Specialist dressage coach Isobel Wessels has seen New Zealand’s eventing performance programme flourish in recent years and that makes her both proud and happy.

The UK based FEI 5* judge, trainer and rider annually visits New Zealand as part of a multi-year High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme to develop dressage and eventing squad riders as well as judges, coaches and officials. “I really enjoy coming to New Zealand and working with the riders and coaches,” she says. “It is stimulating and very rewarding. The best part is seeing everyone blossom and develop to their maximum potential. I now see many riders on a regular basis and to watch them grow is such a thrill for me.”

She’s not sure the ESNZ Eventing High Performance Coaching Programme could be any better. In the three years she has been travelling here under the PM Scholarship, Isobel has seen the programme flourish.

“From small first steps with less experienced coaches and young squad riders, we have moved forward at an extraordinary rate,” she says. “Each year we have upped the standard and now have a smaller but highly influential group of dedicated coaches who not only work out there in the field but are also taking charge of the planning and programmes for the talented New Zealand athletes. They are able to put plans into action, which for me is vital. The standard of riding has also come a long way and many of the ones at the top can realistically plan trips to Europe for further development.”

During her latest trip, Isobel worked with the performance coaches to both contribute to and compliment their efforts. “This meant my input was felt not just by them, but the riders too, so my time was utilised to the maximum.” It’s something she would like to take even further in the future.

She’s been impressed with the coaches’ work ethic too. “They cooperate well with each other and have a healthy desire to improve their students and empower them for maximum results,” says Isobel.

“They are like sponges – they want knowledge and they want to be better. These are great attributes and never to be underestimated.”

Isobel’s judging skills were also used for test riding. The whole test was videotaped with Isobel’s running commentary for their study afterwards. “The riders were able to go away with a video, a test sheet and some correction exercises for homework.” It’s another area she is looking for grow in the future. “All developments and changes need a good team in place in New Zealand and I feel confident that Jock (Paget) will make things happen in a positive way from now on.”

Isobel has plenty of praise for the Kiwi team ethos both in New Zealand and the UK. “They are driven, passionate, incredibly determined and most importantly are top horsemen and women, which is vital. I feel overcoming the difficulties of competing from the other side of the world has made them a tour de force.”

Eventing is a sport that presented plenty of challenges on multiple fronts. “Clearly it is hard when the sport is expensive and requires so much dedication. Horses are difficult to come by and the sport is tough. There can be so many disappointments and tough times for riders, but the coaches are there for them.”

Eventing high performance director Graeme Thom also garners praise from Isobel. “Graeme does an amazing job keeping everyone on course and moving towards our goals,” she says.

“To improve and to continue to be world class I think we need to keep working with our riders but also improve the quality and strength of the horsepower. We have a great support team for owners and this helps a lot. Of course we can always do more but I think our riders are committed to the tasks and are giving their best.”

While in New Zealand on her latest trip, Isobel was taken on a boat trip on the Waikato river and shown the local sights including the picturesque Kerosene Creek.

Back in the UK she is hoping to get out and compete in the spring with her Grand Prix horse Chagall. “I am so lucky to have him as my schedule is always very busy and he’s not a horse to be schooled every day. If we do plenty of hacking between work, he is happy.” She continues to be busy with her international judging and already this year has travelled to Australia, California and Denmark, with clinics in Italy, Austria and New Zealand. “It’s busy times!” But given Isobel’s track record, she’s unlikely to want it any other way.

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