About Kim Kirton - "Qeen of Speed", Nations Cup Member, EC Judge
Few riders and coaches have spent as much of their life in a professional capacity as Kim Kirton. Kirton is the daughter of one of the pioneers of professional horsemen in Canada. She has represented Canada in international competition, as both a junior and a member of Canada’s senior nations cup team. She has coached some of the top junior and adult riders in the country. She has sold horses that have gone on to national and international success, and is an experienced clinician and judge. Her riding, coaching and judging includes hunter, jumper and equitation.
Having been one of the most successful junior riders in the history of Canadian show jumping, Kirton’s coaching career has concentrated heavily on juniors, young riders and newcomers to the sport. She enjoys finding new talent, in both riders and horses, and “taking them to the next level”. With over 45 years of experience serving clients in her father’s stable, then in her own stable, and the private stables of others, she has amassed an impressive resume.
Kirton has the bloodlines to be a champion, and to make riders and horses into champions. Her father, Gord Kirton, was a rider and one of Canada’s most respected coaches. Her uncle, Dick Day, was also a pioneer among professional horsemen. So she was immersed in the horse industry and the sport as long as she can remember.
Kirton was first put on the back of a horse before she could walk. By the age of 6, she was riding competitively for her father’s clients. She was often the youngest competitor in the pony ring. She knew immediately that she wanted to make it her career. By the time she was 8, she often had as many eight pony mounts for eight different owners.
It wasn’t only the pony ring where she found herself being the youngest. In 1973, as a 4-foot-11-inch, 13-year-old, she jumped against international team veterans Michael Matz, Jim Elder, Jim Day and Kelly Hall-Holland at the Buffalo International Horse Show, winning the Power and Speed competition. Newspapers often described her as her as “little Kim Kirton” and the Cleveland News Herald dubbed her “Tiny Kim”.
By age 14, she had won ten junior grand prix and was the dominant force in the junior jumper division in Canada. She was also a regular in junior international team competition. In the rare position of being a “junior professional”, she continued to ride multiple horses, for various owners. She and her father were a partnership. “He’d train them and I’d ride them”, she says. Since age 3, she had spent two hours a day in the saddle under her father’s tutelage. By age 16, she had competed at five Royal Winter Fair Horse Shows. It would only be a few years until she was a member of Canada’s team in the nations cup that was then held at the Royal.
In 1975 she was honoured with the Province of Ontario Achievement Award in recognition of distinguished performance in amateur sport. That year she had been a member of winning junior nations cup teams in both Canada and the U.S., and earned the Leading Rider title at both.
Kirton represented Canada in the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, England, Ireland, Bermuda, Barbados and on home soil. When she was 17, she broke the Barbados puissance record, jumping 5 feet, 7-1/2 inches on a borrowed horse.
In 1981, at 21, Kirton began a string of consecutive appearances on Canada’s senior nations cup team. Her first overseas competition was in 1982. She was asked to join veterans Jim Elder and Mark Laskin when Ian Millar was unable to go. The three-member team travelled to Sydney, Australia and won the nations cup. Kirton was the only female rider in the international tournament. She also won an individual competition against the all-male field. Due to strict quarantine regulations, competitors had to ride horses from a pool of Australian horses. Kirton chose a Buckskin named Bonanza. The British weekly magazine Horse and Hound described them as “the star attraction”.
Then well beyond the junior ranks and pursuing a grand prix riding career, Kirton sought to expand her basic training, beyond the wealth of knowledge she had gained from her father. She spent a year in Virginia training with American grand prix legend Rodney Jenkins.
Injuries sustained in a car accident in 1984 sidelined Kirton from riding for most of 1985. But it didn’t keep her away from coaching. While forced to take time off, she realized that coaching young riders was where she found the most satisfaction. She did, however, return to competition as strong as ever. By 1987 she had qualified for the World Cup Final in Paris, where she rode Lorbas. The following year, 1988, she was on the short-list for the Canadian Olympic team.
She had often been given horses that had previously been ridden by Canada’s team veterans and were owned by the most loyal team supporters. She had a long and successful run on Beefeater, who had been ridden by both Jim Elder and Torchy Millar and was owned by Cudney Stables. At the height of her grand prix career came Shawline, the horse Jim Elder rode in the 1984 Olympics. The owner, Sam Son Farm, gave the ride to Kirton and, together, they became one of the most recognizable partnerships, of the era, on the grand prix circuit. During her time as a team member she was a member of winning nations cup teams on the North American fall indoor circuit (Washington, New York and the Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair).
During this period Kirton had also developed her own coaching business at her own stable. Among those she coached was the younger generation of the legendary Eaton family. She also served as Chef d’Equipe for Canada’s Junior International Team, of which she had so often been a member herself.
In the early nineties, although she was spending most of her time teaching young riders, Kirton was partnered with a superstar speed horse named Kiko. Together they would conquer another specialty. Newspapers in western Canada dubbed her “The Queen of Speed” and the Ottawa Citizen hailed her “Canada’s foremost speed derby rider”. Calgary’s Spruce Meadows was, by then, North America’s premier show jumping venue. Kirton had competed, as a junior, at the first tournament there in 1976. Returning with Kiko, in 1993, she became the first rider to win three feature speed competitions over four days at the North American tournament.
In recent years, Kirton has been the private coach to the Irving family, of New Brunswick, working out of their Windhaven Farms and touring the Canadian and U.S. hunter/jumper circuit. This involved coaching both adult and junior riders, as well as managing/training horses owned by Windhaven Farms and ridden by other professionals. Her work resulted in the family members winning Zone Championships and championships at the Royal Winter Fair.
Currently Kirton is judging, both hunters and jumpers, and giving clinics. She has extensive contacts in Europe to assist those who are shopping for horses. She provides what she calls a “personal shopper service”. Due to her experience with juniors and newcomers to competition, she enjoys “taking riders to the next level”. Her coaching experience ranges from beginners, who have never ridden before, to national champions. Her experience buying, selling and training ranges from ponies to grand prix horses.