Ryan Torkkeli was a new Canadian Dressage rider to me at the World Championships in Herning. I tuned in and watched him ride and was impressed with his riding and his talented horse Sternenwanderer. So I was delighted when he agreed do an interview for me.
You grew up in Thunder Bay which is not exactly a place I think of as having a dressage profile. So tell us how did get from Thunder Bay to Europe?
Thunder Bay doesn’t have a big dressage community but it does have a lot of amazing people who really Iove horses. When I first started to ride it was all about having fun and enjoying horses. I did it all (mostly on thoroughbreds and quarter horses) jumping, western, dressage, trail riding, cross country….As soon as I got involved with horses I really wanted to be the best I could be. A good friend told me that if I wanted to be the the best I could be, then I would have to train with the best. And that meant Europe.
Was Europe where you first went to train as a dressage rider?
Yes, this is true! My first job at a dressage stable was with Catherine Haddad in Vechta, Germany where I was a working student. I arrived and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Then the hard work set in but I still loved every minute of it.
In 2012 you moved to California with your partner Thomas Walker and set up a training and sales business there. I have heard that it was a snowstorm that made the California climate appealing. Is that true?
Thomas and I met in Germany where I was still living and he was based in Sweden. After realizing we were meant for each other we thought it would be logical to quit the long distance thing and dive into living and working together.
The living and working together turned out to be wonderful but the climate in Sweden was making things tougher than they had to be. Thomas’ parents owned a beautiful stable in California. After spending months shoveling snow, California sounded like a dream.
But in 2019 you returned to Europe. What brought you back to Europe?
In 2018, Ingetraud Bolz called me and said she needed riders for her horses in Germany. I have known Ingetraud since 2004 and she is a passionate horse woman. She loves competitions and top sport. When she called, I knew immediately that it was the right constellation.
But California was amazing. We had so many wonderful experiences and have friends that we consider family.
Tell me about your horse Sternenwanderer. How long have you been riding him and how old is he now? Does he have any little quirks of personality that you find amusing ? Does he enjoy the big stage of International competition?
Sternie is a 2006 Reinlander gelding. I first met him when he was just 3 years old. Little did I know he would be the horse that makes my career!
And he loves the limelight. We had the best 2 weeks in Denmark last year because my entire day revolved around him and that’s how he thinks it should be. He really loves to perform and loves when the audience applauds. When we have been away at competitions he always knows when we are close to home because we have a few traffic circles just before we arrive at the stables. He always starts to whinny when he realizes we are nearing home.
My trainer, Dieter Laugks, bought him when he was 2 years old. I met him when he was just getting started under saddle. I rode him for the first time in 2017 when I was visiting Dieter on a horse buying trip and Dieter let me have a sit on him. What a feeling! I will never forget it! I have been riding him since May 2019, so nearly 4 years. Our main goal with Sternie is Paris 2024. I think it would be amazing to compete at Versailles. I have been to Versailles several times and I couldn’t imagine a setting more beautiful and classical for Olympic dressage
Photo above, of Sternenwanderer and Ryan at the World Championships, is copyright Eurodressage.com
Tell me about your goals for the future. Are the Pan Am Games in Santiago Chile one of your goals? I assume that Paris 2024 is a goal for you. Riding at Versailles must be a dream for many riders.
We have set the goal this year for the Pan Am games. This is the goal with my Small tour horse Fantastic Snoop Dog. He’s very consistent in the small tour and has done very well at national and international competitions in Germany.
Tell me about Snoop.
Snoop is a 15 yo Oldenburg gelding. Snoop is a really fun horse. We have been showing international small tour. He’s up for just about anything. We were invited to do dressage demos at the Spruce Meadows last year so I decided that I would take Snoop Dog with me on the plane with all the European jumping horses. On a flight full of superstar jumpers everyone wanted to know who Snoop Dog was and what he was doing on the flight. We spent a week in Canada and he loved showing off what he could do. For the demos we used music by Snoop Dog! Pia Fortmüller and I did educational demos and we showed off a bit on the grass arena. The highlight was under the lights after the six bar competition. He loved it and was such a good sport about the traveling and demos that we did over 5 days.
Ryan and Snoop competing in Hagen. Photo is copyright Eurodressage.com
How do you prepare for realizing your major goals, like making an Olympic Team? How far in advance to you begin to prep your horse and also yourself. How much of the preparation is mental and how much physical?
I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole life. Some of these ideas started 25 years ago not ever knowing how I was going to make it happen. I think working hard and determination are key. Never losing sight of where I want to be regardless of how difficult the current situation may be.
Mental training is a huge part of it. I made a vision board 15+ years ago. And I can say everything on that board has been achieved today.
And with the horses I think it’s important to ride the basics everyday like you are going to the Olympics. Every corner, every half half, every transition. That’s the preparation. (Thank you Dieter Laugks for keeping me on track)
Between shows we don’t ride the movements so much. One to two weeks before competition we start practicing the test movements and putting them together.
I prepare myself mentally and physically. I work with a mental coach and that has really helped me focus and gain clarity. I wake up nearly every morning and head straight to my yoga mat.
Thank you Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you and your horses all the very best for the future.
I’d love to hear from you!