The handsome Sternenwanderer, a 16-year-old Rheinlander gelding by Lord Loxley out of Rivella, owned by Dieter Laugks and Integraud Bolz is living up to his name and his pedigree under the saddle of Canadian dressage athlete Ryan Torkkeli. His name, which means ‘stardust’ in German, has strong lineage and incredible movement that Torkkeli and owner and trainer Laugks have high hopes to bring all the way to the palace of Versailles next year.  

Horse of the Month: Sternenwanderer, the Boastful Rheinlander Bringing Stardust to Canadian Dressage

Torkkeli knew the magical quality of his partner from their very first meeting when the gelding was just three-years-old. “I first rode Sternenwanderer when visiting from California,” said Torkkelli, speaking of the time he and his husband, fellow grand prix competitor Thomas Walker, were based in the US. “I’ll never forget the first time I made the transition from walk to trot and felt the immense power that he has for the first time. Goosebumps.” (EuroDressage, 2021).

He and ‘Sternie’ would not come back together for almost a decade, but for Torkkeli, it was destiny. “Little did I know, Sternenwanderer would change my life forever,” he added. That change began in 2019 when he took over the reins from Laugks. Bolz as part owner secured the ride for him and Sternie moved to her stable near Cologne.

“When Ingetraud (Bolz) asked me if I would come work for her, it was a no-brainer. I’ve known her for nearly 20 years, and she’s an amazing human being,” said Torkkeli of his move back to Germany four years ago. He and Walker now both work at Bolz’s training centre.

Laugks and Bolz know they have invested in a special horse. Sternenwanderer’s sire was a 1999 Rheinlander stallion by Lord Sinclair out of Weltlady that was an outstanding producer of dressage horses in his lifetime. He won the silver medal at the World Young Dressage Young Horse Championships in Verden and it was said at the 2004 Bundeschampionate (German Championships) in Warendorf that no other horse came close to his power, suppleness, or ground coverage. The impressive 16.3HH dark bay finished the championship on an exceptional score of 9.5.

Horse of the Month: Sternenwanderer, the Boastful Rheinlander Bringing Stardust to Canadian Dressage

Sternie’s sire Lord Loxley was a striking stallion bred by Josef Faymonville of Gestut Sonnehof in Belgium who sadly passed away at the age of 23 in September 2022.

Many say the breeding of an exceptional horse is imbedded not just in their ability but also in their personality and this holds true with the now mature Sternie. “Sternenwanderer is basically equine royalty,” Torkkeli has said. “He knows it and expects to be treated accordingly. I can’t explain it any better.” (EuroDressage, 2021)

Left: Ryan Torkkeli and Sternenwanderer celebrate at the end of their performance in the Grand Prix at the ECCO FEI World Championships 2022 in Herning, DEN Right: Laugks and Torkkeli pose together after speaking with media in the mixed zone
Photo Credit: Cealy Tetley, EC Communications

Laugks had Sternenwanderer with him in training since buying him as a two-year-old and was his sole owner until the move four years ago. The German athlete turned trainer who competed in international Dressage competition until 2012, has continued with training Torkkeli in Cologne.

Together the three have built a chemistry that is working and producing results in the ring. A big motivation for them was the combination’s appearance at the ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark in August 2022, which was a dream come true for Torkkeli.

Culminating many years of work and effort, everything has been coming together for him in the partnership with Sternenwanderer. “Sternie and I clicked from the beginning,” he reiterated. “But the last year I feel we have really bonded on another level.” The hope is now, that the magic will continue in the lead up to Paris 2024.

“I came to Germany over 20 years ago as a 19-year-old and all you think about is going to the Olympics or World Championships or World Cup Final,” Torkelli has shared about their success. “You ride a lot of horses and have a lot of opportunities, but there are a lot of factors that have to come together for it all to work. I have an amazing horse, an amazing trainer, and an amazing owner, and it’s everything I’ve worked towards.”

The combination has been making appearances at European competitions in 2023 and are capitalizing on Sternenwander’s love of the spotlight, which ideally balances with Torkkeli’s more humble side. “He loves it when there’s people watching. He never gets tense; he is a real showman,” said Torkkeli. “He loves the prize giving and the atmosphere when there’s a lot of people and it’s a little bit electric.”

Horse of the Month: Sternenwanderer, the Boastful Rheinlander Bringing Stardust to Canadian Dressage

Even though Sternie appears to enjoy the limelight more than his rider, Torkkeli’s grit and determination is well matched with that of his mount. “At home he is all business,” he shared about the Rheinlander. “He is always motivated whether out for a hack or working in the arena.”

They have also found a communication style that works well. Due to his many years of living and working in Germany, Torkelli, who’s hometown is Thunder Bay, ON, mostly speaks to Sternie in German. More recently, however, they are both beginning to hone their French skills as their groom Rebecca who recently joined the team, is from France.

As the pair continues to reach the podium, like they did with their third-place finish in the CDI 3* Grand Prix in Jardy, France on June 16, 2023 Sternie will continue to get more of what he loves – lots of attention and pampering. “He really loves the extra attention at the competitions,” said Torkkeli. “At competitions he also gets a lot of bananas which is his absolute favorite treat. He also loves the relax program from the Equusir blanket.”

It seems like the equestrian venue’s backdrop of the Palais de Versailles at the 2024 Summer Olympics is perfectly suited for Sternenwanderer to perform and shine. Likely if either of them has anything to say about it, they’ll be working hard over the coming months to ensure that they get there. 

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