Jaimey and Tina Irwin may not be dancing in the stars like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the film La La Land but they were dancing with the Friday Night Stars at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. During the interval of the CDI5* Grand Prix Freestyle competition Jaimey and Tina entertained us with a Pas de Deux. Two beautiful horses, two talented riders dancing under the lights. Two horses that looked happy to be out dancing and two riders enjoying being their dance partners. It made my evening.
The next day I spoke with Jaimey and Tina at the barn where they are located for the Florida winter season. When I arrived they were mucking out stalls because that’s what you do if you are a dancing star and a horse person and your assistants have days off or back injuries. Ontarians, like myself, Tina and Jaimey come to train and compete for the winter in the Wellington area. As professionals, it is imperative that they come to compete as this is the chance to compete in front of the best judges in the world and compete against the best riders. If any rider outside of Europe wants to be taken seriously or be considered as a candidate for representing their country at the World Equestrian Games or the Olympics, they must compete in the Florida season.
Tina and Jaimey both have horses that they hope to bring up to the Grand Prix level. Jaimey has already been having success at the Small Tour level in the Adequan Global Dressage Festival with his horse Donegal V. He hopes during the season to move this horse up to the Intermediare 2 and if that goes well to compete at the Grand Prix before the end of the season. “He has lots of talent,” Jaimey says. “But I want to proceed at the right pace and not push until he is strong enough.”
Tina has a lovely mare, Fancy That, who she describes as “an overachiever”. While this may sound wonderful it is a delicate balance between achieving success and over facing the horse. “She is an Alpha mare and I have learned to be very diplomatic with her and I know that she needs time and confidence.”
Jaimey and Tina are looking to the future for the World Equestrian Games 2018 and Olympics 2020 with these two horses. But they will not push either horse; first and foremost for the long term mental and physical health of the horse and secondly because when you bring a horse out at the top level you want to be in a good position to make the best possible impression with the judges. That first impression is a very important one! If the judges response is poor or even lukewarm it is a struggle to change their minds later on.
The Irwins have 18 horses in Wellington for the winter season; four full time students with their own horses, three working students and students who come down for long weekends or short breaks when they can to ride and compete. For the students who are not here full time the Irwins ride and train their horses when the owners cannot be here.
This is a full-time job. And guess what else? Jaimey and Tina have two young children; Gavin who will be six in April and Marlies who is three. Once we started talking about their children both Jaimey and Tina were all smiles and both were eager to tell me about the children. “Gavin is the sensitive one.” “Marlies is a strong personality.” “If Gavin is crying Marlies says: ‘Gavin stop crying!’. “But Gavin is a protective older brother.” “At the preschool, he takes her by the hand and walks her to her classroom and then gives her a hug.”
What will happen when they are older and in school? Will it be disruptive to have to leave home in Ontario and come to a different school in Florida for three months?
“Private schools are very expensive,” Tina told me. “And we are not fond of the idea of having a tutor for them as they would miss out on the social aspect of having friends. I have heard that they can enroll in a public (state) school so we will look into that.”
Both Jaimey and Tina feel it is very important for the family to stay together. “This is just what we do,” Jaimey says. “We go to work in Florida for three months of the year.” Tina also thinks there can be advantages for their children. “They can learn to be adaptable. That’s a good life skill.”
On their days off Tina and Jaimey make sure to devote their time to their children and do things together as a family, such as going to the beach, that do not involve horses. They are also strict about time spent with the children after work hours are over. Unless there is an emergency they do not take texts or emails until the children are in bed and even then, they discourage their students from contacting them in the evening.
And what about their own training? Who do these two professionals train with? Two years ago, when their coach Holger Munstermann retired, they started to train with Dutch trainer Ton de Ridder. “He comes twice a year and we are hoping to get him to come three times a year.” Jaimey tells me. And in between? This married couple help each other. Now this is something that could go not so well with some couples. But with this couple it seems to work very well.
“I know my weaknesses and limitations. It would be silly to have a big ego. I want to improve.” Tina tells me.
“We want to be the best we can be and we want the other person to be the best they can be.” This is how Jaimey sees it. “We can help each other, so why not and we have Ton to keep us on track.”
International competitors, trainers, teachers, coaches, parents and married couple! It is a busy life. But when I look at these two I can see they are thriving with it. Just like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who are so good together on screen, Jaimey and Tina are good together professionally and personally in real life.
And here is the You Tube video of the dancing stars!