New method in eventing training
It is hoped a fresh approach to equestrian training, based at Pauatahanui, will help produce the next generation of Kiwi Olympic riders.
‘‘That’s the plan,’’ says development coach Toni Gray, who has just provided a 10-week Eventing Talent ID Squad programme for the Wellington Pony Club.
The club had no grant funding to provide traditional squad training across all four disciplines in 2011 (dressage, show jumping, endurance and eventing), so Gray sponsored a squad of 11 riders for 10 sessions on eventing only, five of which were theory, at her Grays Rd property (she is a descendant of the James Gray farming family).
Eventing combines the obedience of dressage, the athletic ability of show jumping, and the fitness demands of cross-country riding.
Rather than expect the young riders, aged nine to 21, to adapt to her coaching principles, Gray tried to be more innovative, ‘‘helping riders to learn by ‘feel’ rather than ‘copy’ my instructions’’.
‘‘As is the case with coaches of any sport, they often telling kids what to do rather than experimenting to find ways that work for each individual . . . It’s been a bit of an experiment on my part. [After completing Equestrian Sports NZ workshops] I had all this information I wanted to share and didn’t know how it would work.’’
But Gray says feedback from riders and their parents has been fantastic and some of the riders have shown impressive progress with the new method.
Involving families has been an important component of the training, ensuring riders get constructive support in their spare time, as has simulating the pressures of competition.
‘‘I often find riders do beautiful riding here, then at competition don’t do so well. If we can simulate competition pressure it makes a huge difference. We’ve had a couple of riders who have crumbled, they got quite nervous.
‘‘There’s a lot of drill work – I tell them they haven’t mastered a skill until they can do it repeatedly and under pressure.’’
Though Wellington has a great equestrian community, Gray says it is becoming harder for people to own horses and do riding as a sport – it requires a lot of preparation and financial outlay. The cost of petrol makes getting to rallies expensive, and registration fees have also increased.
‘‘And a lot of riders are on lifestyle blocks with limited grazing, they have to feed out. Gran [Granny Gray] had the first farm in the area, which had 20 grazers.
‘‘There was a lot of camaraderie among riders, always challenging each other. Now each rider has their own spot, and they’re not riding over hills, so there isn’t the confidence in cross-country.’’
Though they are very talented, it does reveal something of the state of the sport that ‘‘the old guys’’ like Mark Todd have had to come back, says Gray, without new blood moving them on. She hopes the Talent ID Squad training will go some way towards fostering the next era of high performance riders.
‘‘And I want to be one of the best coaches. It’s so exciting seeing them succeed, or exceed their expectations.’’
With the final session held last Sunday, Gray says the riders will fill out evaluation forms for the Wellington Pony Club, who will decide if and how to utilise the programme again in 2012.
Horses for courses: Equestrian New Zealand development coach Toni Gray is excited about the success of her ‘‘athletecentred’’ high performance training programme.