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Nina Kontio: “If you don’t have a good working relationship with your team, it becomes very difficult to do a good job”

Wednesday, 25 January 2023
Interview

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“Horses have always been a part of my life – I just started with a different discipline and then moved onto jumping,” Nina Kontio – home rider for Team Philippaerts – tells WoSJ. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

For the past three years, Nina Kontio has worked as Team Philippaerts’ home rider in Oudsbergen, Belgium. WoSJ had a chat with the 26-year-old Finn, who grew up surrounded by horses. “My dad does harness racing, so we always had horses at home,” Nina tells WoSJ.

From trotting to showjumping

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
"I am very happy with what I am doing now," Nina says about her job as Team Philippaerts’ home rider. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping

“Horses have always been a part of my life – I just started with a different discipline and then moved onto jumping,” Nina smiles. “My half-sister Anna-Julia was always into showjumping and after seeing her jump, I also wanted to do it. While I started with the trotters, the jumpers were somehow more interesting. Every time I visited Anna-Julia, I saw her jump and that is how my interest in this sport started. I had to beg my mom to get a pony for jumping, and in the end I got one.”

“I competed when I was younger, and yes, it would still be nice,” Nina continues to speak about her love for showjumping. “However, I know those jobs are hard to come by and I am very happy with what I am doing now. I have some young horses at home, who are currently ridden by Joel Andersson, but for now I am very happy – even if I do miss the jumping part. You also have to be realistic: There are jobs for riders, but it is never easy – you need show experience, but there are not that many jobs where you can actually gain that experience. So, if you don’t have the experience, employers are always going to look for someone who has done more.” 

A crucial role

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“My main task is to ride, so when Olivier and Nicola are away, I ride all their horses," Nina tells. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

"My main task is to ride, so when Olivier and Nicola are away, I ride all their horses," Nina explains about her role at Philippaerts’ stable. “However, sometimes, if it is necessary, I go to the shows, but most of the time I am at home riding.”

A normal day for Nina starts with feeding and mucking out the boxes. “The days are pretty similar, but depend on whether everyone is at home or not,” she says. “We try to keep the system very simple: All the horses go in the field and get ridden every day. I ride a few when everyone is home, and when they are gone, I do all the horses that are left – normally around six to eight horses per day.”

Keep it simple

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“My job is to make sure the horses are in the best condition possible before a show,” Nina says. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“My job is to make sure the horses are in the best condition possible before a show,” Nina says. “When I ride, my focus is on having the horses relaxed and loose. Their rideability has to be good, so that when Olivier or Nicola gets on and jumps, everything works. Keeping the horses happy and giving them variation in their work are the two main points. We try to keep it simple; the horses should be happy and fresh, so that when Olivier and Nicola come home, or go to a show, the horses are fit and ready. We ride a lot in the forest and on the grass, so that the horses experience different environments and are not in the arena all day. The forest around the barn is big and we can really work the horses there to get them fit.” 

“Olivier and Nicola are very nice to work for, and easy going,” Nina continues. “I know what they want, and they trust me, so when they are away, they don't have to call all the time and check on us. Usually everything works pretty smooth. We are a big stable, but everyone works in their own team, so it is not too mixed. I believe we have a good team.”

“I think it is not only important, it is crucial,” Olivier says when asked about the importance of a good home rider. “I cannot even put into words how important having a good home rider is. Home riders have to do the work at home as if they were going to the show themselves; they have to enjoy seeing the horses develop. I think the development is also their accomplishment since the home riders do at least half of the work with the horses. With the amount of shows that there is week in and week out, my home rider will work the horses more than I do myself. Therefore, I cannot even explain how important it is to have a good rider at home.”

Realistic expectations and good working relationships

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
“I simply enjoy my job, and when the horses do well at the shows, it is a great boost for the whole team for the effort we put in everyday,” Nina tells. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

Many stables currently struggle with finding good staff and Nina believes unrealistic expectations can be part of the problem. “Often, you see new people coming in, not expecting the amount of work there actually is,” she points out. “I feel like everyone is struggling to find grooms and finding it hard to keep staff. Surely everyone has their own reasons, but as an example, for me it is a big thing that I get along with my rider. In my opinion, if you don’t have a good working relationship with your team, it becomes very difficult to do a good job and stay for a long period of time. I am very happy here, and the fact that the whole family is super nice and well-mannered plays a big part in that.”

“Grooms have to enjoy what they do; I know many friends who stopped with horses simply because they were overworked and tired,” Nina continues. “It is important for the employers to take care of their staff, and to make sure they have enough time off. This way, you keep your staff and it is also easier to find new people. However, sometimes people are very selective on the jobs as well, and always find something to pick on, even if the absolutely perfect job probably does not even exist. Also, when you have jobs out there with two horses and a lot of money, it becomes hard for normal stables to compete with that – even though having less horses does not necessarily make the job better. Sometimes you might think the grass is greener on the other side, even if it is not. Another challenge is to find personalities that mix well together and fit in your team with the rest of the people you have.”

“I simply enjoy my job, and when the horses do well at the shows, it is a great boost for the whole team for the effort we put in everyday,” Nina concludes. “Even if I don’t jump myself, I kind of get that competitive feeling through that. And if I would jump myself, I would jump a lot smaller – it would not be what Olivier and Nicola do – and to have the horses jumping on the highest level and doing well is very rewarding. However, it is not just about one person, everyone plays their part on the team, so when the horses do well – like at the 2021 Europeans – we are all happy. For me, that is what I get out of it: I am a part of a team that can be very successful at the highest level.” 

 

25.1.2023 No reproduction of any of the content in this article will be accepted without a written permission, all rights reserved © World of Showjumping.com. If copyright violations occur, a penalty fee will apply. 



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