Jill’s life path with horses was determined after attending a riding camp as a child and would lead to a career training and competing show jumpers. She first stepped into the grand prix ring in 1989; her first big grand prix win came in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1990 where she won the $100,000 World Cup qualifier on Murphy Brown and was second on Canadian Colours. That was a big payday and she brought home $50,000 in prize money.
Jill’s international team debut was both memorable and a bit comical. She was sent to represent Canada in Mexico City in 1991, and was coached at this event by her good friend Mario Deslauriers.
Originally, Gail Greenough was supposed to be on the team for Mexico City, but something happened at the last minute with her horse and she couldn’t go. The CET called Jill and asked her to go, but said that she would have to find her own red jacket because Don Bassin (who has always made the first team jacket for the team riders) didn’t have enough time. She was able to find an old red jacket but had to replace the collar and the flag. One of Ian’s old jackets provided the collar, but it didn’t have a flag so we had to research how big the flag was supposed to be, find one, and then figure out which side to put in on.
Jill took two horses to Mexico ‒ Canadian Colours and Murphy Brown. The team won the gold medal in the Nations’ Cup with Jill aboard Canadian Colours; the next day she won the Grand Prix on Murphy Brown, marking an incredible start to her international career.
The comedy started, however, when they were playing Canada’s national anthem for Jill following the Grand Prix. Murphy Brown stood straight up on her hind legs and Jill slid right off her back. Jill and her groom, Samantha Burrell, both recovered quickly and were able to get her back on board for the victory gallop. Later that year Jill earned the ‘Rookie of the Year’ title.
Two weeks after returning home we were contacted by a Mexican gentleman who wanted to buy both of her horses. He ended up buying Murphy Brown, which paid off our mortgage and started us on our way to financial independence!
In 1995, Jill and I travelled to Asia to compete on an invitational tour. She won a grand prix in Seoul, Korea, and was second in the Grand Prix of Tokyo, Japan, both on borrowed horses. We become good friends with all of the international riders during that tour.
Jill rode a number of special horses over the years, and the little bay mare Aerial was one of Jill’s favourites ‒ she was 15.2 hands and all heart. She was originally purchased for a client to ride, but the client didn’t get along with her very well, so she was given to Jill to ride and market in January of 1996. By the end of the winter tour in California that year, the pair won the final $150,000 Grand Prix. She then went on to Spruce Meadows where she won the Olympic Qualifying Grand Prix and finished first in the Olympic Trials, qualifying her for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
After much discussion among her team members, Jill decided it was in the best interest of this little big-hearted mare not to put her to a test that we all knew was above and beyond her abilities. I will always remember the difficulty Jill had declining the invitation to compete at the Olympics. I know to this day that Jill has mixed feelings about that decision. Years later Aerial was donated back to us for her retirement, and we in turn donated her to the riding for the disabled program at CARD where she won the dressage championship for Canada three years in a row in her twenties for her disabled rider.
Jill had a number of great days at Spruce Meadows over the years. She was Canadian Champion three years in a row from 2007-2009 with Special Ed and Black Ice. That meant that the horses won her the use of a new car for three straight years. Thanks, boys!
I think the proudest moment of my life and, for me, her career was her individual gold medal at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007. I used to videotape all her rounds ‒ partly to have a record of the competition, but also to calm my nerves and give me something else to concentrate on while she was competing. During the final round of her individual competition, I was at my post videoing, but when she jumped the last jump and won, I was so excited I dropped the camera!
To see her on the podium with Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil on her left in second place in his home town, and Hickstead and Eric Lamaze (soon to become the best horse and rider combination in the history of the sport) on her right in third place brought tears to my eyes. Hearing O Canada that day played for Jill and her country was an incredible experience.
In 2008, Jill was sent to Europe to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, and she and Special Ed won the Grand Prix of Madrid in Spain. This was a special moment, as the presentation was done by Queen Sofía. After the event they handed Jill 35,000 euros in cash in winnings; she panicked and I got a phone call asking how to bring that money home. That was a lot of money in 2008! We got it all home safely by filling out all the appropriate declarations.
Of course, in her Olympic debut that year Jill was part of the first Canadian show jumping team to win a medal in 40 years ‒ a team silver with teammates Mac Cone, Eric Lamaze, and Ian Millar.
My father was an international diplomat and we lived in Germany for three years when I was 12-15 years old. It was my father who introduced me to riding, and one day in the summer of 1960 he asked if I would like to go to watch a horse show. Although I had been riding for two years, I had never been to a show. Little did I know that the show he was taking me to was Aachen for the Grand Prix. I was hooked!
So it was the highlight of my life to eventually accompany Jill and Special Ed back to Aachen to watch them compete not only in a Grand Prix, but also at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. Stroke that off my bucket list!!
As I slowly slide into retirement, I thank Jill for many decades of excitement and world travel with the horses. Juniper Farms in Oxford Mills, ON, will carry on as normal and is open to new clients and challenges. For further information, contact Jill at [email protected] or call me at 760-898-6511.
Jill Henselwood Career Highlights:
AS A RIDER
– 1996 Qualified for Atlanta Olympics
– Olympic Silver Medalist 2008 Olympic Games – the only woman in Canadian history to win an Olympic medal in show jumping
– 2012 London Olympics fifth place
Pan American Games
– Individual Gold medal winner 2007 Brazil – the only Canadian woman to ever win the individual Gold Medal and the first woman to win the individual gold medal in 24 years.
– Team Silver winner 2007 Brazil
– Team Bronze medal winner 1999 Winnipeg
– Participant 1995 Argentina, 2011 Mexico
World Equestrian Games
– Participant 2002 Den Hague Holland
– Participant 2006 Aachen Germany
– Reserve 2010 Kentucky USA
World Cup Finals
– Del Mar, California
– Goteborg Sweden
– Kuala Lampur
– Las Vegas, NEV x2
Nations Cups – 18
Grand Prix Wins – 67
AS A COACH
Jill has been the most productive high performance coach in Canada.
Canadian Equestrian Team
– Jill has coached seven riders to the international level putting red coats on them all:
North American Young Riders
– Individual gold medal 2003 Junior Team – Kim Farlinger
– Individual gold medal 2019 Senior Team – Julia Madigan
– Participant 2021 Senior Team – Sasha Maniaci
World Children’s Championship
– Individual Gold Medal 2006 – Taylor Bland
AS A TRAINER
Jill has developed all her own grand prix horses with the coaching assistance of Ian Millar and Emile Hendrix:
New Idle Z
Toyz r Us