By Britney Grover
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Last summer, Jimmy and Danielle Torano embarked on their first “traveling circus.” Normally, the family travels from horse show to horse show during the summer circuit while living in a motor home. Last summer, however, they were caught between selling one motor home and receiving a new one. The result? Two birds, two dogs and two kids all packing into a car, filing into hotels and making themselves at home at horse shows. Sometimes, that’s just what it means to be a horse show family.
“The summer is nice because we’re all on the road together, and we’re not split up,” said Jimmy, who operates his successful JET Show Stable riding, training and showing to top placings all around the country. His personal achievements include 30 years’ worth of Grand Prix, multiple World Cup Finals and leading rider awards.
His wife, Danielle, has earned her own impressive list of ribbons, championships and awards as a top amateur rider—though in recent years she’s taken a step back in order to focus on an even more important role: motherhood. “I kind of ride now; I showed in a few Grand Prix this past summer, but I just do it when it works,” she said. “That takes the pressure off of having to be there for the amount of time that I was there before, riding the horses. Although, I feel like I’m starting to get back into that because JJ has so many ponies that I spend all of my morning at the barn!”
“All winter, we’re here in Florida together doing this—Danielle’s running a little bit ragged taking JJ here and Natalia there while I’m at the show during the day doing the horses, and we’re busy,” Jimmy said. “Summers are really nice, but it’s a little hard at the end of the summer when JJ does Pony Finals and still has a few shows, while Natalia has to come right back and go to school. It’s a hectic schedule, but you know, we make it work. Danielle has a lot of frequent flier miles.”
But the Toranos don’t regret the hassle; from the time they progressed from trainer and student to husband and wife, having kids is something Jimmy and Danielle always wanted.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of time,” Danielle said, “But very much worth it.”
Both of the Toranos are Floridians, born and raised. Jimmy grew up in Miami, where he inherited a love of horses and riding from his mother—who became his first teacher. All three of Jimmy’s siblings also rode, but Jimmy was the only one who stuck with it.
“At the end of my Junior years, I loved riding, but then I didn’t really know what was next,” he said. “I was thinking about going to school, and I got a phone call one day from Jane Ebelhare, who ran the show barn at Palm Beach Polo. I rode ponies for her when I was a little kid, and she asked if I would be interested in coming up and being a professional rider and teacher. I said, ‘Sure,’ came up for an interview and never looked back.”
Unlike Jimmy, who started riding young and was thrown into being a professional at just 18 years old, Danielle didn’t start riding until she was 12 years old and has maintained her amateur status—even when it might have been financially helpful to give it up.
“I always liked horses when I was young, but I would only see them in the pasture by our house,” Danielle said. “I never rode until I was 12. My sister found the sport because she was looking for something we could continue into adulthood. I started riding and I loved it, and continued.”
When Danielle was in her late teens, she moved to Palm Beach Polo and began riding there. Though she and Jimmy had seen each other at shows before, it wasn’t until her mother arranged for her to take lessons with Jimmy that they really met. “It ended up that her parents wanted me to train her full-time, and little by little it turned into a relationship,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy and Danielle were engaged in 1993, and by the time they were married in 1995, Jimmy had opened his own JET Show Stable—using Danielle’s family’s Fort Lauderdale farm as a home base. For Danielle’s parents, Danielle’s choice to pursue horses and work to support Jimmy’s business was perhaps even more of a surprise than her falling in love with and marrying her trainer.
“My dad had an Italian supermarket, and I was supposed to kind of move in that direction. Towards the end of my high school years I worked there, I went to school for business management and the thought was that I would go into the family business,” Danielle shared. “But once I started showing at the big shows and competing on a higher level, it was something I loved to do. It was definitely a curve ball for my parents—It wasn’t easy for me, because I felt like in my own way I was letting my dad down. But he understood, when he saw the direction we were going in the business he was supportive of the horses and showing, and obviously he wanted me to do what I love.”
