Growing up with dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep, Jonalyn Gwinup was born with country and animals in her blood. It was not until her teen years that horses entered the picture. Born in Hartford City, Indiana, Jonalyn spent the first 15 years of her life there with her mother and father and sister, Shelli.
When Jonalyn was 16, her parents chose to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to seek something new and forward moving with their careers. Jonalyn then had a choice whether to stay in Indiana and graduate high school where she had grown up or move to Albuquerque. Her dad bribed her with a horse, saying he would buy her one if she moved with them to New Mexico.
Of course, she made the decision any animal loving kid would and she had her first horse within 60 days. Rojo, who they bought for $75, was part Morgan. She instantly knew she had a love for horses the first time she ever got on him. At 17, Jonalyn started cleaning stalls for Liz Sanchez at Elm Tree Farm in exchange for riding lessons. In 1972, a year after she graduated high school, she picked up the title of assistant trainer for Liz.
Jonalyn attended her first Morgan Grand National in 1973 and has not missed one ever since!
Attending University of New Mexico, Jonalyn was one of the first females to be allowed in an all male field of athletic training. She grew up and loved gymnastics and the elements of athletic training. She has taken those elements of discipline into her training and coaching today. Only 13 credit hours short of graduating college, Jonalyn decided she wanted to be a horse trainer.
Although, Jonalyn’s parents are no longer living, she still looks to them as her greatest role models. Her dad was a man of his word and her mom was someone who pushed for the best for her daughter. Jonalyn says, “They taught me to live by the golden rule, be ethical, to stand behind my word, and mostly to love one another as God loves us.”
Living by these words is why she has become as successful as a horsewoman. Jonalyn also worked with and for many trainers, including Mike Goebig and Tom Caisse. In 1976 Jonalyn went out on her own.
It was nine years later she married her best friend, Gayle Gwinup. They have one daughter, Lynn, and a granddaughter, Sydney, and also fostered many children.
Gayle and Jonalyn opened Gwinfield Farm, Evans Training Stables by renting a barn and moving her training horses there. Two years later they built a barn and covered arena on five acres.
Now after 23 years with their business continually growing, Jonalyn and Gayle have started building their dream place on 43 acres with four barns in Mounds, Oklahoma. They are now working on a shop and bunkhouse, hoping to move in to the bunkhouse by the end of the year. It will then be time to start building their dream house on the property.
Jonalyn and Gayle also have an interest in breeding. Their farm stud, Nobleriety, by Noble Command and out of Mistletoe Joy, has sired more than 17 foals for them. Their prefix is T-Towne, which comes from a local expression for Tulsa Towne. Gayle loves the reproduction part and handling the foals. They also breed and raise Lowline Cattle, which are a more compact beef cattle. They love this breed of cattle just as much as they love the Morgan horse breed.
Jonalyn has the knack for young ones, not only kids but horses. She says her favorite part of training horses is starting the young ones. “To see them grow each and every day is fun for me. I want them to tell me what they would like to do.” Jonalyn says. She is a strong believer in setting goals. She gets her riders to set goals and strive for them. I like to have each rider peak at the right moment. This is something I learned through my gymnastics and athletic training.” Her favorite part is when the rider has that “ah-ha” moment.
When asked her strategy on teaching people about horses and about riding, she said she teaches about working hard. “Have a goal each day and strive to meet it. Be thankful you have the honor to ride and train. Find joy in all of it, even mucking. I do some of my best thinking while mucking.”
Working hard is Jonalyn’s philosophy in training and giving lessons. She says, “I teach my riders to know why they do what they do, because if you know why you want to ride a horse, you will know why you do everything in the rest of your life.” She wants to teach her riders about the Morgan horse, and to have a reason to ride, and to make memories they will have for the rest of their lives. Jonalyn teaches her riders that “When you work hard, ribbons will come, if you are riding for the ribbon you are riding for the wrong reasons.”
Jonalyn starts kids riding around the age of six. She says that hopefully they can pay attention and take direction by then. She is not scared of telling the parents their child is not ready to ride. She always puts safety first and will not throw a kid on a horse if they are not ready. She runs her beginners, youth and amateur programs about the same. Lessons are available Tuesday through Saturday, “I try to work with people’s schedules as much as possible,” she says.
One of Jonalyn’s most memorable past memories is from the 1976 Morgan Grand Nationals, she had only been training on her own for eight months. She had Ling Fu, who was 14 at the time, enter the show ring for the Saddle Seat Medal. Jonalyn remembers that Helen Crabtree, the most noted saddle seat rider in history, was the judge. Ling, riding Amarillo Liberty, won the reserve title that year! This was great excitement for Jonalyn after being on her own for such a short amount of time.
