Written by Victoria Peace
Some people work to live, while others live to work. Thaisa Erwin, an internationally renowned show jumper and the founder of her own Middleburg-based training, coaching, and sales operation, definitely falls into the latter category. According to Erwin, “There is nothing better than competing and riding horses.” And thanks to the successful career and business that she has worked so hard to build, she gets to do just that every day.
For Erwin, Australia has always been home. However, during her childhood, she traveled frequently because of her father’s work. “The first time I fell in love with horses we were living in Norway,” she says. “There was a stable on the way to school. I convinced my mom to take me and that started the process of horse riding.”
Erwin moved back to rural Armidale, Australia, when she was 11 years old. Her family had a lot of land and many of her neighbors rode horses and competed in show jumping. Erwin describes this as the period when she first got heavily involved in the sport. “I am grateful that my mom let me pursue my dream,” she says.
Erwin attended the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, where she obtained both a Bachelor of Engineering and a Bachelor of Science with a specialization in rural science and natural resources. Despite being a full-time student and working part-time for an engineering firm, she managed to find time to ride by keeping her horses at a nearby dressage barn with a lighted arena. She took lessons in the mornings at 7 a.m. and rode in the evenings after she finished work and school. She also competed on the weekends. While this may sound like a crazy schedule, “It’s doable when you love it,” Erwin emphasizes.
Following graduation, Erwin accepted a position at an environmental consulting firm. However, after qualifying for the 2004 Athens Olympics, her company granted her permission to travel to Europe for eight months to work under internationally acclaimed riders and trainers Peter Weinberg and Eric van der Vleuten. It was there that she “fell in love with full-time riding and the training of young horses.” Upon returning to Australia in 2006, she decided to pursue this dream and made the decision to move to the United States.
In 2011, she founded Erwin Equestrian, a training, coaching, and sales business in Middleburg, Virginia. Erwin chose to base her business out of Middleburg because “the lifestyle that horses can live there is incredible.” The quality of the pastures, the hills, and the fact that they can go out at night and “live like horses” keeps even the most high-strung horses happy. Erwin also appreciates the close-knit community in Middleburg. “It has become home,” she says.
Middleburg’s proximity to Dulles International Airport is convenient for Erwin, who travels frequently. In addition to competing across the country, she spends every winter in Wellington, Florida, at the Winter Equestrian Festival. She appreciates the international community that gathers there. “To further yourself in the sport, there is nowhere else to be in the wintertime,” Erwin says.
Erwin has two up-and-coming horses that she is excited about showing this season. The first is an 8-year-old prospect who is currently competing in the 1.40m classes. By the end of the season, she hopes that he will be ready for some two-star and National Grand Prix competitions. The second is a 10-year-old International Grand Prix jumper named Vanturo. Purchased for Erwin by Michael and Wendy Smith of Middleburg, Virginia, Vanturo most recently competed under the Canadian flag with Gavin Moylan. Erwin is still getting to know Vanturo, but her goal is to enter him in the four-star Grand Prix at Upperville this summer.
Erwin is also hoping to be chosen as a member of an Australian FEI Nations Cup™ team. She has been selected for this honor before and loves the feeling of “fighting for your team, and wanting everyone on your team to do well” in what is typically such an individualistic sport. “It pulls your country together, and it pulls your friends together,” she emphasizes.
One of Erwin’s most meaningful victories was when she won her first World Cup at the Sydney Royal Horse Show. It was made even more special by the fact that the horse she rode was an ex-racehorse that she retrained herself.
She also remembers the first time she jumped the FEI four-star event in Fontainebleau, France. She walked onto the huge grass field feeling starstruck — Big Star, a horse that had won a gold medal at the London Olympics, had gone before her and had knocked one or two rails. The jumps were set very large and the course was intimidating. However, after pulling the first rail, Erwin’s horse Matilda had a clear round. She felt proud knowing that she could have full trust in her horse’s ability to jump a huge track.
Another horse with a special place in Erwin’s heart is a mare named Evita. Erwin rode Evita before her pregnancy, up until she was seven months pregnant, and then after giving birth to her daughter. Erwin credits Evita as the horse that brought her back to doing International Grand Prix events after becoming a mother. “That was a really good feeling getting back into it at a high level after having a child, and having such a good relationship with a horse,” she says. The last class they did together was a three-star event under the lights. The buyers interested in Evita told her that they had to jump a clean round for them to go through with the sale — and they did.
This year, in addition to a full season of competing, training horses, and coaching, Erwin is expanding her business. She recently built a new barn in Middleburg and has room to take on a few more clients and horses. She is looking forward to developing another international horse and hopes to “get back on the big tour and jump some big classes.” “2022 is going to be an exciting year for us,” she says.
When talking to Erwin, it is clear that she genuinely loves what she does. “I always like to be really positive and encourage people to get into the sport and achieve their goals all while having fun,” she explains. If anyone is thinking of getting involved in show jumping, she tells them: “Absolutely, do it. There’s nothing better.” ML
To learn more about Thaisa Erwin and her business, visit erwinequestrian.com.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 Issue.