Jennifer Tirrell recently signed on as the manager and head trainer at Chicago’s newest hunter/jumper facility, Springfield Stables, and looks forward to bringing her years of experience to this fantastic full-care boarding and training facility.
An experienced rider and trainer, Tirrell first began riding at the age of six when her great aunt, Mary O’Mara bought her riding lessons for Christmas. “I just kind of got bit by the bug,” Tirrell smiled. “I really liked the horses and learning how to do everything.”
Tirrell made her way up as a working student and through that process, also worked her way up through the levels in various barns. By the time Tirrell was 15, also with the help of O’Mara, she had acquired a sponsor. “Susan Perrins was able to help a kid who couldn’t afford to ride and be at the top of the game without it,” she described. Perrins and Tirrell first worked together with a horse named Smooth Sailing. Tirrell and the 15 year old, 15.2 hand Smooth Sailing qualified for the Penn National in the Small Junior Hunters. They also ended the season as New Jersey Horse Shows Association Year End Champion and on the top of the Zone II standings. Smooth Sailing was retired after their year together. Perrins then bought sale horses that Tirrell got to ride until they were eventually sold.
Tirrell rode many horses and had help from quality trainers through her junior career. “I rode with Jack Benson at Briarwood Farm in New Jersey. He gave me a lot of opportunity riding sale horses that he had. Then I moved over to Emil Spadone. I was a working student for him as well as having the sponsor and really had the opportunity to ride a lot of different horses at that point,” Tirrell noted. “In the process, I also worked with Leo Conroy because Leo and Emil were working together at the time. I really got a lot out of both trainers. Both had different teaching techniques and both focused on different things. A lot of what I learned from them is still with me today.”
Tirrell had the opportunity to compete at many of the country’s top competitions through her junior career including Devon, Indoors, Maclay and Medal Finals, the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and Lake Placid. She had spent most of her junior years riding and showing lease or sale horses. Then Perrins bought one horse for her to compete in the equitation.
“In my last junior year, Mrs. Perrins bought a horse for me named Walkman. He was really cool and he went on to work with a number of equitation riders,” Tirrell explained. “When I had him he was new to the scene, and I think I was his first equitation rider. I am friends with a lot of girls that rode him after me and they all have fond memories of him. Walkman really holds a special place in my heart.”
Following her last junior year, Tirrell rode at Hunterdon Farm in New Jersey and worked with Cynthia Hankins. “I learned a lot from Cynthia and I had fun. It was a little different not being a junior anymore, but that summer is when I basically turned professional because it was the only way that I could get rides,” she said.
Tirrell’s first professional ride was a chestnut mare named Advantage. Advantage was a Thoroughbred owned by Barbara Lovell and her daughter Kerry Hazleton. While attending Lynchburg College, Tirrell rode and taught at different barns and was then offered a job by Janie Weber at Stepping Stone Farm in Ridgefield, CT, upon graduating. She took the job and worked for Weber, riding, teaching and assisting in managing USEF rated horse shows. After Stepping Stone, Tirrell worked with Sue Lyman in Middleburg, VA, at West Riding Farm.
“That was something totally different for me,” Tirrell said. “There was very little teaching there. I was assisting in breeding the stallion Simbalu who was horse of the year with Katie Monahan Prudent in the Regular Working Hunters. We bred and we broke and trained the babies and we showed them and got them sold. It was completely different from my first job as a pro, and I liked that because I got to see a different part of the business.”
After a few years in Virginia, Tirrell moved back to New Jersey and opened her own business, Signature Limited Stables. “While I had my own business George Morris was still at Hunterdon and my farm was about 30 minutes from there, so I used to take horses to him when he was in town and I would do lessons. A lot of times it was green horses, and he was always really great and understanding,” Tirrell said. “I feel I accomplished a lot with my business. I got people qualified for a lot of different finals. We went to Pony Finals, the National Horse Show, Zone 2 Finals, and Marshall & Sterling Finals, and did really well.”
Although she enjoyed having her own business, Tirrell soon felt like it was time for a change, and that is how she first landed in Illinois. After spending a year at a job that did not turn out to be what she had hoped, Tirrell was offered an amazing opportunity to manage and train at a brand-new, state-of-the-art hunter/jumper facility called Springfield Stables in Mettawa, IL. Set on 22 beautifully maintained acres on the North Shore, a short distance from Chicago, Springfield Stables is a first-class facility focused on unmatched integrity and quality care for both horse and rider.
Springfield Stables owner Gregory H. Sachs brought Tirrell in during the facility’s construction and allowed her to draw from her experience as they decided on every detail. Tirrell noted, “Greg has completely committed to the farm, to making it top notch and making it the best in the area. He is very enthusiastic about all of this and it is nice working for somebody like that.”
“When the opportunity opened up at Springfield, I thought it would be a really great new experience, so I decided to give it a shot, and I am glad that I did,” Tirrell continued. “At the very end of construction I was involved with a lot of the little detail work with the barn. I was able to take all of the different barns that I have been at and all of the years of experience and suggest that we do certain things with the barn building-wise. It was neat to put in my own little design touches at the very end.”
“It is a new challenge starting a barn from the ground up and getting it up and running and really trying to make something successful, but I want to be consistent and build up a good reputation for putting out good riders and treating the horses really well,” Tirrell acknowledged. “Being consistent at the horse shows and being known for quality horse care is important to me.”
Tirrell explained that the most gratifying part of her job is just seeing a rider or a horse grasp a concept for the first time. “I just love the animals and that is something that I have always had. I love having a little bit of a relationship with each and every animal,” she expressed. “Even though they are owned by clients, I really like to get to know each horse and get to know what makes them tick and how they like to be trained. With the training aspect it is just great getting results. For example, riding a young one when it is getting its lead changes for the first time; that is really cool.”
Along with its full-care boarding facility, Springfield Stables welcomes riders in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation for training. As head trainer, Tirrell offers an outstanding training program that is tailor-made to fit each individual rider’s goals and experience.
“My training depends on the rider, and I really try to be creative with my exercises and I try to keep things fresh,” Tirrell stated. “I try to do different things, but at the same time I like to be a little repetitive so that the horse or the rider can really understand a concept. I also like to be creative so that I am not drilling or making things boring. I always focus on keeping things positive and moving forward.”
As someone who has been in the business for most of her life and has experienced many sides of the horse world, Tirrell has had many people that have driven her to succeed and inspired her to pursue her dreams. “Outside of the horse world I really admire my father; I think he is a pretty special person. In the horse world, there are so many people to look up to and it is hard to pick just one. I was really lucky to have a lot of influential people in my life when I was young and I still admire all of those people,” Tirrell conveyed. “Today, you can’t discount someone like Beezie Madden. Beezie is amazing. She rides great; she is really smooth and very thorough. She makes it look easy, and she is a good horseperson. She came up through the ranks, paid her dues, and really worked hard, so you have to respect that.”
When it comes to her career, Tirrell has had plenty of great accomplishments of her own. “I feel that one of my greatest accomplishments has been turning out great horses and riders; I take great pride in that. I get a lot out of seeing the riders and the horses take what they learn in their lessons and then applying them in the show ring and getting results. To me, winning a class is the icing on the cake for everything that we have been working towards. On the other hand, it’s the same thing for when I am showing a horse. Just knowing that I did the right thing and I have been on the right path training-wise is always rewarding,” she concluded.
For more information, please visit www.springfieldstables.com.