Aiming for a possible eighth Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo, Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén of Sweden has made Wellington her winter home for the past 10 years.
As one of the most respected and high-profile riders at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF), Tinne has kept horses central to her life since childhood and has found happiness in the warm Florida winters.
Tinne’s mother Berit, also a dressage rider and a horse show organizer (including dressage at the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm), got her daughter involved in the sport at a young age and had her learning from some of the best in the world, like Walter Christensen, who was the chef d’équipe for Sweden at the time.
While dressage wasn’t a foregone conclusion for Tinne, she does think that the sport, which requires patience and intricacy, suits her well.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to find a new solution to different problems,” she explained. “I can sit forever and try to figure something out, and that’s a little bit how dressage can be, too. The relationship with the horse can be like that, to figure out how they think and react and how I can get them to do it the best way. I think it’s really fascinating, so I think dressage suits my personality.”
Tinne turned professional and started her own business with dressage horses at the age of 23 and made it to two Olympic Games before a meeting with Antonia Ax:son Johnson of Lövsta Stuteri changed her life in 1999. Antonia had a four-year-old stallion and asked Tinne to ride him. Since then, Lövsta Stuteri has become one of the top equine breeding operations, offering stallion breeding around the world.
“We started to talk, and after an hour in the indoor schooling arena, I ended up going home with a new job instead, which was moving over to work for her,” Tinne recalled. “It was the best thing I ever could have done. It changed my life and my possibility to be a professional rider.”
Tinne and Antonia went on to incredible success on the world stage with top performances at eight European Championships, seven FEI Dressage World Cup Finals, five FEI World Equestrian Games and five more Olympic appearances.
The standout in Tinne’s long list of talented mounts was Don Auriello, a Hanoverian gelding that received the silver medal at the 2016 Gothenburg FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Tinne’s home country of Sweden.
But among the standout memories of Don Auriello for Tinne were his Friday Night Stars freestyle performances at the AGDF.
“It’s going to stay in my heart forever, I think,” she said. “The atmosphere and the feeling in the evening is a cool memory. Don Auriello loved the atmosphere and loved to be in front of people. That’s a great feeling to sit on a horse that enjoys it and wants to show himself. I think it’s going to stay my favorite memory. I have a lot of other fantastic horses, but he was very special.”
Tinne first competed in Wellington in 2010 at the World Dressage Masters at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center. Together with Antonia and her daughter, Sophie Morner, who had already competed jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival in previous years, Tinne and Antonia still come to Wellington every winter, and Tinne shares stabling with Sophie at Lövsta South.
When she first came to Wellington, her first impression was one of awe.
“It’s like a dream world for a horse person to see so many stables,” Tinne said. “You think you are coming to a normal community, but it’s just horses everywhere, and I think it is just great. Almost the whole town is built for horses, so it’s an impressive thing to see first-hand. It’s fascinating, and it has grown so much since then as well, but even then, it was amazing.”
That favorable impression extends to the AGDF. Tinne credits the show for its international feel, professional management, fantastic footing, top judges, and safe, horse-friendly stabling.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare my horses for the championships than being here in the winter,” she said. “The first year when we came home [to Sweden] in the spring, I was worried the horses would be tired because they [competed] all winter, but actually the horses that were here over the winter were more fit and more ready to work than the ones that had been home in the winter in the cold.”
Being a part of the Wellington community has developed over the years for Tinne and Lövsta. Lövsta was a major festival sponsor this winter and presented the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle CDI-W during AGDF 1 in January.
Last year, Tinne and Antonia, along with Louise Nathhorst, were instrumental in bringing the Lövsta Future Challenge, a concept that started in Sweden, to Wellington. The series gives young Grand Prix horses the opportunity to compete for valuable international experience at a major competition, prize money and recognition early in their careers.
Antonia also pledged that for every entry in the Lövsta Future Challenge, Lövsta would donate $250 to the local charity, Friends of Palm Beach, a nonprofit organization that cleans the beaches of Palm Beach regularly to remove incoming plastic, trash and unnatural debris, and to educate the community on the effects of this on the environment and marine life. They partner with other nonprofit job placement programs to help end the cycle of homelessness while also helping to end the cycle of trash in the ocean. Lövsta ended up giving $8,500 to Friends of Palm Beach in 2020.
Outside of the horse show, Tinne’s husband, Jan, who works for Garmin on sailing boat navigation, joins her every winter, and her son Lucas came to Wellington and attended school in the community. While Lucas is 19 now and stays in Sweden, Tinne still enjoys the opportunities that life in Wellington affords her.
“I think this combination of being able to compete and train and still be social with my family at the same time is a dream for me,” she explained. “If you’re in Europe, then you travel for days before you even get to the show, and then you are gone for a week. Here, I can compete and still be home, which is very different. I can make the horses my focus here and still keep up with my family. I get to have both.”
While Tokyo is on her mind, the fluctuating situation regarding major sporting events leaves the rest of 2021 up in the air. For Tinne, she will continue to do what she has always done — focus on her horses and her current situation. That focus on the details that drew her to dressage in the first place remains her driving force.
“With everything going on in the world right now, I am just happy that we can keep competing and that it is possible to even do this at the same time,” Tinne explained. “That we can keep going with our passion and our professional lives is great right now; many people can barely live. I just like to stay prepared and see what happens.”