Riding and Raising Children
As JET Show Stable grew, Danielle and Jimmy both thrived in the saddle. Danielle rode her Classic Importer to become the USEF Hunter of the Year in 1998 and again in 2001, continued collecting tri-colored ribbons at all the nation’s top shows and earned the Eastern Conference Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur-Owner Jumper Series Championship in 2001, 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, Jimmy was the leading jumper rider at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in 1999, rode in World Cup Finals around the world and continued taking the top place in prestigious Grand Prix around the country.
But all along, family was on the Toranos’ minds. “From the time we got married, we wanted to have kids,” Danielle said. “Funny enough, my mom always told me, ‘Don’t have kids too soon.’ I thought, That’s the weirdest thing! Why would she keep saying that? But I was young—I was 21—and she told us that once we had kids, we wouldn’t be able to do what we were doing, with traveling and just starting a business. It was actually great advice, because we waited 10 years and it gave us not just the ability to continue to do what we love, but the ability to have the help to do it.”
With business and horses thriving, Jimmy and Danielle hardly missed a beat when Natalia was born in 2006. In fact, 30 days later Danielle rode in a Grand Prix. “Which was insane, now that I think about it,” she admitted.
“She really kept going,” Jimmy added. “When Natalia was 14 months old, Danielle rode on the U.S. Team and showed at the World Cup Finals in Gothenburg. We took Natalia with us.”
“Natalia literally did it all, she came everywhere with us,” Danielle said. “She had to, and she did it easily. She was in a stroller and she’d take a nap, she just did it wherever we were.”
Danielle continued showing in all the big classes, traveling alongside Jimmy and the business to all the shows, securing her place as one of the top amateur riders in the country. “When I was pregnant with Natalia I actually considered, for the first time, giving up my amateur status, and Jimmy told me not to,” she said. “It was probably the best thing he ever told me not to do, just because it allowed me to have time with the kids and not have to be at the barn.”
At first, starting a family didn’t change much for Jimmy and his business because they simply took little Natalia with them. “Then as she grew up, we had JJ and things had to slow down, now that Natalia was starting school,” Jimmy said. “That split the family up a little bit, when I would leave for the summer or fall was approaching and I’d have to stay at indoors.”
Danielle decided to take a break from the upper levels of competition when JJ—short for Jimmy Jr.—was born in 2010. “I still love it, and obviously to do it at the top level takes a lot of commitment and time. I just decided that after having JJ, and with Natalia going off and doing dance and other activities, that I didn’t want to miss any of those things,” Danielle shared.
Balancing Family Life
Jimmy and Danielle have continued to make family time a priority as they’ve maneuvered show schedules, travel, school and all the other moving parts of an active family. Jimmy has always made a point to come home and be there for the first day of school, and to take weeks off from showing at special times like when WEF is over or during the summer so that they can spend time together. “I love to show—I do. I know other riders who show every week—every week. They don’t have families; we do have a family, and that’s very important to me,” Jimmy said. “I like to take a couple of weeks here and there to do stuff with the kids and just enjoy ourselves. We’ve been all over the country; if there’s an amusement park, we’ve been to it.”
Of course, both Natalia and JJ learned to ride and show ponies—but only while they wanted to. “When we had the kids, Jimmy and I talked because I felt very strongly that I didn’t want them to do this just because this is what we love,” Danielle said. “Natalia did it until about four years ago—she can get on and jump around a little course. But she’s very artistic, she loves to dance and she ice skated for a time. And that’s what she loves. We had some hard conversations, because I think she felt like maybe this is what we wanted her to do. But once she stopped riding, she went full force into the dance and she loves it. We try to let them find their paths.”
Natalia is now 15 and excelling at dance, with the full support of her family. JJ, 11, plays baseball and basketball—but is also very serious about riding. Those who know him say JJ follows after his father in everything from the way he walks to his desire to win—with the skills to back it up, as evidenced by his many ribbons, championships and awards. “While he loves it, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen,” Jimmy said. “Luckily Danielle is small and can help train all the ponies, while JJ is doing other sports and school.”
