Husband-And-Wife Team Jaimey And Tina Irwin Have Grown With Wellington’s Dressage Circuit
By Jennifer Wood
Canadian dressage riders Jaimey and Tina Irwin grew up riding in Ontario, Canada. As a husband-and-wife team, they have each been successful in the dressage world and are familiar faces at Wellington’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF).
Tina’s sister, Sarah, and Jaimey ended up on the same Young Riders championship team, and Tina connected with Jaimey immediately when they met at a horse show.
Their partnership began nearly 20 years ago, and a business relationship at Stoney Lake Equestrian began soon after.
Jaimey and Tina were both born into families involved with horses and quickly took to the sport themselves. Jaimey’s family ran the Irwin Inn resort on Stoney Lake in Lakefield, Ontario, where Jaimey got his start teaching lessons and leading trail rides. Tina’s mother, Ute Busse, was a successful dressage rider in her own right, so Tina competed at local shows around Ontario from an early age.
The Irwins first came to Wellington in 2006 after a client found the young couple a six-stall barn in Palm Beach Point to operate out of for the winter. They brought with them six horses to train and compete and lived in the barn’s small apartment. With no support staff, the Irwins did everything themselves.
“We knew about Florida, but we just didn’t think it was possible for us until a client pushed us and said, ‘You can do this,’” Jaimey recalled.
At the time, the Winter Equestrian Festival hosted both hunter/jumper and dressage competition, and additionally there were dressage shows at Littlewood Farm and the White Fences Equestrian Center. Wellington was still evolving toward what it is today. But even then, Wellington’s grandeur was a lot for the Irwins to take in. As Jaimey noted, it was “like Disneyland for horse people.”
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” Tina added. “Our first experience was very eye-opening.”
Wellington has grown dramatically in the past 15 years, and the Irwins’ careers and Stoney Lake Equestrian business have as well. They balance their own competition schedules with the training of clients and the marketing of sales horses. From Canada, they arrive with a full barn of 20 horses, their own as well as horses belonging to clients in training with them.
Being in Wellington allows the Irwins to simultaneously operate their business, continue toward their personal goals, and keep an eye out for new, promising equine talent. In addition, the mild Florida climate helps keep the Irwins and their horses in the best possible shape, giving them valuable months of making progress and advancing their careers.
AGDF itself provides seven international events during the three months of their stay in Wellington, giving them the opportunity to earn scores to be considered for championship teams.
“We wouldn’t be able to qualify for some of the major competitions like the World Cup Finals and the Pan American Games. I don’t think our careers would be where they are without Wellington,” Tina explained.
“It’s unfortunate we don’t have indoor competitions at home at the beginning of the year, and the deadline for qualification happens so early in the year. It’s not really possible most years to qualify only in Canada,” Jaimey added. “If you are trying for a team, then you do have to come to Florida. Without AGDF, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done.”
In 2011, Tina represented Canada at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, riding Winston and brought home a team silver medal.
In 2013, Jaimey qualified for the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he and Lindor’s Finest made their overseas debut representing Canada.
After a remarkable 2016 for Tina and her mount Laurencio, a then 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding the Irwins owned themselves, Equestrian Canada — the national governing body of equestrian sport — named Laurencio the Horse of the Year. True to his title, Laurencio and Tina achieved a world-record score at WEF in the small tour, a 78.708 percent. Then, in 2019, Tina and Laurencio competed at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where Canada won the team gold medal, and Tina took home the individual silver. With the exception of 2021 due to the pandemic, the Irwins have made Wellington their winter home every year since 2006.
Many riders from around the world have also realized the benefit of being in Wellington, and consequently, the equine professional community here has boomed. The community has become a great business resource for the Irwins, who rely on the connections they make in order to buy and sell horses both for themselves and for their clients.
Since the birth of their children, the Irwins have made Wellington a family affair. With the support and aid of their own parents, Tina and Jaimey have been able to bring Gavin, 11, and Marlies, 8, to Wellington every year. They recognize that traveling each winter has the potential to be jarring for their kids, so it was important that Wellington was a place the children could also enjoy. As a family, they are able to enjoy the beaches, nature preserves and other local activities such as visiting Lion Country Safari. Sometimes, however, it’s equally as nice to just be at home together by the pool.
“They feel really at home here,” Tina said. “We work hard all year to make Florida a go, so when we come here, we want to really immerse ourselves and enjoy the whole experience.”
For the 2022 AGDF circuit, Jaimey and Tina are very enthusiastic about the horses they have in their string. Tina has younger developing horses, as well as her trusted, longtime partner Fancy That, a 16-year-old Oldenburg mare. Tina and Fancy will be working on a strong return to international competition, after COVID-19 disrupted their plans to aim for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Jaimey has a coming-seven-year-old named Flirtfaktor, a horse he brought to Wellington for the invaluable experience. He also has Stiletto, a 14-year-old Oldenburg mare co-owned by Tina’s mother, Ute, and Ute’s friend, Patricia Scherrer, that Jaimey is competing in the national Grand Prix and building toward the international level.
Perhaps most exciting is Simsalabim, a 10-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Kimberly Wynd. While Simsalabim has not shown at the Grand Prix level yet, Jaimey competed her in small tour classes last year and Intermediare II at home in Canada. Based on what they have seen of the mare, Jaimey has his eyes set on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Amid all the moving parts, Jaimey and Tina have found it easy to work together, despite their kids telling them they have incompatible astrological signs. “There’s an exception to every rule,” Tina laughed.
Though they each have mostly their own horses and students to train, they are always collaborating to run a successful business and communicating about any issues.
“It’s great to have the support emotionally, and to have that other person to bounce ideas off of,” Tina said. “I feel lucky to have Jaimey as my business partner.”
“And I feel lucky to have Tina,” Jaimey added.
While luck may have played a part, it has been the Irwins’ hard work that has paid off in a successful business, dressage careers and the ability to make Wellington their winter home for the foreseeable future.
To learn more about the Irwins, visit www.teamirwindressage.com. For more information about the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.