Journeying to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Portugal, South Korea, Iran, Mauritius, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Hungary and Finland in just the last 12 months, Finnish 4* star judge Tiina Karkkolainen has experienced a range of extraordinary moments in all corners of the world. She is glad that she was quite by chance led down the path toward an international judging career.
“During my active competition years I often wondered how to get those higher marks and I initially signed up for my first judging course out of curiosity,” Tiina told Eurodressage. “I did not actually plan to become a judge.”
Karkkolainen has been judging internationally for "five very interesting years" and most of her knowledge has been developed after spending several winters in Germany training at Gröhnwohldhof, the former home barn of Olympic rider Karin Rehbein and Donnerhall, as well as with Jonny Hillberath, the German National Team coach. “It was during these years that my eyes truly opened to what dressage is really all about," she said.
She is grateful and thankful for those extremely valuable years of her life and now Tiina has had a very exciting 2015 with many rather unexpected highlights along the way.
“It was very exciting to visit Teheran in Iran, but what I really enjoyed was their super facilities and great hospitality, with several top quality horses and some really good riders," Tiina reminisced. “Also Seoul in Korea was very nice. What was the biggest surprise for me in Korea was the huge number of entries into the higher level tests, Prix St Georges, Inter 1 and Grand Prix. People in South Korea were very friendly and cordial.”
According to Tiina, there is not a big difference in dressage in each country as all over the world riders are working hard on similar issues. “The focus of all riders is on throughness and suppleness, rhythm and balance," she said. "Everywhere people ride with passion and a willingness to learn and improve and if we as judges can be supportive and constructive with our remarks, the sport remains fascinating.”
Trekking into the heart of some very exotic countries, Tiina has met with the wild zebras on the arena in Swaziland and wild boars approaching her training session in Botswana. There have certainly been some eye opening events.
“I found it very exciting and interesting during these moments, and luckily I did not have the time to worry. Organisers had to chase the animals away, but the horses that were competing were used to the wild animals and they didn’t seem to bother much about it. It was a little nerve wracking a few years ago when lions were roaring very close to the judges during the vet check in Botswana. However, it was only we judges that were sweating a little bit more than we would have liked.”
Part of one big horse family, Tiina loves to meet new and interesting people from all over the world. Coming from a business oriented family, she has no problems mixing with people from all sorts of different cultures.
“I do read a lot about the country that I am going to visit before my journey starts. If you are humble, hardworking, polite, and have the skill to listen, you can get along with everybody in the world. Travelling is also an attitude, and for me life is an adventure full of possibilitie, and you can learn something new everyday if you are open to it. You always need to keep your mind open and never compromise on your dreams," she explained.
Karkkolainen loves judging from the bottom of her heart. She says the feeling you get when you have been able to give a rider useful comments, and when you can see the riders improving, is what makes judging all the more worthwhile and rewarding.
“When I started my judging career, I could not have dreamt anything like this, all the fantastic countries that I have had the opportunity to visit, so many new friends from all over the World, I would not give a day of it away! I put a lot of emphasis on developing my skills and experience on an International level, and I aim to help promote the development of the sport of dressage. My passion is also to study more of the mental training and mindfullness aspects of the sport."
Tiina's plans for 2016 start off with an FEI Refresher Seminar for Judges in Wellington, FL, and then some judging in Luxemburg, England, France, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Mexico and of course her home country Finland.
By Sarah Warne - Photos private