Helping with JJ’s ponies is just one more thing Danielle fits into her busy days as a mom. “I try to do my riding in the morning and get all the barn stuff done, and then my afternoons are open for Ubering—some days I just drive from place to place, but I try to be there,” Danielle said. “That part I try to do myself, because Natalia is 15. She will hopefully be driving in a year, and it just goes by really fast. So I keep telling myself this will soon come to an end.”
Like many parents, Danielle knows that both the good and not-so-good parts of each phase in a child’s life pass quickly, and she’s determined to enjoy where they’re at now. “I do love the other things that they do: I love watching Natalia dance and her shows, and going to watch JJ play basketball and baseball. I really do enjoy that,” she said. “It’s kind of an outlet for me, because we’re constantly busy with the horse shows and with clients. So for me it’s a time to just relax and enjoy the kids.”
Winning and Helping Others Win
Danielle competes herself when it’s convenient—usually with impressive results whether it’s a Grand Prix or a 3’6” Amateur-Owner Hunter class—but most of her barn time is spent training JJ’s ponies or assisting Jimmy with the operations at JET Show Stable. “Fortunately, we’re very, very busy,” Jimmy said. “Right now I have some very nice horses, some very nice hunters and a very good new Grand Prix horse that started doing the big classes as well as some new up-and-coming horses. So I’m fortunate.”
Jimmy’s rides include Laskano, owned by Isalou, Inc., who finished last year with a slew of ribbons and championships in the 3’6” Green Hunters at indoors. This year, Jimmy and his Chewbacca HCC started the season strong at the Winter Equestrian Festival by winning the first FEI class out, and will keep working towards Chewbacca’s potential. “I’m riding a lot—I’m 56 years old, but I’m trying to stay fit,” Jimmy said. “I probably ride as much now as I did in my 20s, so riding is a big part of the business. I also teach a lot—we have a lot of clients right now, and we’re going full force all year round.”
One of Jimmy’s students is Kat Fuqua, who was Large Pony Hunter Champion at Pony Finals her first year with Jimmy, qualifying both of her horses for the International Hunter Derby Championship the next week, and whose accolades have only continued to grow since then. Kat started riding with Jimmy in 2019 after being referred to him by seven-time Olympian Rodrigo Pessoa. “He’s a tough trainer, but Jimmy likes to win!” Kat said. “He’s precise in his instruction and he makes sure you know when you’ve done a good job.”
Jimmy’s drive to win may sometimes take over his demeanor at the show ring, but when it comes down to it, Jimmy wants to help others. “Not only does he help, but he also has a problem saying ‘no’ to people,” Danielle teased. “People are always asking him to do crazy things, like they’ll say, ‘I can’t get this horse to go around, can you?’ And I tell him, ‘You’re getting too old to be doing this.”
“I just try to help out as many people as I can,” Jimmy defended. “Even when it’s somebody I don’t know, and it’s probably not my business half the time, but I’ll just say, ‘Look, do you want some help with this?’ or, ‘Do this,’ or, ‘Try that.’ I always try to be there for people and help them out, because I do think there are people that need the help.”
Having come from a modest background, it’s important to Jimmy to give kids opportunities that he didn’t have. “I didn’t come from a lot, when I was a kid. I didn’t have all these ponies, so that’s what I’m trying to do for JJ: I want to make sure that I give him as much as I can right now, because I didn’t have it,” Jimmy said. “I love to do that for other kids as well; I try to help wherever I can, any kid that needs a lesson or a horse or whatever.”
Jimmy not only regularly donates his time to charities, but seeks out children that he can train for free or provide a horse to ride.
“We’ve been lucky,” Jimmy concluded. “Our business is good. We’ve got some nice horses. So for me at this point, to help someone or lend a hand, it’s not about money—it’s about just trying to give someone a leg up. There’s always someone that needs a leg up and an opportunity.”
For more information, visit www.jetshowstable.com
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com