Russia’s Irina Maknimi Judges in United States for First Time, at Global Dressage Festival CD5*

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Irina Maknami

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Feb. 7, 2017–Russian 4* judge Irina Maknami is judging for the first time in the United States, on the panel at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI5* in Wellington, Florida.

The 41 year-old Irina, one of six Russian dressage judges, returns to the U.S. after riding for Virginia professional Melissa Ash after the Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson imported some Russian dressage horses that she rode in national competitions.

Irina become a 3* judge in 2009 and upgraded to 4* four years later as well as also becoming a Young Horse 4* judge.

Irina grew up in Russia while it was still the Communist-ruled Soviet Union and although not from a family with any interest in horses, she was like many children who wanted to ride. Despite several rejections to be admitted to the government-controlled equestrian clubs she was finally accepted into the Equestrian Center Bitzawas in Moscow, a sprawling complex built for the 1980 Olympics.

Grand Prix rider and trainer Olga Soboleva took her under her wing, teaching her how to handle horses and ride dressage at national shows. She later trained with Anatoly Antikyan before moving to Virginia for three years.

On her return to Russia she worked for the equestrian federation in charge of  international relations, helped organize international shows, was chef d’ equipe for Russian dressage teams and started judging national competitions.

She owns two “very friendly and very spoiled dressage horses” with whom she spends at least half a day at the stables when not judging.

“Of course, as I judge quite a lot of shows now, my riding is rather inconsistent,” Irina told dressage-news.com, “I cannot call it serious dressage work, it is more like just trying to keep me and my horses in shape.”

In the last several years, Central European nations have put a lot of effort into development of dressage making what she describes as “a very big improvement in this area.”

“Talking about Russia, dressage (and equestrian sport in general) is becoming extremely popular in our country,” she said. “New modern equestrian centers are appearing all the time and they are quickly filling up with horses. Not a long time ago we used to have three or four CDIs a year. In 2016 we had 10 CDIs and we have 11 scheduled for 2017.

“The number of riders competing internationally both in CDIs in Russia and abroad, has increased greatly.

“The quality of riding is also getting much better in all age groups. For example, five years ago at the CDIs in Russia the result of 67 per cent was considered a very good result, with which a rider could be first;,now to win one needs a result minimum of 70 per cent, most of the time even higher.”

Enormous effort has been put into improving the knowledge of officials with an education program for national judges similar to the FEI (International Equestrian Federation) system. Several seminars are held each year with the most experienced foreign judges that are also open to riders, trainers, owners and parents. Most are broadcast online.

Similar developments are happening throughout Central Europe.

Irina sees similarities in dressage in Russia and the United States.

“I think that for our riders the ‘distance’ and ‘crossing the borders’ are two of the biggest problems, preventing them from being more successful,” she said.

“It is very difficult and extremely expensive for our riders to participate in European  competitions. Basically, to be competitive a rider has to leave his family, his job, other horses, clients and either move to Europe or stay there at least several months every year.

“Only a few can afford that. And of course, the other side of this problem is that it is hard for us to convince riders from Europe to come to our shows.

“But to make sport more exciting and attractive for spectators and especially sponsors we, of course, need more nations in our international shows.

“I think that for the USA organizing the Global Dressage Festival with seven weeks of top-sport dressage and top organization is a genius solution to a similar problem. The festival brings super riders from all over the world and sport becomes very exciting and competitive.

“I know that Russian organizers also have already been thinking in this direction–to use the idea of Wellington and to organize series of competitions in Moscow that could attract many riders from all countries of Central Europe. I really hope that this will happen soon.”

The highlights of her judging career so far, Irina said, was judging “the two legendary, incredible, outstanding horses, who had a great influence on the development and popularization of dressage worldwide, together with their amazing riders: Totilas and Valegro. Judging them was a very exciting, super emotional and unforgettable experience.”

Others have been the World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016 and inaugural European Championships for Under-25 riders in Hagen, Germany in June.  The exiting thing was that, as you know, Championships for this age group happened for the first time in history.

“It was such a pleasure to see these amazing young people, who are so young but so unbelievably talented and so experienced,” Irina said. “This really blessed my heart. It showed that our beloved sport has a super future.”