Kiwis eye gold with major eventing changes this season

Penny Castle
Penny Castle. © Libby Law

New Zealand has restructured its eventing development program with the aim of keeping Kiwi riders at the top tier of international competition.

The changes had been made to focus on the development of the country’s next level of riders with world-class potential, as well as developing eventing coaches, Equestrian Sports New Zealand High Performance Director Sarah Harris said.

Respected coach Penny Castle has been appointed to the new position of Performance Director in a broader role that will involve some coaching, but will be focused mainly on working with New Zealand-based squad riders to ensure they have the support and coaching as identified during the Individual Performance Planning process.

The restructuring of the performance programme will also give New Zealand based eventing riders potential access to more Government funding and development opportunities through High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ).

“Penny Castle is an outstanding coach, as recognised by her recent acceptance into HPSNZ’s Accelerated Coaching programme, which is a real honour,” Harris said.

The Coaching Accelerator programme aims to develop coaches to become capable of producing World and Olympic champions. Participants are chosen for this three-year programme if they are influential leaders and strategic thinkers respected both nationally and internationally. Equestrian is one of HPSNZ’s targeted sports and as such, opportunities such as this programme and funding are available to coaches. Only seven people have been chosen for this year’s intake. Current ESNZ’s HP coach Eric Duvander is in his last year of this programme.

Castle, from Manawatu, has over 25 years coaching experience and has achieved many successes competing in eventing but more latterly the dressage discipline. She has been involved in the careers of both High Performance Squad member Lizzie Brown and High Performance Accelerator squad member Jesse Campbell.

Clarke Johnstone (NZL) on Incognito III
Clarke Johnstone and Incognito III. © Mike Bain

Members of the High Performance Squad are all based in the UK, in order to compete at the highest levels.  These are combinations with an ability to finish in the top five individually at this year’s World Equestrian Games and/or 2016 Olympic Games. The High Performance Accelerated programme is for riders or combinations where the selectors want to take a longer term approach to performance enhancement for future championship team representation.

The riders on the Talent Development Squad, the next level, are seen by selectors as having the ability and motivation, with the right help, to move into the High Performance squad at some stage in the future. They have access to the HPSNZ programme, for both funding and specialty coaching.  Castle will be focusing a lot of her attention on the members of this squad.

The riders are: Samantha Felton (Waikato), Amanda Pottinger (Wairarapa), Virginia Thompson (Waitemata), Sarah Young (Waikato), Tayla Mason (Wellington) and Jessica Woods (Waikato).

There is also the Youth Talent Development Squad for riders under-23 who have been identified as having potential and with the right training and development could one day make an impact on the High Performance squads.

This squad is: Charlotte Grayling (Taranaki), Bonnie Farrant (Canterbury), Ellie Braddock (Canterbury), Alex Chambers-Steward (Auckland), Georgia Dufty (Bay of Plenty) and Francesca Silver (Wairarapa)

Playtime NZPH and Lizzie Brown (NZL)
High Performance Squad member Lizzie Brown on Playtime NZPH. © Mike Bain

One of the coaches who will be working with this squad in addition to Penny Castle is Clarke Johnstone, who has recently returned to New Zealand after some years competing from a UK base.  Johnstone’s own coaching career is supported through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship run by HPSNZ and he is a member of the High Performance Accelerator programme.

Tinks Pottinger has been involved in the performance programme for the last few years, but will not be continuing her hands-on role. Pottinger is widely recognised as having played a crucial role in developing the younger riders. Her own daughter Amanda, now a member of the Talent Development Squad, is an example of just how effective Pottinger has been in this role.

Nick Pyke, chair of ESNZ Eventing, is grateful for Pottinger’s input to date. “Having someone with Tinks’ experience and skills involved in our performance programme has been invaluable. She is passionate about developing young riders and has worked tirelessly to help them step up to the next level.  Our sport owes her a big vote of thanks.”

More information on the changes to the programme is below.

Why have these changes been made?

