tbird Grand Prix is a Family Affair for Sorine and Taylor Winther

Taylor Winther grew up watching her mother jump at the Grand Prix level. And while she was always full of admiration for the way Sorine Winther tackled the largest tracks at the horse show, she didn’t have much of an interest in joining her—at least, not at first.

“I watched her jump at Spruce Meadows when I was [about] five years old, and I remember thinking, ‘Those jumps are huge. I’m never doing that!'” Taylor recalls. “Now, I guess I am jumping jumps that big.”

Both Taylor (21) and Sorine Winther (55) will come forward in Saturday’s tbird Grand Prix 1.40m at Thunderbird Show Park’s Spring Festival, marking just the second time the mother-daughter duo have gotten to compete against one another at the top level. The family ties couldn’t be much stronger, as their horses are also related. Homebreds Cella and Chaco are both out of the same mare, Ganadora Negra (Graf Top I)—a former mount of Sorine’s.

“We call it the ‘mother-daughter-brother-sister team,'” Taylor says.

And there’s another sister involved, too, as Colby Winther (16) has had success in her own right, joining her sister Taylor as a winner of the prestigious CET Medal National Finals last year. Both riders punched their tickets to those Finals by way of tbird’s CET Regionals, and all three Winthers are former winners of tbird’s Good Hands and Seat Medal.

“One thing I will say, is that I think tbird sets up kids for success in the equitation division—more so than any other province. The results speak to that,” Sorine says. “Having both girls go through the equitation and do that was a huge family bond. To have them both win was incredible.”

Home Grown

The Winthers are based out of Prince George, BC at their RidgeCountry Farm, where Sorine coaches a small group of clients and runs a Kids Club for children between the ages of 3 and 12 that want to immerse themselves in “all parts of daily horse life.”

They also have a small breeding operation that has boasted exceptional results for its size. In addition to Sorine and Taylor’s Grand Prix mounts, Colby’s equitation horse Big Ticket is also a homebred.

“I started with a mare Ninemo that I bought out of a Canadian sale years and years ago,” Sorine recalls. “It took me a few tries to figure out what she crossed best with. Colby’s equitation horse is a grandson of hers.

“It’s been really amazing, and honestly we’ve been lucky. We only ever have one or two foals on the ground in a year, and some years we have none. This year, we didn’t have any,” Sorine adds. “Most of the foals have ended up on this circuit, and all of us have had at least one really special horse that we’ve developed.”

For Sorine, breeding has offered a way to keep her daughters well mounted in a more affordable manner, while also developing their horsemanship. It’s become a group effort to select the best stallions for their mares. The Winthers mostly breed to Canadian stallions, largely due to their location and a preference for fresh over frozen semen.

“We talk about what we think the mares need a little bit more of, and we try to balance that with stallions that we have access to,” Sorine explains.

A Cella-Bration

If you ask one of the Winthers about their horses, expect a big story. Having been part of truly every stage of their horses’ careers, it’s not entirely surprising. But Cella and Chaco have made especially big impacts.

Cella, for instance, made a grand entrance at Sorine’s wedding.

“She came into this world in the middle of my mom and stepdad’s wedding ceremony,” Taylor shares. “It was kind of chaotic. Her name is short for celebration.”

Sorine developed the mare, by Carbardino N, until her 6-year-old year, when Taylor took the reins. They’ve since recorded wins in the U25 division, tackling their biggest tracks and all of their “firsts” together.

“When we did the 6-year-old classes that year, it was the biggest tracks either had jumped in our lives,” Taylor recalls. “As we move up, I’m green, and she’s green. It’s a slow process, taking our time and making sure we’re doing it the right way. My mom has been on the ground helping us along the way, and she keeps Cella going while I’m at school.”

Chaco, meanwhile, is out of the Carthago stallion, Carthago Sun III. During the bay’s 6-year-old year, he suffered a mysterious injury while out in the paddock. Exploratory surgery was done to repair the issue, but the lameness returned. It was eventually discovered that Chaco had a cyst in his coffin bone.

Sorine’s vet originally told her it would be career-ending, but Joanna Virgin at Paton & Martin Veterinary Services refused to give up. Her research uncovered a new and promising surgical option, for which a surgeon from Colorado State University was flown in to perform. Taylor, an aspiring vet, even got to scrub in for the surgery, which was a success. After a lengthy rehabilitation timeline, Chaco returned to the show ring as a 9-year-old. He’s now jumping his biggest tracks yet, even taking on international competition at tbird in 2022 and 2023.

“It was unreal. He’s a miracle horse,” Sorine says.

The Three Musketeers 

Sorine’s first trip to Thunderbird was more than 40 years ago, before the venue had reached it’s 10th anniversary (tbird celebrated its 50th birthday last year). The Winthers have now come tbird as a family for nearly 15 seasons. You’ll find them doing much of their own care, and when one of the self-proclaimed “three Musketeers” can’t make it, it’s friends that are filling in on the ground. This week, Colby is at a basketball tournament. Last week, Taylor was presenting her undergraduate thesis at the University of Northern British Columbia, where she is studying biology.

“Not a lot of families get to bond like this. We’re all super close, and it doesn’t come without its challenges for sure, but at the end of the day, we always have common ground to come back to,” Taylor shares. “When one of us isn’t here, it definitely feels like a piece of the puzzle missing. We’ve figured out how to work so well together, and everyone is part of each other’s success.”

“I think the reason I still really want to do [the sport at a high level] is because of our family experience,” Sorine says. “It’s such a nice thing to share with the girls; it’s our common ground. I get to have a really different relationship with them than most parents, because we do this together.”