ESNZ has announced the Chef d’Equipe’s for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.
Wendy Hamerton has been announced for dressage, Graeme Thom for eventing, Susan Reid for endurance and Helena Stormanns for show jumping. All are currently well entrenched in their respective disciplines.
Thom, the current eventing high performance manager, is no stranger to WEG, having twice been with the Canadian team – in 2006 as the high performance representative and in 2010 as chef d’equipe when the eventing team won silver. “It is truly an honour (to be the New Zealand eventing chef) given our high expectations,” says Thom. “There are so many terrific riders and personalities who want to win and have the acumen to do so.”
While not keen to jinx anything, Thom said the clear goal was a team medal. “I believe the attitude and forethought by our athletes towards this WEG is unique. We are all looking to provide a medal outcome for New Zealand, High Performance Sport New Zealand, our owners and sponsors. We are truly heading to WEG 2018 as a team.”
And he was very complementary about Tryon as a venue. “The facility is already most of the way there. The organising committee is dedicated to providing the best possible (venue) for all the athletes, owners, sponsors and spectators.”
Thom has been “intimately” involved in five major games and feels this was looking to be the smoothest. “This will benefit our riders, who are such seasoned travellers, that they will settle in and compete as if they had driven 10km down the road.”
It was reassuring for him too, to be having his first major games with New Zealand in North America.
Showjumping chef Helena Stormanns is no stranger to WEG. She was the travelling reserve for Germany in 1998 in Rome. “I went as the fifth rider but you go prepared in case somebody drops out,” she said. “The Germany team, they are all pretty strong and went on to win the gold medal.”
At Aachen, Stormanns was the trainer for an “outsider” riding for Hungary. “She was there for the experience.” In 2014 Michael Whittaker rode her horse Viking. The combination had won the gold at European Championships the year before but didn’t go as well at WEG.
“It is a team thing at WEG,” she says. “If you haven’t got three riders on song, you can’t win the team medal.” And now Tryon . . . with the Kiwis.
“I am very excited and really looking forward to it. I am used to training riders and looking after and helping people. It is a different situation because you have to motivate individuals individually to give their best, but then pull them together as a team where they need to work for each other as well.”
A good team spirit was key, and she feels the Kiwi showjumpers have that in spades. “They are all very nice characters. Their heart and soul is in it, which is the most important thing. They are good horseman and riders, which is what I like about those from New Zealand.”
Another key ingredient to success was owners and supporters. “These are great riders, but none could do any of it without a horse. These days in showjumping, a rider is only as good as his or her horse, so for me it is all about the owners and horses.”
Stormanns says she thinks the Kiwi team could have a chance, and she’ll be there to make sure they make the very best of that opportunity.
Endurance chef d’Equipe Reid, is currently the endurance high performance leader. In 2014 she was groom for Andrea Smith at WEG in Normandie and she has also been to the endurance world champs as manager for the junior team in 2011 and groomed for Denise Hill in 2005 and for her daughter Sian in 2007.
“It certainly means a lot to me to have this position,” said Reid. “I have been working with the high performance squad for the last couple of years as manager and to have that role blend through with the team is very exciting.”
She is hopeful of a team finish, and knows it is possible. “We have some very exciting combinations there, they just need to pull it together this season.” Ideally she would like to have five combinations in Tryon, but says it is more likely to be four.
Reid is not long back from a visit to Tryon. She had already booked tickets to the endurance test event, which was later postponed. “I felt it would be beneficial to go as it will be at a similar time of year,” she said.
The test event is now being held in April, very close to the New Zealand national championships, which will be a tough call for Kiwi riders. “If we don’t go we will still be able to get good feedback from others about the track. I didn’t get to see it at all when I was there but I think it looks quite rolling terrain. It is really exciting to be part of it all.”
Dressage chef d’equipe Hamerton is also the sport manager for dressage.
“I am very humbled to be asked to take this role,” she said. “I have never been to a WEG before but have been chef for three Olympic qualifiers.” Hamerton says potentially, 2018 could produce the strongest dressage team New Zealand has ever sent to an event.
“We have a core bunch in the high performance squad who are very consistent and now well established. They all have international experience and are potentially on another upward curve. Any nation who can field three horses with the potential to produce 70% – plus or minus – should be well respected internationally.”
Hamerton would love to have four combinations qualify but at a likely cost of around $100,000 a horse, the budget is already a big ask. “We have fundraising plans in the pot and have been raising awareness. We are hoping to support not just the trip to WEG but also help the riders with their campaigns – it is a good investment.”
New Zealand last had a dressage team at WEG in 1998 when they placed 18th out of 18. “They were pioneers and did it on a shoe string,” says Hamerton. “It’s so different now. Certainly riders who can be based in Europe with constant training and access to competitions have a real advantage.
“We will have to use a bit of Kiwi ingenuity to up our game wherever we can but there is nothing stopping New Zealand riders training good horses well to be able to achieve 70% . . . and they have already shown that. Competition improves the confidence of riders and strategies and techniques. There is nothing like being in the mix with the best in the world to up your game and see what is really achievable.”
Hamerton said it was a privilege to be involved at top level.
“I have been involved in the sport for as long as I can remember, in one way or another. I am very excited to be going to WEG as a first-timer. We have got almost a year to work with the riders, but I have known them all for a long time. It’s like being a big camp mum really.”
By Diana Dobson