Kaylie and Ayla Martinoff of Langley, BC, were born with horses in their blood. They are no strangers to top-level jumper competition either, having lived just a stone’s throw from Thunderbird Show Park their entire lives. Together they operate Ivy League Farm on the family’s property where they ride, teach, and run a small breeding operation.

Ayla, 23, has completed two stints in Germany working for Hans-Jurgen Wiebusch and Lars Nieberg. At home she has worked with Mark Laskin, Brian Morton, Claudia Cojocar, and Barb Beaton. She competes across North America and has earned top placings at Thunderbird and Spruce Meadows; from the latter she received the Mary Lou and Desmond G. Griffin Memorial Scholarship as a junior.

Kaylie, 18, competes her top horse, Lucky Boy, in the 1.20m classes. In 2013, the 12-year-old warmblood was named Horse Council BC’s Competitive Horse of the Year.

Admittedly competitive with each other, both sisters won the Canadian Utilities speed class at the Spruce Meadows Masters before their 17th birthdays. Here, they share with Horse Sport the ins and outs of working with – and competing against – each other.

What’s it like working with your sister?

Ayla: Our personalities and riding style really compliment each other. When something’s not working for one of us, there’s a good chance that the horse will like the other better. We help each other stay in good spirits after rough rounds and we’ve really got each other’s backs. It comes in handy, like the time we stood guard for each other while sponge bathing in the riding hall at Spruce Meadows after our battery died and the pump wouldn’t work for the shower in our camper!

Kaylie: We’ve spent so much time with each other that I think we’re practically the same person, from being able to finish each others sentences to having the exact same thoughts and moods and interests. We are twins, only five years apart! I’ll admit Ayla’s probably the neater one, but she also takes longer to get ready.

Do you spend much time with each other outside of the barn?

Ayla: Always. We’re best friends, really. We do more than just finish each other’s sentences: we can be silent for five minutes and the exact same completely unrelated thoughts will come out of our mouths. We’ve gotten along since we were about 13 and 7; I think that was the turning point. We hated each other before that. She wasn’t even allowed to touch my pony. We are still very competitive with each other, but I think it is healthy.

Kaylie: We work well together and always look out for each other. We’re practically inseparable now, although it hasn’t always been like this. Growing up was difficult with the five-year age gap; I think we were always bickering with each other. We are very close now, but still competitive with each other, which I think just helps to keep us on top of our game.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in the horse industry?

Ayla: I have wanted to do this all my life. Our mom bred palomino Quarter Horses, so we started on those and just kept climbing. My mom is the glue that holds it all together; she was our first instructor and taught us really solid basics. I feel really lucky to have a family that understands the amount of work and time it takes to live this lifestyle. I love competing and enjoy winning, but the joy of watching horses develop and come into their own, watching them become competitive and happy doing what they love, makes me really want to pursue this as a career.

I also love the process of growing as a rider. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so going into the ring and nailing the plan as precisely as possible makes me very happy. There are so many little victories that affirm why this is what I want to do with my life, especially watching my students bonding with the horses, or feeling a young horse really grasp the concept of “leg to hand” for the first time.

Kaylie: We were born into horses and have spent all our lives with them. I’ve never really wanted to do anything else! Once I began showing ponies, things got competitive and I officially caught the bug. Ponies were a great learning experience, but humbling as well. I remember being about seven and showing my old pony, Bamboo, in endless hunter classes because my Mom wouldn’t let me do the pony jumpers until I was able to get my short-stepped pony down the lines in the right amount of strides. I can also recall a lot of “big sister tune-up rounds” at most shows.

What is your favourite aspect of making your career with horses?

Ayla: I love everything about them: I love their nature, their movement, and their ability. They’re beautiful creatures that have always been there for me. I love seeing not only what they can do, but also discovering what they want to do. Sometimes you’ll have a gorgeous jumper that just doesn’t want to jump the big tracks, but will excel in the junior hunters or derbies; sometimes it’s the junior hunter that will surprise you.

Kaylie: I love so many things about this sport, from competing in the show ring to the evening sunset rides in the park with my sister and my favourite pony. It’s crazy the amount of compassion and love you can have with a horse. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What is your favourite thing to do outside of horses?

Ayla: I love swing dancing: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Charleston, blues, and jazz-type stuff from the 1920s-’30s. I go four nights a week and travel for it. I’ve just started deejaying and teaching beginner lessons. So far it has done nothing but help the riding. There are some very complementary muscles in both and it really helps with cardio, rhythm, motor skills, and connection, believe it or not. It’s great for the calves and thighs.

Kaylie: I enjoy staying home and playing guitar, watching movies with copious amounts of junk food, drawing cartoons, and relaxing with my cats. There isn’t really any downtime on a farm – it’s pretty rare for us. Our way to relax usually still involves ponies. It’s the simple things, like going for a bareback ride down to the beach.

What are your goals for the future?

Ayla: I want to keep riding, working, learning, and jump some big tracks – I’d love to show on a European tour. Having a training facility at home is a long-term goal for the both of us. I love that there are two of us, because in the future we can take turns travelling to shows and horse shopping while the other manages the farm and clients at home. I’m also going back to school this year. Although riding and instructing will always be my main focus and priority, I’m really interested in kinesiology for rider and horse, and would like to focus eventually on chiropractic work.

Kaylie: Ayla and I want to work together with our business and our own facility. We want to ride, train, compete, explore, and travel. I’m so glad I get to do it with my best friend, my sister.