Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén Reveals Training Insights

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Training - Monday, July 25, 2016

Six-time Olympic rider for Sweden who has been competing during Wellington, Florida’s winter season for the past six years, Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén now prepares for her seventh Olympics Games this coming August in Rio de Janeiro. Currently ranked eighth on the FEI World Individual Dressage Ranking list, and one of the top riders of international dressage horses in Sweden, she freely shares some of her essential training techniques.

Working out of Antonia Ax:son Johnson’s Lövsta Stuteri stables near Stockholm with around 20 horses in training and the breeding and upbringing of about 20 horses, Tinne emphasizes one main training strategy in particular, that a rider must make sure they focus on giving one aid at a time until the horse completely understands that one aid before moving on. She goes on to share “Speed Control” as in the use of the ‘gas’ and ‘brake’ technique. Because Tinne is so clear and consistent in giving her aids to the horse, her training technique not only makes it fun for the horse, but also keeps the horse completely focused and ready to please her.

Working in collaboration with Swedish equestrian and Olympic medalist Louise Nathhorst, who has her own dressage training establishment one hour away from Lövsta Stuteri stables, Tinne enjoys their skillful training conversations and having Louise as her eyes on the ground a couple times a month at home. A trusted confidant, Louise has never missed one of Tinne and Don Auriello’s international competitions during the past five years. Actively training together through as many as six Olympics, they also shared mentor Walter Christiansen, former coach and owner of the training facility north of Hamburg, Germany called Stall Tasdorf. They spent 16 years learning under his tutelage. Although he passed away in 1990, his teachings continue to influence Tinne and Louise as they train horse for the international ring.

Solidifying the Basics - One Aid at a Time

Tinne credits her mentor for making her performances in the big arena appear effortless. She said, “By what I learned from Walter Christiansen, what he always figured out which is so interesting, is to get horses to want to do the movements themselves. It’s important to turn them into horses that want to work for you. I agree that’s the key to everything. They’re so eager to get it right for that praise, whether a word, pat or lighter pressure. They want to have the chance to do the right thing. I really believe they do want to please.”

Explaining her number one task during each daily training session, she said, “You have the horse’s understanding on one question at a time, then you can ask another question. It’s so important to give the horse a signal and wait for its answer. You can’t give one signal and then another and another without letting it answer the first question. The horse has to have a chance to do the right thing.”

“The signals you give have to be, simple, quiet, smooth and easy. If you do that and have the basic signals correct, then the horse understands you and it’s not complicated to do movements like the piaffe or pirouettes. You have to work with one communication aid at a time,” she fervently advises.

Elaborating, she explains, “Sometimes the rider has to stay with one clear communication response 2, 3 or 4 times to make sure the horse completely understands that one signal by the rider. If a horse doesn’t understand what you want, it’s not because it doesn’t want to. You have to go back again so the horse has the understanding on that one question, not more.”

Using the ‘Gas’ and ‘Brake’ System called “Speed Control”

Tinne’s refers to her main, every day, all-the-time training exercise as “Speed Control.” She will never go more than 5 steps in trot or 5 strides in canter without changing the tempo. Her goal and habit is to teach a horse that a change is coming soon. “A horse will actually wait while going forward to wanting to sit on its hind legs in the half-halt.”

Tinne learned this daily habit from mentor Walter Christensen and it has become the signature training tool for both her and Louise. Tinne explains their “speed-control” term, “We play with the ‘gas’ and the ‘brake’; we play so that the horse always listens. We play with the trot, with the size of the trot and with the canter. We may canter three short steps, five longer and then three shorter so that the size of the step is never consistent. Then, we’ll change the number so that the horse knows it needs to keep up.”

“Especially if I ride a new horse,” she states. “The response I get from the horse has to always be up-to-date. I make sure we speak the same language, meaning that the horse reacts from the same amount of pressure. I just want to think ‘come back’ and the horse should come back and when I think ‘go forward’ then it should go forward. I want the horse always in front of me. And that way, I get them to do a little bit of the collecting by themselves. So, I always play with the speed, you could say.”  

Tinne describes doing a lot with the gaits and transitions. “Sometimes, I have to do transitions from trot-walk-trot, but I like it when the horse understands the transitions within the gait, whether trot or canter. If it’s Don Auriello, I can just do larger steps, then smaller steps and then larger steps within the trot or smaller strides, then larger strides and then smaller strides within the canter. That way, I’m sure our connection is 100% clear.”

“How a horse reacts to aids can be different each day. My horse may feel fresh one day and tired the next, so I’ll learn how to recognize and respond on those different days through speed-control. It’s important for me to be aware and know how to make my aids adapt to whether my horse is tired or fresh or feeling the pressure at a competition.”

Better Rider Position

“It’s a lot about balance; that both the horse and rider stay in balance. Riding correctly comes with sitting correctly,” she reminds. “It comes together when the rider sits correctly and moves the horse into balance. It then becomes so natural that the horse strives to work for that balance. And, it looks nice.”

Using her speed-control exercise to find a rider’s correct position, Tinne said, “When your intention is to go forward and the horse easily goes, and when you want to come back and the horse easily sits within the gait, it’s great. When I tell a new student why we go forward and back within the gaits so often, at some point, the rider will relax into a better position.”

“I think a lot of people sit incorrectly because they don’t give those clear aids. They don’t speak that clear language. They need to push there, there and there and pretty soon they’ve given 10 aids, but the horse can only respond to one aid at a time. It’s not capable of hearing those 10 aids all at once. That’s when the rider comes to work too hard.”

Keeping the Discipline

Tinne’s basic logic in her training includes what she learned from Christiansen, “You have to keep the discipline. It’s important to keep it fun every day; that's very important. First of all, you have to love horses and you have to love what you do or otherwise you’re not going to do it well. If it starts to be an effort, then you’ll have difficulties. For me, it’s the everyday work that drives me and being home with the horses. While I love competing, I could see my life without it. But, I couldn’t see my life without the everyday riding, that’s for sure. It has to be a lifestyle thing. If it’s not, then you’ll likely not become a high level rider. If you look at all the top riders, even the top jumpers, they do love their everyday work.”

Tinne’s Accomplishments

The highly accomplished Tinne competed in the 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Hong Kong and 2012 London Olympics. She also rode in three World Equestrian Games in 2006 Aachen, 2010 Lexington and 2014 Normandy and two times in the Dressage World Championships, 1994 The Haag and 2002 Jerez de la Frontera, as well as in seven World Cup Finals including this past March in Gothenburg where she placed second. Her current Olympic and World Games mount, Don Auriello, 14 years old (Don Davidoff x White Star), started his international Grand Prix debut at the 2012 Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, in 2013 she introduced Divermento, a horse now successfully ridden by Canadian Chris von Martels and in 2015, Tinne introduced Benetton Dream (Brentano II x Davignon), an 11 year-old stallion to the international Grand Prix arena.

Tinne expressed profound appreciation for Antonia Ax:son Johnson, the owner of her horses and her employer and sponsor. She said, “I have to say thank you to all the wonderful sponsors for this sport.”

To watch a video of Tinne riding --  CLICK HERE --- https://youtu.be/Q3tf9Oc8h-U

Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén and Paridon Magi at the 2016 Aachen Dressage Nations Cup