California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

Heidi McRae
Dressage and eventing trainer moves to a
new private facility in Gilroy that features
top quality, horse friendly amenities.

by Kathleen Burke Jensen

Heidi McRae, a dressage and event trainer who for the last four years was based at Portola Valley Training Center, is relocating this month to Rancho Gavilan, the South Bay’s newest private dressage facility.

Rancho Gavilan offers a low-key horse friendly environment and a peaceful, private setting. Amenities include a covered arena with lights and mirrors, regulation outdoor dressage court, and great turnouts. “It’s very horse friendly,” Heidi explains. “I’m basically going from a 280 horse facility to a 14 horse facility with 20 acres. It’s quite low key, and the focus is more on space for the horses: 14’x14’ stalls with runs, safe turnouts, manicured trails for solid hill work so my horses get fit and stay fresh.”

Heidi started riding when she was just 4 years old. Her grandfather, an old horseman from the Salinas Valley who trained cutting horses, nurtured her natural passion. “The deal with my grandfather was that I had to be 10 years old before I earned a jumper,” Heidi says with a laugh. “Until then I was jumping his cutters.”

O’Neil performing at the 2007 Golden State Dressage Festival.

An A-rated Pony Clubber, Heidi rode with eventing veteran Dick Collins in Pebble Beach as a youth. During the early days of her corporate career in high tech she would gallop racehorses in the morning before heading to work. No matter what else was going on in her life, horses were always interspersed, including owning and operating ranches. A lot of her experience has been in retraining racehorses and she’s currently working with a 4-year-old Argentinean racehorse that she predicts is going to be a fabulous eventer. “I have one of everything in my barn,” Heidi says. Her 14.2hh Connemara-Appaloosa pony, aptly named Napoleon, competed at the Two Star level in eventing.

What attracted Heidi to dressage is the foundation work and how it improves a horse and rider’s basic balance and coordination. Done right, dressage is the essence of harmony and confidence. Olympian Hilda Gurney gave Heidi her first dressage background and her words had a major impact on Heidi’s horse future. “She told me that I would be crazy to continue to sacrifice my talent on eventing,” recounts Heidi. So, although she was seven months pregnant at the time, Heidi had the Third and Fourth level Horse of the Year.

Heidi left the corporate world four years ago, took an opening at the training center and she says she’s never looked back. She doesn’t mind taking green or “problem” horses into her training program. She had a Friesian who was a bolter and now he’s winning at First Level. “It matters to me that he’s quiet and happy,” Heidi says. “That’s more important than winning.”

Heidi riding Napoleon, 14.3 Appaloosa/Connemara at
Intermediate level, Twin Rivers.

Confidence Is Key

The McRae Stables training focus is on confidence for both the horse and rider. By focusing on building confidence, the overall experience is safe, positive and fun. Horsemanship and sportsmanship are also important elements of the McRae program.

Heidi’s philosophy is that the successful equine partnership meets the demands of riding by being happy, fit and having fun. She’s found that a positive experience is the product of an organized, consistent, well thought-out training routine, managed by an educated trainer.
Her peers and clients agree. “Heidi is a committed and talented horsewoman who understands the importance of dressage as a foundation in the horses’ education. As a result, her horses are confident, balanced, relaxed and they truly enjoy their work,” says dressage trainer Pierre Cousyn.

“The most remarkable and appealing aspect of McRae Stables is Heidi’s gift as a teacher and trainer,” comments client Ticien Sassoubre. “She quickly read my strengths and weaknesses as a rider and sized up the right way to handle me, as a person, through the difficult days of bringing my horse around. She is consistent and sensitive, deliberate about when she pushes me, without either underestimating or over-facing me. And she has done an equally impressive job of reading my horse, always looking for ways to help him be right, inventive and intelligent about how to redirect his enthusiasm, never frustrated or punitive. Horses love her, and go beautifully for her, and it’s easy to see why. I trust Heidi absolutely.”

For more information contact Heidi McRae at 408-859-8504 or via e-mail at or visit Rancho Gavilan is located at 3055 Roop Road in Gilroy.