ESNZ high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout may have had six months ‘off’ but rest assured she hasn’t been sitting around doing nothing. Sarah and husband Phil had their first child Jonty in December – the little mite arriving three weeks early – and they are now nearing the end of building their first home together.
“Yes,” says Sarah. “It is a big year with the WEG ahead but life has to continue in the background. In the year of the 2016 Olympic Games we also got engaged and married! I am relieved – and excited – that we move in shortly as the bulk of the decision-making is done so I can have a clear mind for the rest of the WEG preparation.”
While Sarah was officially on maternity leave, she says she kept her finger on the pulse. “I had at least one hand on the reins while I was meant to be away.”
She is loving being a mum. “It’s great. It’s actually a little hard to imagine not having him in our lives now. I don’t really consider myself a full-time mum when Phil and Jonty’s grandparents are so actively involved in his life also.”
The family has just been joined by a German au pair. “I have a lot of friends and sisters who have children, so we knew what we were in for.”
Jonty has slotted seamlessly into a menagerie that already included horses, dogs and a cat. “I am surprised at just how much I enjoy it all,” says Sarah. “I wasn’t particularly maternal before I had Jonty. It is incredible how much love you can have for such a tiny, wee person from the day they enter the world.”
She has been in her high performance role for three-and-a-half years. “The biggest challenge is operating a high performance programme that is so global in its reach. New Zealand is literally as far away from the United Kingdom as you could possibly be – and that is where the majority of our eventing high performance riders and staff are based.”
Sarah says those behind the programme are always looking to improve how things are done. “Within the programme we are continuously challenging ourselves to think about how we can do things better, develop what we are doing, and stay ahead of the competition – both internationally in eventing, but also in respect of other sports that are vying for High Performance Sport New Zealand funding.”
The proposed changes to the Olympic Games format for eventing will surely bring adaptations for the Kiwis’ high performance programme. Eventing is one of HPSNZ’s targeted sports. HPSNZ’s priorities are clear – it supports sports and athletes who are medal capable at Olympic Games.
“We will need to adapt to the proposed changes in the Olympic format as this is what we are tasked with – medalling,” says Sarah.
She thrives in the challenge her job brings and thoroughly enjoys developing relationships with “incredible people” in the sport whom, but for the role, she would never have met.
“Not only do we have an incredible group of people with world-leading expertise who work tirelessly behind the scenes to enable our high performance riders to continue to succeed, but also a huge number of volunteers and officials – all of whom I am fortunate to be able to continuously learn from.”
She is now knee-deep in organising and planning New Zealand’s 2018 WEG where she is chef de mission for the team. With four sports represented at Tryon – eventing, jumping, dressage and endurance – it isn’t quite the size of team she thought she would be heading, but it is still a big undertaking.
Earlier there had been hopes for more riders, and other disciplines to also be included.
“I am fortunate to have a team that includes Warrick (Allan) as assistant chef, who has a number of WEGs under his belt. I am also supported by a team of hard-working chefs d’equipe too. Together we will work through the multitude of decisions, communications, processes and actions that will be required to land our team in Tryon ready to perform at their best.”
Potentially there will be 14 horses and riders coming from Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and New Zealand, along with their grooms from across the globe, and up to 25 support staff including coaches, vets, managers, strappers, physios, farriers and media.
“Each of the four disciplines has different requirements and need to be able to perform at their best come Games time. While we do our best to enable our riders to concentrate on their campaign preparation, there is a huge amount to be done to ensure we have ticked all the boxes so they do have the best performance environment possible.”
While eventing has funding, jumping, dressage and endurance representatives face a significant cost. “It is an immense financial undertaking on top of what they have already done to get themselves selected at this top level. I really encourage everyone who looks up to these riders to contribute to the various fundraising campaigns underway.”
Tryon will be the first WEG Sarah has attended, but she is confident the New Zealand competitors will have an environment and culture that will enable them to produce some personal best performances on the international stage.
“Once our teams are named and we begin that final campaign preparation I am sure I will be as nervous and excited as every other Kiwi equestrian follower and fan.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photo by Libby Law/ESNZ
31st July 2018