International dressage trainer Isobel Wessels may work with some of the best in the world, but she heads home from a recent trip to New Zealand buoyed about the talent she has seen here.
“There is some super talent (here) and lucky me to help them on their way,” said the 5* judge, trainer and competitor. Wessels, who works with ESNZ’s high performance eventers, was in New Zealand for the third time in as many years as part of a High Performance Sport New Zealand Prime Minister’s Scholarship.
While in New Zealand, Wessels worked with dressage performance squad members, and both the eventing performance and high performance riders, 20 coaches as part of the ESNZ high performance coaching day, a clinic for a large number of national dressage judges and she also judged and ran a masterclass at Equidays.
Wessels enjoyed her time coaching, and particularly with those that she has seen develop over the years, “The squads are looking good,” she said. “There is much to be proud of and some super talent coming through.”
The visit is a key part of the ESNZ High Performance Coaching Programme, which is focused on developing quality New Zealand coaches for the future, while supporting and growing current performance and high performance coaches.
“The coaches day was the third one I have been involved with in New Zealand and definitely the best so far,” said Wessels. She worked alongside HPSNZ coach co-ordinator Lyn Gunson, ESNZ eventing performance leader Penny Castle, ESNZ eventing performance development coach Jock Paget and talent ID co-leader Tracy Smith.
“We worked a lot on achieving a really good connection from hind leg to rein, and after being interviewed by Jock I gave insight into the training scale and how this influences everything,” said Wessels. “It was felt the subject is not totally understood so we illustrated, discussed and using guinea pigs, showed how to reach goals.”
She felt Gunson’s exercises, around coaching skills which did not involve horses or riders themselves, were both “stimulating and revealing”. Wessels said it was a “privilege” to work with coaches Paget, Castle and Smith.
Similarly, Wessels judges’ clinic was an important fixture in ESNZ Dressage’s Judges’ Training Programme. Sue Hobson, ESNZ Dressage’s judges’ officer says it is imperative New Zealand seeks as much overseas (international) input as possible for our judges.
“They can give us invaluable feedback on what is happening with the judging scene in Europe, as well as new ideas and rules, and also put more emphasis on the correct way of going.” The connection to high performance is an obvious one.
“It is imperative we continue to try and get at least one top 5* judge a year to New Zealand so we keep up with the rest of the world and our riders and horses have a real chance to perform on the world stage.”
ESNZ High Performance dressage selector Judy Alderdice says for her, having national dressage squads included in the high performance initiatives with Wessels has huge benefits for all.
“It meant all squads were exposed to the same level of training along the same lines,” said Alderdice. “Isobel was happy to approach the training sessions in either her capacity as a trainer or a judge, which meant the riders didn’t have to make the choice to use a different trainer but could still benefit from the sessions.”
Alderdice said many of the squad riders had been judged by Wessels at the Equidays competition and were able to discuss their test sheets with her and take part in video reviews if they wished.
“The uptake for this was very good and the feedback from the riders positive. It is very important that our riders have access to good trainers and judges who are active in the international dressage world. It is often difficult for them to measure how their results here fit in to the bigger picture. “
Wessels also spent time with dressage high performance riders.
“Isobel also had useful advice for those riders contemplating heading offshore,” said Alderdice. “I don’t think it is possible for us to develop our sport without the help of people like Isobel and we are very fortunate to have her on board. Although the timetable was full on, it was very worthwhile and I would hope we could repeat this on a regular basis.”
ESNZ high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout said it is vital New Zealand continues to upskill and keep Kiwis abreast with international trends, competition and developments.
“That way we can ensure our riders are able to step seamlessly into international environments as required,” said Dalziell-Clout. “We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Isobel’s calibre available to our programme and people. She has had an extremely busy year judging at the Europeans as well as continuing to coach and support our UK based high performance eventers. It was great to work together with Equidays and ESNZ Dressage to ensure such a range of our community gained access to Isobel’s knowledge.”