Hallmark Farm Derby Days



After recovering from devastating fires and managing the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Australia’s Olympic eventing medallist Megan Jones and her husband James Deacon are gearing up for another busy season.

As well as aiming four horses towards World Championship qualifications, the couple are also preparing for some smaller events much closer to home - the Hallmark Farm Derby Days.

James said the idea for the Derby Days was born during a trip to the UK for the London 2012 Olympics, where the couple attended cross country schooling days that were unlike anything on offer in Australia.

“I just asked, why don’t we have this stuff in Australia?” James said “It’s been a really hard market to crack, but in the last eight months, it’s really stepped up.”

The cross-country focused event has grown from 90 entries in October to 135 at the final event in December, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

James began building fences at Kirby Park in Hahndorf before the couple bought Hallmark Farm near Adelaide and nearly 40 fences had been completed when a bushfire tore through the property in 2019, burning the course and forcing a rebuild. James was also fortunate to get his hands on old jumps from the Adelaide and Reynella events and, with a bit of TLC and reinforcement to the frames, these jumps now feature in the course.

It took an intense period of work after the bushfires but the cross country course at Hallmark Farm now boasts about 115 fences and the ground is maintained to the best possible standard. The facility is available for hire and sometimes the riders won’t even make it on their horses, opting instead to let them graze or lunge on the good surface.

“That’s exactly what we wanted” James said “Just having all the kids and the parents out on the grass… it’s been awesome.”



The Derby Days themselves consist of a cross country course with some show jumps included, with classes ranging from a 15cm pole on the ground to 115cm.

Watches are barred, meaning the winner has to jump clear and judge the pace to finish closest to the optimum time.

A lead line is allowed for the lower heights and there is also a ‘pony and parents’ class for adults and children to tackle the course together. 

Unlike many other event days, riders aren’t required to be members of Pony Club or Equestrian Australia to compete. James said keeping the event unofficial and low-stress meant riders of different backgrounds were coming out to have a go.

“All we want to do is have fun - we’re not playing for sheep stations. But there are prizes every month and there are prizes at the end of the Series” he said.

The support from sponsors has been exceptional and helped to give the events a special touch, he added.



The Derby Days are just one aspect of a diverse - and very busy - operation. As well as managing and riding their elite team of eventing horses, Megan spends several hours a day coaching and is in demand as a trainer for riders of all levels at clinics around Australia

Back at home, Hallmark Farm hosts riding camps and has a Bed & Breakfast, which saw a growth in demand when regional travel opened up in South Australia and is particularly popular with riders travelling from interstate to the major competitions


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James said the pandemic threw a fairly hefty spanner in the works and their income did take a hit, but there were also small silver linings, like more family time with their son, Finn.

“I just thought, this is probably the only time ever for the three of us to spend time a lot of time together,” James said.

“But I’m married to someone who’s driven to get up every day and go her hardest. She didn’t take it very well - in fact she hated it - but the rest of Australia was in the same boat.”

He recalled how the team pulled into the Ballarat Summer Horse Trials in Victoria in February 2021 after a seven-hour drive, only to have to turn around almost immediately and head home before a sudden Covid-imposed State border closure. Earlier this month they were luckier, with the EA Summer Horse Trials taking place and Megan winning the first CCI4* of the year

The couple are now preparing for a hectic season in 2022, with contingency plans in place for nearly every event that could involve competitions as far away as Queensland or Western Australia.

The Derby Days are also expected to keep growing in popularity, and James hopes to attract some high-profile riders from the eastern states to inspire the local competitors.

The first event of the year was held on January 30th and will run monthly until June with entries closing for the next Derby Day on 14th February. The series will start up again in spring and there will be a championship leaderboard for those that compete throughout the year.

For more information, visit Nominate or the Hallmark Farm Facebook page.

Article by Rebecca Nadge