California Riding Magazine • November, 2009

Windfall Farm
Gry McFarlane celebrates nearly
30 years of hunter/jumper success.

Gry McFarlane started the extremely successful hunter/jumper training business, Windfall Farm, nearly 30 years ago. In that time she has sent riders and horses to the top of the sport in the Jumper, Equitation and Hunter divisions. For much of that span, Gry partnered with Duncan McFarlane, who earned a spot as an alternate on the 2004 New Zealand Olympic show jumping team with a horse they brought along together, Eezy.

The couple parted company earlier this year, but the personal split has not interfered with Gry’s dedication to her students, their horses and her profession. With the help of show rider Carol Wright and Molly Chappell, “They haven’t missed a beat,” says Morgan Caplane, a top AO Jumper rider in the barn for the last two years. “The horses have not even paused in terms of their improvement.”

The Windfall mission remains the same: creating individualized programs for horses and riders in a way that fosters both horsemanship and enjoyment of the process. The ribbons and trophies, of which there are many, are a happy byproduct of that mission.

In addition to being Duncan’s ground person and promoter throughout his international ascent, Gry has a long list of successes at the national and regional levels. Her coaching resume is full of NorCal, USET, WCE and CPHA finals winners. In the last year alone, Gry has sent horse/rider combinations into everything from the Young Jumper Championships to Grand Prix. The newest feather in her cap is having served as chef d’equipe for the NorCal squad at the Spruce Meadows Prix des Nations team this past summer. Four Windfall riders qualified for the team, including Gry’s 11-year-old son, Ian, a superstar in the 1.1 meter division with his Childrens Jumper Fortuna, owned by Simone Coxe.

Perhaps the best credential a trainer can have is how many former students have now joined them as fellow equestrian professionals. Gry has several, including Ned Glynn, Jeff Fields, Denize Borges, Stephanie Simmonds, Samantha Imperato, Amy Bissell, Kelly Maddox and Lindsay Archer.

Not A Softie

Gry didn’t accomplish all that by being a softie. She is described by her students as a tough taskmaster, but never a mean one. “I try to be constructive,” the trainer acknowledges. “I don’t think people learn through a negative approach.”

She prefers systems, the most fundamental of which are aimed at developing a solid position for the rider. “If the rider can maintain a solid position, the horses tend to follow them,” she explains.

“Gry is all about giving riders a system for solving their problems,” explains Caplane. When she came to Windfall nearly two years ago, Caplane had “seen some big jumps and had some show mileage, but I had not developed a style or a system in my riding,” the client recalls. “Gry creates situations that require you to have a system. That way the solution develops organically, rather than being forced upon you. You learn to employ the techniques you need to solve the problem.”

Shortly after Caplane arrived at Windfall, she purchased Whiskey Girl. With the talented mare came Caplane’s first opportunity to experience Gry’s systematic approach. “Through consistent work on my position and technique, we turned me and Whiskey Girl into a successful team.”

Caplane had qualified with veteran campaigner Eezy for the 1.4 meters team at Spruce Meadows this summer, but wound up riding her 5-year-old Quijano on the 1.1 meter team. The Calgary competition attracts the best horses and riders in the world and can be intimidating even for accomplished equestrians. But Caplane felt perfectly prepared. That was thanks in large part to her trainer’s tendency to make things tougher at home than they will be at shows. The very technical course at Spruce Meadows included a scopey triple-bar, a test of power, followed by a “skinny” jump, a test of the rider’s ability to quickly reel in that power and redirect it. “At home, Gry had us practicing over a big, powerful jump, to just a box on the ground with no standards,” Caplane relays. “We needed control and rideability (at Spruce Meadows) and we’d been practicing exactly that at home.”

Happy Horses

Several Windfall students comment on the happiness of the horses in the program. Some of that likely comes from generous turn-out time in large shady paddocks. A lot of it surely comes from Gry’s conviction that the day-to-day process of improving horsemanship should never be dull. “If I’m feeling bored, I’m sure my riders and horses are too,” she says. “That’s why I always try to keep it fresh, interesting and worthwhile.” New courses every week, with new and challenging exercises, are part of the Windfall routine.

She doesn’t go in for over lunging horses to make them easier to ride. “I want my riders to be able to get on a fresh horse and know how to cope with it,” she says. “I’m best with riders that enjoy the process, not just the results.”

The trainer has a great track record in horse-rider matchmaking, though she laughingly denies any knowledge of how she acquired that gift. It might help, she admits, that she picks good horses to start with. “Whenever I’m looking for a new equitation horse, for example, I try to find one that’s better than the best horse in our barn already,” she explains. Even on a budget. “I always ask, ‘Is this the best horse I can find for this price?’”

Photo: Paul Mason Photography

Having arrived at Windfall without a horse, Jenna Hahn quickly benefited from Gry’s matchmaking skills. Jenna now looks forward to moving her coming 7-year-old Cicero Z, who she purchased as a 4-year-old, into the Modified Amateur Jumpers next year. Although consistently great show ring results were what drew Hahn to Windfall, what she fell in love with, was the atmosphere at the barn. “Gry is very positive,” says Hahn, “You’ll never hear her say a mean thing or talk down to her students.” Windfall’s riders, Hahn adds, are always out to win. “But if you don’t win yourself, you want it to be someone else from
the barn.”

“I love the atmosphere here because it is such a positive group,” Hahn continues. “Gry creates so much fun around the horses. Instead of it being something to stress or worry about, she creates an incredibly competitive program in which we all have fun along the way. It’s pretty rare.”

Experience Counts

Gry began teaching riding when she was 18 years old. Growing up in Northern California, she rode with, then worked for, Patty Ball. As an amateur, she dominated the Equitation and Hunter ranks, especially with her horse, Limelight. After working for Ball, she moved into a post in Southern California with the late Victor Hugo Vidal and Dale Harvey. Later, she rode for Jessica Bradley’s big sales operation in Rancho Murieta. Gry went out on her own with Windfall Farm around 1980 and hasn’t looked back.

She credits veteran jumper coach Judy Martin with helping her refine her systematic approach to training riders and horses, and she encourages her students to clinic with top professionals. Richard Spooner will make his annual clinic visit to Windfall this month and Mandy Porter and Eddie Macken have lent their expertise to Windfall’s clientele.

The show schedule at Windfall is relatively sane by A circuit standards. A carefully chosen monthly competition is typical throughout the school year and twice monthly shows are the norm in the summer. “Whenever possible, we try to show as a whole group,” Gry explains. “It’s never my intent to take five students to a show and leave 15 behind.”

“My clients are so wonderful and supportive of each other and of me and Ian,” Gry concludes appreciatively. “They are our extended family and we feel very blessed to have them.” Luckily, the feeling is mutual and sure to deepen over time as the Windfall Farm tradition continues into its third decade of happy and successful horsemanship.

For more information on Windfall Farm and Gry McFarlane, visit www.windfallfarminc.com or call 707-864-3332.