Raised in Texas, in the heart of horse country, Laura McEvoy, trainer and owner of Idylwild Farms in Sonoma County, can clearly recall her horse-crazy youth and the passion for three-day eventing that spurred her into becoming a professional. After moving to California to attend UC Santa Cruz, Laura eventually moved up to Santa Rosa to train with Yves Sauvignon at Oakridge Training Stables. Eventually her skills landed her a position as assistant trainer to Yves.
It was at Oakridge that Laura matured her skills as a rider and trainer, developing her dressage work and learning how to “put a truly strong foundation on a young horse.” She competed at Advanced Level on the West Coast and was the Advanced Reserve Champion in USCTA Area VI on her horse, Mickey Finn and Intermediate Champion on her horse Maui. But the most important lesson Laura learned at Oakridge was the value of a “happy barn.” When Laura went on to found Idylwild Farms she never forgot the significance of a positive attitude and a friendly barn atmosphere.
After leaving Oakridge, Laura continued her jumping training with hunter/jumper trainer, Mary Dowdall, who really stressed the importance of footwork, rhythm and jumping style. Laura jokes that those who remember her and Maui’s “run and jump no matter what” method greatly appreciate this.
Laura also continued her dressage training with Gwen Stockebrand. “You never know it all with horses,” says Laura. “As I continue to learn, I can further improve my own teaching and training for my students.”
These days Laura spends more time on the sidelines as a trainer than in the tack as a competitor, but she couldn’t be happier. “My farm is my family. I’ve watched the kids grow up and I’m very proud of their accomplishments. My students don’t have to show—real achievement is about more than blue ribbons. The real reward is watching my students grow; watching them learn from their mistakes and fixing them at their next event or lesson. I can drive my students a little crazy, especially the kids, because I believe in really developing the basic skills and that takes time. But once you have it, you’re really grounded and that builds true confidence. Once you have that base, you get to that point; both horses and riders will start to move up by leaps and bounds.”
While Laura is proud of each and every one of her students, she currently has three that are setting the eventing ranks ablaze in Area VI.
Amber Pearson and Buddy
Eleven-year-old Amber Pearson is the youngest of Laura’s dynamic trio. She began taking lessons at Idylwild Farm three years ago. A natural athlete, a soccer and softball star when not riding, her natural sense of balance and coordination put her heads above everyone else in her class. But Laura says it was Amber’s love for horses and her kind treatment of them that really made her stand out.
Laura suggested Amber lease one of Idylwild’s lesson horses, Buddy, a 15 h, 12-year-old Morgan/Quarter Horse mix. Buddy was one of two cart horses Laura found in a backyard in Sonoma. The plan was to develop him into a show horse, but at his first show Buddy got loose and ran into the arena. It took six people to catch him. With some additional training he eventually made it into Idylwild’s lesson program, but he was not happy as a school horse.
“Amber would get on him and Buddy’s eyes would go soft,” says Laura. “When I would get on him to try to school him, he would just get mad. But for Amber he fell right in line. It was just a perfect match.” That summer Amber and Buddy took part in Idylwild’s advanced camp, where students train intensely in cross-country for five days at Eventful Acres. Amber had never jumped a cross-country fence before, but by the end of camp she was hooked.
A few weeks later the pair took part in their first three-day event and won their Elementary division. The pair has now moved up to Beginner Novice and in May they competed at Woodside, winning their division with a score of 37.9. Amber also qualified for the California Dressage Society (CDS) Junior Championships.
“We told her she had to do the dressage to do the eventing, and man she got very serious. She has only been focusing on the dressage for a year or so, and she already qualified for the CDS Championship. That is just the kind of person Amber is. She is super positive, and she never complains. For example, her softball finals coincided with a horse show; so she played in the finals, then her mom rushed her over to the show. We threw tack on the horse, schooled for five minutes and went into the ring. She is a go getter!”
Lisa Levine and the Preliminary Pony
Lisa Levine joined Idylwild’s program in 2004 when she moved to California from Ohio. Lisa has a real 9 to 5 job to support her passion. In addition, she subs for Laura and has a weekend clientele of her own at the Idylwild Riding School. When she isn’t busy earning money for her horse habit, Lisa and her pony, Made Ya Look, a.k.a Milo, a 12-year-old, Morgan/Arabian gelding, are busy defying the laws of gravity at three-day events.
“He is just an amazing pony,” exclaims Laura. “The pair (Lisa and Milo) is just amazing. Lisa is very serious about showing and very diligent. She worked hard to develop him and give Milo a good foundation. When they came to me they were competing at Novice, but it wasn’t long before they went on to Training Level and now they are competing in Preliminary.”
At Woodside this September the pair won their Preliminary division with a score of 37.8 and a score of 28.8 in dressage; the best dressage score in their division. She also won her first show at Preliminary Level at Ram Tap back in April. Due to Milo’s success Lisa’s stablemates have dubbed him the, “Prelim Pony,” and they all yell “pony power” during her cross-country phase.
“The funny thing about her first win at Preliminary was I hadn’t done the Ram Tap course in a while, and accidentally started schooling them over the Intermediate course. Lisa looked at me like, ‘these fences are kind of big,’ but Milo is very bold. Right now they are working on the technical stuff, and in another year they should be ready to move up. Lisa isn’t in a hurry.”
Samantha Eachus and Cakes and Ale
It’s no surprise, with Laura’s emphasis on developing a strong foundation, that her students shine in the dressage; and Samantha Eachus has been a student of Laura’s since the early years of Idylwild Farms. Samantha began focusing on dressage when a ligament injury prevented her horse from jumping. But after five years she longed to event again, and together with Laura, they began the hunt to find her a young prospect.
“It was a fluke that led us to Felix (Cakes and Ale),” explains Laura. “I had started him and put the first 90 days on him. The woman I sold him to ended up purchasing an experienced eventer shortly after she bought him. After eventing the schoolmaster she decided a young horse wasn’t what she wanted. We were ecstatic that Sammy was able to bring Felix back to Idylwild.”
Cakes and Ale is a 6-year-old Anglo-Trakehner, and while he is still green, he is showing a lot of promise. At the end of this season Samantha took him to show at Starr Vaughn with one of Laura’s assistants, Emily Giammona, who specializes in dressage. At the show she qualified Felix for the CDS Junior Championship in just one show. The very next weekend the pair competed at the Championships, earning a reserve champion in Training Level, with a score only one percent behind the champion.
Samantha only competed in one three-day event this year at Eventful Acres. They had one run-out, but went clear in the show jumping and earned a score of 23.5 in the dressage. It was the lowest dressage penalty score of the entire show.
“Sammy’s goal is to continue Felix’s training and move up the levels at recognized shows. While Samantha is serious about her riding, she is also very into the performance arts and will probably be famous one day,” says Laura. She was recently accepted into the illustrious Art Quest program.
“Technically I run a training barn, but all that means is my students take at least one lesson a week and have some sort of plan for their horse. We are serious about proper training of horse and rider, but not hardcore into just winning at shows. Some of my students, like Lisa, Amber and Samantha, compete at recognized shows, others enjoy the schooling shows, and some just ride for enjoyment. Really it is all about personal accomplishments and a happy horse. Those are the ones that truly matter.”
For more information on Idylwild Farms visit www.idylwildfarms.com, call 707-546-4177 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.