A more recent memory that Jonalyn shared is from the 2010 Morgan Grand National. Jonalyn had been flying back and forth from the horse show and Albuquerque where her mother was in the hospital, not doing well. The day after her mother passed away, Jonalyn flew back to the show in Oklahoma City and was on the rail for Sascha Mills’ AMHA Hunt Seat Gold Medal class. When Sascha was announced as the medal winner, Jonalyn said that she went from “complete devastation to complete joy.” This goes to show that even in the toughest times, hard work will pay off.
Not only does Jonalyn teach people to ride, she is a great teacher of motivation and structure. When talking to a current rider of Jonalyn's, Sophie Nonweiler, she said, “Jonalyn has taught me a lot more than how to ride. She encourages me to never feel defeated. She gives me confidence to ride the best I can and teaches me great sportsmanship. Jonalyn’s glass is always half full. She has showed me how to have a positive outlook on life. She is truly everything I could ever want and more in a trainer. I’m so happy that I have her throughout my riding experiences. I’m a better person and rider because of Jonalyn. She always tells me, ‘It’s not about the ribbons. It’s about making progress with each class.”
Sascha Mills noted that not only did Jonalyn teach her to ride, but taught her self gratification, being happy with accomplishment versus a ribbon, integrity and hard work always pays off. One of Jonalyn’s many sayings is “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Leslie Armstrong started out as a rider at the age of 16 with Jonalyn and gradually worked her way to being her assistant trainer. Something Leslie said that Jonalyn has taught her is that every kid learns in their own way. Some are taught with compliments and some with challenges. “You just have to know how each kid excels,” says Leslie. “Jonalyn does just that. Think back to your school years, there was always just those couple of teachers that you remember that made a difference in your life. That’s Jonalyn. She is not one to teach by a curriculum, but by the advancement of the child.”
Jonlyn makes riding fun for kids and has many, as the kids in the barn call it, “Jonalynisms.” For instance, if a kid has his elbows or knees out, she’ll come back with “there’s so much space between there I could drive a truck through there.” It makes learning the proper way to ride even more fun for the kids. Or when teaching one to steer a horse, she will use a reference such as that it is just like steering a bike. She brings the level down to the kids so they understand how to do it correctly. That is what makes Jonalyn unique.
Jonalyn’s hard work with kids and horses still shows to this day. Many of her champion horses are Porvenir B. Dazzle, who was the horse that gave her the love for Morgans. “He would dump me daily when we were breaking him, but he had that pretty Morgan look and had the best personality.” Jonalyn recalls. Other champions were Sugar Run Pleasant, Cairnbrae Ares, Cairnbrae Cashmere, Cairnbrae Colonel, Wayward Windermere, Amarillo Liberty, Nobleriety, Ultras My Guy, Ha-Ho Windstar, Gaits Of Gold, and T-Towne Talk About Me. That is just to name a few!
Jonalyn has started and polished many riders, a lot that still ride to this day. To name a few, Ling and Lann Fu, Kristen Caldwell, Jane Sterns, Laura Ashmore, Tristanne Weber, Tisha Dolan, Shanna Gish, Leslie Barnard Armstrong, Emily Knight, Lauren Winstone, Sascha Mills, Lauren Osborne, Maggie Shaughnessy, and Caitlin Novotny. She says, “They are all champions in one way or another. I love all the kids that come through my program, even the ones that I want to shake a little. Ha!”
If you have never been around the Gwinfield Farm stalls at a show, make it a point to try to do so in the future. This positive atmosphere with such camaraderie is infectious and a true delight to experience. Obviously Jonalyn’s training program goes way beyond teaching good riding skills, her riders become true sportsmen.
Sportsmanship is extremely important to Jonalyn and she always demonstrates the quality and behavior befitting a sportsman. She takes losses without complaining and victory without gloating. This is why she was awarded the Cecil Brown Sportsmanship Award at the American Morgan Horse Association Convention in February 2011. She was the eighteenth recipient of this award that is presented once a year and is voted by the members of the American Morgan Horse Association.
Jonalyn also has her “R” judging card and has judged many class “A”, regional and even The Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show! She is well known in the ring for being fair and courtesy. She also serves on the judging education committee. “I love to judge! I am thrilled to be teaching the judges school, because I am very ethical and want to pass that on to future judges,” Jonalyn says. “I am not just teaching ethics about the horses and today, but being ethical for a lifetime.”
The training program at Gwinfield Farm, Evans Training Stables is top-notch. We have seen many champions from there. With Jonalyn’s excellent training skills, it is a given that we will see many more in the future and we look forward to seeing her young prodigies in the show ring. For Jonalyn, it is truly not about the money, but for the love of horses and riders, as she says, “the goal is to first and foremost enjoy your horse(s).”