Dressage Young Guns Blaze Under Florida Sun

by K. McGregor

It's an annual ritual for a number of Canadian riders who escape the snow and cold during the winter months for the warmer weather in Florida. Top notch facilities, world class horses and riders, all offered with the bonus of palm trees and warm sun. What can beat that?

The Florida show circuit this year was the start of a very busy and what will undoubtedly be a successful show season for a number of young Canadian dressage riders.

Husband and wife dressage duo Jaimey & Tina Irwin brought five horses to Florida for their first winter season competing in the Sunshine state. With her longtime partner Amicelli, Tina Irwin enjoyed a 4th place finish in the Grand Prix at the Wellington Dressage Classic on a score of 63.54%. They then went on to a 2nd place finish in the Grand Prix Freestyle with 68.58%. The next month, the pair enjoyed their best Grand Prix score to date when they were awarded a 65.8%. The following day they won the FEI Test of Choice class.

"Amicelli is getting stronger and better in each Grand Prix," explains Tina, who has worked with the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (owned by Wendy Beresford and Ute Busse) for the past 6 years. "It has been great being able to go to a show every weekend if you want to."

Jaimey also enjoyed great results in the competition ring with Pat Scherrer's Primo Sony. Highlights included a 64.75% in the Prix St Georges and 5th place in the Intermediaire 1 at the March 22-25 Wellington show.

"It is great to now return home to Ontario having had a head start on competing," says Jaimey, who is quick to point out that this year's trip to Florida was made possible thanks to their clients and sponsors. "The winter season is such a long one in Canada and the climate doesn't allow for competitions in the winter. By coming to Florida, we feel a lot more prepared going into the show season this spring."

Although wintering in Florida is an expensive excursion, both Tina and Jaimey felt it to be an important step in order to get more exposure competing among American riders as well as a variety of international judges. They were also able to benefit from the expertise of their regular trainer, Holger Muenstermann, who traveled from Germany in order to spend a week training the young couple.

For fellow Canadian dressage rider Chris Von Martels, 2007 was his second consecutive winter season in Wellington. "The winter season in Florida is a fantastic place to be for an upcoming Canadian rider like myself", notes Von Martels, who has experienced success at the Young Rider levels before moving on to Senior Advanced competition. "The level of competition here is excellent, and I take full advantage of being surrounded by such a large group of internationally accomplished riders and world class horses."

Von Martels spent a large portion of his time in Florida training with his coach, Canadian Olympic rider Ashley Holzer who has made Florida her home in the winter months for the past 12 years. His current list of show horses include Korenbloem's Charmeur and Floris, both owned by long time sponsor Dr. Patricia Tomney.

Von Martels was pleased with the solid scores Korenbloem's Charmeur, with whom he is currently long listed with Dressage Canada, achieved in both the Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I, and is focusing his training for the Grand Prix ring. Meanwhile Floris, an 8-year-old gelding by Florestan, was introduced to the Advanced division for this first time. With a score of 70% at the Zada WEF Dressage Classic, this pair has a promising future ahead of them.

Denielle Gallagher is another young Canadian dressage rider starting to make her mark in the competition ring. Gallagher is also a student of Ashley Holzer, having trained with Ashley and managing her barn for the past 5 years. She enjoyed great success in Florida last year aboard Jornello, having the distinct honour of winning the very first time she competed in a Prix St. Georges class. Gallagher proved that this win was not a fluke when the pair continued to put in strong performances and ending the 2006 competition season by winning the USDF year end award for the Prix St. Georges division. Wow!

This year, Gallagher's partner is Gallaway's Abrikos, a 16-year-old Russian warmblood stallion purchased in November. This new partnership are testing the waters in the Grand Prix ring, and already posting scores of over 60%.

"Coming to Florida is a wonderful experience," says the 27-year-old Gallagher, whose equestrian pursuits started in her native province of New Brunswick where she competed in Pony Club, moved on to Eventing and finally settling on Dressage. "You not only have a chance to compete in open and CDI competitions all in a close area over a period of 4 months but you also have a chance to compete with some of the top riders in the country."

When talking to each of these riders about their recent Florida experience, one moment stands out for all four: the 2007 PhelpsSports.com Challenge of the Americas Presented by Collecting Gaits Farm.

Held at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, the fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation attracted more 3,000 spectators.

The Gold Medal winning Can/Am SSG Gloves Team was comprised of show jumpers Eric Lamaze and Ainsley Vince, and dressage riders Shannon Dueck, Chris Von Martels, Denielle Gallagher, Tina Irwin, Jaimey Irwin, Daphne Haagmans, Lisette Milner and Suzanne Dansby Phelps.

Canadian Olympic Bronze medalist Eva Marie Pracht was the team's quadrille coach and choreographer while Applause Dressage's Karen Robinson put together a high energy medley of tunes that included songs from the movie "The Full Monty".

"It was a lot of fun riding on the Polo Field under the lights at night," remembers Tina Irwin. "We really practiced a lot and worked hard to make the quadrille a success. Evi put a lot effort into making us look good!"

All six horses wore bright pink polos and sported pink and white streamers through their tails. Browbands were also pink and Canadian equestrian apparel company EcoGold generously donated saddlepads which featured the breast cancer ribbon in sparkly pink. SSG Gloves also provided all riders with a pair of their "Riding Gloves For Hope", which support Breast Cancer research. And just to show that Canadians are not as reserved as their reputation would suggest, Jaimey and Chris gave the crowd (and the judges!) a surprise at the end of the performance when they took their hats off for the final salute, and exposed their pink hair. Now that's team spirit!

"The Quadrille is definitely a highlight of the Florida scene," says Von Martels. "It is such a fun competition, a great opportunity for the Canadians in the south to truly show off our sense of spirit and enthusiasm, and all for a great cause!"

With another Florida winter show season wrapped up and in the record books, these four young Canadian riders are now back at their respective home bases to prepare for the regular competition season. But their experiences and successes from the winter have undoubtedly paved the way for even more to come this summer ...... although likely without the shocking pink hair.