One lesson hooked Rancho Santa Fe resident on riding horses

Jason McArdle celebrates his victory on Elicole after winning the $25,000 Markel Insurance 1.45 Meter Grand Prix in September in San Juan Capistrano.
(McCool Photography)

Jason McArdle recently won coveted show-jumping title


Jason McArdle knows to the day when his love of riding horses began.

“The day I started riding was the day Challenger blew up. ... Unfortunately, it was a very sad day,” said the Rancho Santa Fe resident.

He was alluding to the national tragedy when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart and disintegrated on Jan. 26, 1986, killing all seven crew members.

On that day, McArdle’s mother had paid for his younger brother to take a riding lesson at a stable owned by the Connecticut prep school where his grandfather taught.

When learning that her younger son was not old enough to get on a horse, she offered the lesson to Jason, who was 6 at the time.

“I didn’t have any interest in horses as a young kid up until that day,” McArdle said. “And that was my whole world after that. After that one lesson, everything changed.

“I just really liked it. I can’t explain why. I just know that I wanted to keep doing it.”

To pay for lessons, he worked at stables in the area where he grew up near Palm Beach, Florida, which led to opportunities as a rider, including show horse competitions.

“I was good at what I did and people kept asking me to ride their horses and ride their ponies, and show them here and show them there,” said McArdle during an interview at the ranch off Via de Santa Fe where he and his wife, Susan, train horses and teach riding to children and adults.

“It turned into a career,,” McArdle said. “It’s the only thing I’ve done to make a living.”

McArdle said he came to Southern California about 15 years ago on the recommendation of some friends who lived in the area.

“I never would have thought I would have ended up in California for sure, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else at the moment,” he said. “The horse culture’s great. There are some really nice shows that we don’t have to travel too far to get to.”

Jason McArdle executes a jump on Elicole during a show horse competition.
(Captured Moment Photography)

In a career distinguished by numerous prizes in show jumping and hunting categories, McArdle notched another achievement in September by winning the $25,000 Markel Insurance Grand Prix for show jumping at the Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano.

Characteristically, McArdle expresses more excitement for the performance of the horse he was riding than he did for his own role.

“It was pretty special because I’ve had that horse since she was 4 years old,” he said of Elicole, who is now 10. “She’s been a winner the whole way. She’s a trier. She always gives 110 percent whenever she goes in the ring.

Elicole is owned by Fairbanks Valley Farm, with whom the McArdles partner.

“This wasn’t one of the bigger prizes I’ve won, but on this particular horse, it’s the biggest class she’s won,” Jason McArdle said. “And it’s the first horse I’ve had from a baby-baby to win her first Grand Prix, and that’s very rewarding. This horse I’ve had from the very beginning of her career ‘til now and it’s even more rewarding to do that.”

Fairbanks Valley Farm co-owner Pam Buie has been a firsthand witness to Jason McArdle’s prowess in managing equine athletes.

“Jason has been working with our barn for about 14 years,” she said in an email. “He is especially talented with developing young horses. I have never seen him get rough or angry with them. The horses develop confidence and trust with Jason.”

Elicole’s success is the blueprint for the horse training aspect of McArcle Equestrian.

“We specialize in buying young horses and bringing them along,” Jason McArdle said of the Fairbanks farm and McArdle Equestrian. “We’ve had a lot of success doing it together with them as owner and me as a rider.”

The other major thrust of the McArdles’ work is instructing aspiring riders, with a particular emphasis on youth.

“It’s fun and rewarding to bring the young kids along,” McArdle said. “Some of the kids that my wife has been teaching, she has brought them along from their first riding lesson to showing at some of the big horse shows. It’s so rewarding.”

Meanwhile, Jason and Susan have their own children to raise — a 3-year-old old and 3-month-old.

When talking about the couple’s commitment to teaching youth riders, Jason McArdle recalled his pathway to becoming a professional.

“I was lucky that people saw talent in me,” McArdle said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s why I want to help kids — to pay it back, because if (people) didn’t help me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”