I have interviewed Canadian dressage rider Tina Irwin and her husband Jaimey Irwin before. This year I was interested to speak with Tina about how she was approaching the road to Peru and the Pan American Games there this coming summer.
You have made the decision to move your horse Laurencio from the Grand Prix of the Big Tour down to the Small Tour of Prix St. George and the Intermediare 1. What was behind that decision?
We have had very high scores at the Small Tour level. Canada has to win a medal at the Pan American Games to qualify to send a team to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo. I felt it was important and as Laurencio is stronger now we should do it. It has gone very well so far this season in Florida but I don’t think we have had our best scores yet. Each season you have to work your way up again in terms of the judging.
I believe you rode for Canada in the Pan Am Games in Mexico in 2011.
Yes I did. I was riding a horse, called Winston, that one of my clients owned and she offered me the ride as she was going to have hip surgery. She said I should try for the Pan Ams with him. I was thrilled. Then I found out I was pregnant. I was also thrilled about that. So I didn’t ride for the whole pregnancy and Jaimey rode Winston. Our son Gavin was born in April. To qualify we had to have 4 qualifying scores. Jaimey qualified Winston first. Then I started back and did a show after only being back riding for one week. The first show was pretty rough. I thought I would be popping out of my tailcoat. I was pumping breast milk in the truck with two pumps! That first test I just steered Winston through and he did it all no thanks to me. But I did manage to qualify. In fact Jaimey and I were 1st and 3rd in the qualifying standings in Canada. Jaimey asked me if I wanted to go to Mexico. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “I did all this work and I had a baby! I’m going!” I felt a moment of guilt and then….I was going!. It is so rare to have the right horse at the right time. I made it happen with Jaimey’s help.
How long will you be down here in Florida competing?
We are on the Canadian team for the Nations Cup and that will be the end of our Florida season. We go home on March 30th. The qualifying period for the Pan Ams is difficult. You can qualify in 1* or 3* CDIs. The stars reflect the level of judging and in the 1* the Freestyle is not mandatory you just ride the two technical tests.In the 3* you must ride all three that is three days of competing versus 2.
That seems like a flawed concept where the horses do not have to compete head to head in the same classes. Will you also be competing at home in Ontario?
Yes there are lots of shows at home as well. I want to pick and choose as I don’t want to over show but I do want to support the Canadian shows so I will do a couple of shows. I will do the Ottawa show for sure.It is on the May long weekend and the show organization is great, the volunteers are phenomenal and the hotel is good. The show has a great vibe.
During the competition season here how to you give Laurencio a break?
After a show he will get one or two days off in the paddock. Then, in between shows, I ride him in the snaffle bridle and focus on stretching and not on the test movements. I work on getting him through and on the aids with transitions and I take him hacking. Something different. I don’t want to drill him in the 20 by 60 meter arena. A week before the test I get back into test mode, back into the double bridle and do it as I would in the test.
How do you manage the balancing act of career, competition, clients and family?
It’s crazy! The clients and owners make it possible to fund our time in Florida. There are a lot of key parts in making it work. First we have support from our families. Our parents help with the kids when we are in Florida.They come down and help us so we can do the competitions. We plan ahead for our shows and schedule for the times when our parents can come down to help us. While we are here Gavin, who’s 8, and Marlies, who will be 5 in April, are going to a Montessori type school. Our clients are very understanding and when we come to Florida they know that we are here for training but the priority is competition.They are very supportive and we try to do some lessons on days when we are able to fit lessons around our ride times in the show. There is a huge pressure to do everything.We have to ask ourselves “What are the priorities?” We ask that every day. We have a supportive team working with us too. Penny O’Neil is my groom and I am completely as ease with her and I trust her.She will have everything ready at the show. All I need to do is focus on the riding part of it. She has so much knowledge and experience. I have her as my right hand person while I’m off being a mother or a coach. We have to make sacrifices. We want to spend time with our kids. That is why we had kids.So we make time to do things together as a family.
Tell me about what happened a few weeks ago when you got injured?
I got kicked in the hand. Fortunately no bones were broken but with the bruising and swelling I could not ride. It was the day before I was to compete in a show. I said to Jaimey “why don’t you ride him? The entry has been paid so why not?” He hadn’t ridden Laurencio for some time but he did pretty well. He won the Prix.St.George with 71.324 and the Intermediare 1 with 73.706 and was 4th in the freestyle with a 73.208. Sometimes things happen for a reason. He felt some things when he was riding Laurencio that he had not realized when watching from the ground when I was riding him. Jaimey is my “eyes on the ground” and the things he learned riding Laurencio helped him to help me.
So this is your year to set your goal as getting to the Pan Ams. What are Jaimey’s goals?
He is aiming for Tokyo 2020 with his Grand Prix horse Donegal. We have aspirations of being on teams and medalling. Dreams! Dreams that turn into goals.
Thank you Tina and I wish you and Jaimey all the very best in realizing those goals.
UPDATE Tina rode in the Nations Cup and carried off a Hat Trick of three wins. She and Laurencio won the Prix St.George with 74.912, the Intermediare 1 with 73.588 and the Freestyle with 74.46. And…….the highest freestyle score from the five judges was a 78.5. Nice work Tina!!