With the HPSNZ funding secured for the next four years, there was the opportunity to look at how this programme could best influence the riders based in New Zealand.   The funding for High Performance squads has to be utilised according to the HPSNZ agreement on those riders in that squad, but there is also the opportunity to fund some riders in New Zealand who, with the right opportunities and development, could in future be part of the High Performance squad.  This, combined with Penny Castle’s inclusion in the Coaching Accelerator Programme, meant the timing was right for taking the programme to the next level.   There are some exciting riders coming through the ranks, and it is also good to see some of the more experienced riders continuing to be successful  in New Zealand.   

Why did a dressage rider get appointed to an important eventing role?

The role is more about an overall strategic coaching, mentoring and leadership role rather than a coach of individual disciplines.  Penny has an excellent understanding of the demands of eventing, having competed in eventing earlier in her career, and had involvement in coaching event riders for the last 25 years.  She has had a lot of success in her dressage competitions and has an excellent knowledge of all aspects of equestrian sports.  Her strategic viewpoint across the sport as a whole is very valuable.  

What does the coaching accelerator programme involve?

Selected coaches undertake up to four compulsory residential camps per year and, in conjunction with their High Performance Coaching Consultant, learn on the job as they go about their regular coaching. The priorities for the coaches’ learning and development will be identified using a thorough process involving 360 feedback. 

What exactly is the role of the Performance Director and what is different from the Performance Leader’s role that Tinks previously held?

The new role of Performance Director is broader than the previous role.  There will be some aspects of coaching, but the main focus will be mentoring and working with individuals through the Individual Performance Planning (IPP) process.   The IPP is used to ensure optimal performance planning, integration and use of appropriate resources and opportunities.   The Performance Director’s role will focus on ensuring riders have the support structures and appropriate individual coaches as identified during the Individual Performance Planning process.   

Will Tinks Pottinger be involved in future?

Tinks will not be involved officially at this point.  There could be times in the future when she gets involved again as she has excellent skills and experience.   Her daughter Amanda is in the Talent Development squad as well, so Amanda will be able to benefit from independent guidance from the new Performance Director as well as continuing to have her mother’s support on a day to day basis. 

Why is so much money spent on so few people and why can’t HP spend more money on national squads?

High Performance Sport New Zealand invests in the country’s elite athletes and coaches on behalf of the Government so we can produce more winners on the world stage.   Investment is made in sports and athletes that have medal potential at the Olympic Games.  Equestrian is one of the priority sports that receive funding.  The HPSNZ strategy is to be very targeted with the funding.  Resources and performance support are allocated on a top down, targeted basis focusing on those sports, individuals and teams that have the greatest chance of winning medals at the next Olympic Games and beyond.   HPSNZ is clear that their role is to assist national sporting organisations such as Equestrian Sports NZ to build world leading coaching and high performance programme leadership.  

Is there any money within the HP funding to support some of our events that are struggling financially?

The High Performance Sports NZ funding is very targeted and is specifically for individuals and teams who can win medals.  While it is so very important that we run great events in New Zealand to develop our eventing riders across the board, funding is not available through High Performance.   ESNZ Eventing has a key priority within its long term strategy; well-run events with good courses/venues, support for organising committees and creation of great event venues.  There are many initiatives under way which it is hoped will achieve this mission. 

Who decides who is on what squads?

The selectors for the High Performance and High Performance Accelerator squads are Judy Bradwell, Eric Duvander and Richard Otto.   The Talent Development and Youth squads selection panel is currently made up of Eric Duvander, Richard Otto and Bill Phiskie.  ESNZ Eventing is hoping to name an additional selector shortly to this panel. 

With the exception of the High Performance Squad, the squads seem to consist of mainly young riders.  Does this mean our older / more experienced riders here in New Zealand cannot access this funding or opportunities?

If these older / more experienced riders achieve the standards and results with a horse and show that they potentially could win a medal at WEG or the Olympics, then selectors have the option to include them in the High Performance squad.   There is also the option for them to be included in the High Performance Accelerator squad in situations such as if they had a super young horse(s) that the selectors wanted them to take a long term approach with. 





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