that going to spectate Rolex would be good for me. And it most certainly was! Not only did I get to do commentary for The Event College, a U.S. Eventing Association program designed to educate the general public about the sport of eventing, and participate in the Prince Philip Cup with a bunch of very impressive young Pony Club gamers, I also had ample time to spend with my sponsors in the fabulous trade fair.
Not to mention watching all of the action live, beautifully demonstrated by the likes of Michael Jung, Buck Davidson, and my not-so-secret crush, William Fox-Pitt. The positive vibe continued with discussions about my Plan B with Billy, and fundraising to go to the Blenheim three-star in England in the fall. Although it is not Rolex, it is certainly not a bad consolation prize to have photographs of you and your horse in front of a palace!
Although my trip to Kentucky was wonderful and Billy was healthy and ready to step up from his lightened workload when I got home, my jealous heart came creeping back. Speaking to my daughter, Taylor, on a trip to the grocery store, I couldn’t help but complain about not riding at Rolex this year.
After I had gotten it off my chest, I dismissed the whining session with a “…at least I made lemonade with those lemons I got.”
Taylor never likes to see me down and she is always quick to try to say something that may cheer me up. But what she said to me was a surprise.
She told me, “You have done much better than just make lemonade. You’re planting trees with your lemons with the babies you breed, training Stoney and Trevor (my off-the-track Thoroughbred projects), and all of your students. Who cares if you didn’t ride at Rolex? Your horse couldn’t go, so you didn’t go. You will go next year.”
Well, leave it to the 12-year-old to give me the wisdom I was looking for and a well-needed attitude adjustment. Although it didn’t totally relate to the actual complaint of not performing in Kentucky this year, she made a very valid point that you can always prepare for a better future.
My way of preparing for the future is very obvious to her—in my endless hours of scheming about bloodlines, or chattering on about how my wonderful race baby didn’t try to dump me in the liverpool, or my time spent helping my students achieve their goals. She saw no need for my complaining because of the great harvest that is before me. Truly, every lemon given represents another chance at planting a tree that will sustain your future.
With my improved frame of mind, we set off for the spring Galway Downs Horse Trials with a gaggle of 4-year old first-timer horses and students in tow. It’s always exciting to initiate new members to your team, but it was a particularly sweet Mother’s Day for me when Earl, Taylor, and I were all out on cross-country this past Sunday with our babies. Earl was aboard a stunning Holsteiner that we bred, Taylor riding her palomino Morgan/Welsh that we bred for her, and me on my adorable OTTB that is fresh off the turnip truck.
It seems that I have an entire orchard to look forward to enjoying.
Jennifer McFall started her riding career in Pony Club and showed her family’s Morgan horses on a regional and national level, winning many National and World titles in Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Dressage and Jumping. She and Dragonfire Kublakhan, a Morgan gelding bred by her family farm and her partner during her teenage years, are pictured on the cover of the Pony Club “A” manual and had an exciting career together. Her early years as a trainer/instructor earned her recognition on the national level and most recently the Morgan Horse Association honored her for her influence on the Morgan breed, particularly in the area of eventing.
Despite her success in the Morgan show arena, Jennifer has always loved eventing and remained an active competitor. Currently, she and High Times, a Holsteiner gelding she has brought up through the levels, have finished in the top 10 at multiple CIC and CCI*** events and successfully completed their first CCI**** together at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in 2014. Jennifer runs Dragonfire Farm, a sporthorse breeding, training and sales facility, in Wilton, Calif., alongside her husband and fellow eventer, Earl McFall and their daughter, Taylor.