Tina and Jaimey Irwin enjoy training Young Riders and Junior riders for competition and their success at polishing future dressage stars was evident during the recent winter show season in Wellington, Florida. In fact, the Canadian husband and wife team have coached riders at every North American and Junior Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) for the past six years and one of their students has medaled in either Team or Individual tests - or both.
“Florida is a huge bonus for our students who are able to make it happen,” Tina Irwin explained. “They are surrounded by the top competitions in North America and have the opportunity to compete most weekends, but they are also able to watch and learn and experience what goes on at the top level in our sport. This prepares them mentally and physically for their major competitions and raises the bar.”
One of Tina’s students, 18-year-old Young Rider Alexandra Meghji, is new to the Young Rider division this year but she has been training with her coach since she was 14 when she purchased her PRE gelding, Iliado 2, from the Irwins. While at the Junior Level, she and Iliado, captured the Team gold medal at the 2015 NAJYRC and Team silver and Individual bronze medals at the 2014 NAJYRC in Kentucky. With the Irwins’ help, she is succeeding in making the leap from Juniors to Young Riders.
In February at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) CDI5* in Wellington, she and her mother’s 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding Rigo ribboned in the Prix St. Georges Young Rider Team Test and the Young Rider Individual Test. Then at the Florida International Youth Championships during the AGDF10 CDI4*, Meghji and the gelding earned a second place finish with a 67.375 percent in the FEI Young Rider Freestyle and a sixth place finish in the FEI Young Rider PSG Team Test with a 67.368 percent.
“Training with Tina and Jaimey over the past four years has been both challenging and a lot of fun,” she said. “I have had the benefit of their rigorous coaching, their expertise in matching horses and riders, and their experience as top-level competitors. With Tina and Jaimey’s guidance, I have gone from showing First level locally to competing internationally at the FEI Junior level and winning gold, silver and bronze medals at NAJYRC with my horse Iliado. I am now campaigning my new horse, Rigo, at the Young Rider level, with hopes of representing Canada at NAJYRC this summer.”
Another talented Young Rider, Emily Ferguson, started working with the Irwins in the fall and is committed to reaching her goals and dreams. She relocated from her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to train with the Irwins in Ontario and has taken a yearlong hiatus from school to focus on her last year as a Young Rider and hopes to qualify for the NAJYRC. Like her coaches, she spent the winter season in Florida where she leased Sara Hellner’s 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood Wrazzmatazz with the goal of competing in the NAJYRC. After only six weeks into the lease, the 21-year-old from Winnepeg, Manitoba, scored a 66.974 percent for the blue ribbon in the Prix St. Georges (PSG) and notched scores of 65+ percent in the FEI Young Rider Individual and PSG Team Tests at the AGDF7 in February. Then in March, they significantly improved their scores to post a 70.395 percent and a 69.079 percent at the AGDF9 in the Young Rider Individual and PSG Team Tests. Emily has represented Canada at the Junior Rider level at the NAJYRC in the past on her Hanoverian gelding, Hidalgo.
Claire Ploughman, 19, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been one of the Irwins’ working students for the past eight months and said the job has been a rewarding experience.
"The work is challenging and the standard is very high, both in the saddle and in the horses' care but, in return for your efforts, Jaimey and Tina give 110 percent to help you to reach your goals,” she said. "This winter they gave me the incredible experience of joining them for their Florida season, allowing me to train and show on a leased horse as well as grooming at national and international shows. Under their correct and passionate tutelage, my riding, handling and management skills have progressed much more quickly than I could have ever imagined."
The Irwins helped matched her with Alexandra Meghji’s horse, Iliado 2, whom she leased for the season. The horse and rider won every First level test at three different national shows during the AGDF series with scores of more than 71 percent. She will continue competing with the gelding and will make the jump to Third level in Ontario in May.
Patrick Battison, 21, is from Sudbury, Ontario, and the Irwin’s other working student. Like Claire, he found that working with them was an unparalleled learning experience. “They have taught me a lot of important horsemanship skills and I have been privileged to ride several of their excellent horses,” he said. “As an aspiring professional, working with Tina and Jaimey has taught me a lot about the equestrian business, for which I am grateful.”
The Irwins’ client Susan Jones generously offered him the ride on her 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Connaisseur, at the AGDF10 National show and he and Connaisseur took home first place wins in both their Third Level classes with a 67.879 percent and a 66.212 percent. His long-term goal is to compete his own horse, Havana, a 9-year-old Oldenburg mare, in the Under 25 Grand Prix.
The Irwins expect nothing less than dedication and hard work from their working students and said Claire and Patrick are true examples of this. “They have to work for their training and learn all aspects of the horse industry, not just the riding, but also the very important aspect of top quality care and how a training and sales business runs on a daily basis,” Tina said.
Other former students of the Irwins who have medaled at the NAJYRC include Maura Osullivan, Megan Lane and Camille Frechette. The 2016 NAJYRC will be held in Colorado, a long journey from Ontario, but the Irwins look at it as part of a learning curve and another element of competition they can teach their students.
“We have a very strong Junior and Young Rider program,” Tina said. “We focus on the correct basics to build a solid foundation. The students who have been the most successful in our program are the ones who trust us completely and listen to our advice and expertise. It is important that the parents are 100 percent on board and part of the process.”
The Irwins have returned to their facility at Stoney Lake Equestrian in Stouffville, Ontario, www.stoneylakeequestrian.ca, and will be heading to some of their favorite Canadian shows including the Ottawa Dressage Festival CDI in mid-May, the shows held at Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave, home of the 2015 Pan American Games, and the competitions at the Royal Canadian Riding Academy, located just 10 minutes from their farm. These shows are all qualifiers for the Young Riders aiming for the NAJYRC.
“We believe that it’s important to be competing at the Florida shows, but it is also very important to support the competitions at home to continue the growth of dressage in Canada,” Tina Irwin said. The Irwins appreciate the value of support and know they couldn’t be bringing up their stable full of talented riders and horses without the help of many generous people and sponsors including Team Irwin Supporters Group, Rocket One LLC, Mary Ellen Horgan, Kim Wynd, Mike Bengough, Sally Carlton, Equine Lux, Brooks Feed Store, Kentucky Performance Products, Schleese Saddlery, Equinety and ZAP Productions.
Their supporters know that the Irwins expect dedication from themselves and their riders. “Our goal in taking on the youth is to build a solid foundation and basic skills that enable these riders to become independent thinkers,” Tina said. “General horsemanship is also encouraged and instilled into our students. They must be able to know how to fix a problem and ride their horses with thoroughness and not just learn the tricks.”