Eventing Performance Leader Penny Pearce and ESNZ High Performance General manager Coach Jock Paget File Photo: Libby Law Photography

ESNZ has made some small changes to its onshore-based high performance eventing programme that could have big impacts on the nation’s riders. The roles of performance leader and coaching and mentoring in New Zealand have been split with Penny Pearce (nee Castle) back in a leadership role.

The changes do not affect the UK-based programme which is led by eventing high performance manager Graeme Thom with support from his team.

High performance general manager Jock Paget says key is that the programme is rider-centric. “One size does not fit all,” he says, “and the further you go in the performance pathway, the more individualised it must be.”

Jock is being re-joined by former programme manager Penny who will be the performance leader overseeing management and coordination. While she stepped aside a few years ago, she has continued as a dressage coach and supported Jock as he led the programme. Also coming more officially into the fold is double world champion and Olympic gold medallist Blyth Tait who has often been requested by riders.

“We are a small country but we have access to a lot of great coaches here who have gone and done what our riders aspire to do,” says Jock.

Individual performance plans, which are completed six-monthly and reviewed regularly, are the driving force behind the changes.

Each rider’s IPP covers their wellbeing to ensure they have the necessary support. “The programme is agile and built to follow the needs of the riders. It is up to us to make sure we have a good process in place to extract this from the riders as they evolve.”

He’s excited to have Blyth contributing. “He knows what winning is about and understands the different layers of high performance – from athlete to coach and management.”

The coaching component has been set up so when a need pops up, the support team find the best available solution for that specific need with what is available. “We are relying on the great coaches within New Zealand and potentially offshore to deliver on the coaching and programme needs as required. Now it is a more collaborative approach as we continue to grow the programmes capability.”

A COVID-19-affected world calls for innovative thinking. “Five or 10 years ago it was hard to get an international standard here but what we saw at Puhinui from the top group was truly that,” says Jock.

New Zealand-based riders struggle to find the big atmospheres of offshore apart from at HOY. “We can replicate a lot but it’s very hard to create a true international atmosphere with the standard set by the world’s best. If a rider is capable, with enough determination and horsepower to win, the environment can do a lot of the work for you. In New Zealand we have to find ways to supplement this. The latest Puhinui 4* was a tough class but was won on a great score over a true 4* track with some exceptional riding.”

Penny agreed, tipping her hat to the onshore based riders who continued to push upwards.

“The challenge for athletes, particularly at the top end, is to have some serious competition to stay current, on their game and ready to perform,” she says. “We fortunately have some great talent here and loads of people with expertise. We have seen some great performances in the past six months which is encouraging and inspiring for our future athletes to see.”

A number of top riders had been based in New Zealand a year longer than had been planned. Penny says she is “super excited” to see top combinations head offshore. “Hopefully that won’t be in the too distant future. We will keep aiming to top up the squads thanks to an ever-increasing quality of riders who have the skill sets and horse power needed.”

A lot of work had been going in behind the scenes with Penny, Jock, programme administrator Yvette Lawson and former high performance manager Simon Bennett. “We have been working to streamline, and ensure we had clear processes and systems in place,” says Penny. “This will help with planning going forwards and give a good framework for those who step into our eventing programme in the future, keeping it current and successful.”

The management, coaching and coordination roles have evolved as the high performance eventing programme has grown and adjusted with the needs of the riders. “Our goal is to always keep the programme athlete-focussed and deliver to the needs as required. Our strength is that we want to add to what has got the athletes to their levels and add in the areas that need input.”

In the meantime the core team will continue to evolve and look forwards to a big competition year . . . if COVID allows.

In the UK, Graeme Thom’s workload continues to grow with the expanding high performance team here in New Zealand. The New Zealand-based high performance and high performance futures riders all have access to Graeme and the wider Northern Hemisphere-based programme. A well-established programme and support network is on hand for riders who look to re-locate or campaign for a championship, to help with that transition and accelerate their development.

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison