A horseman with an extensive equestrian background has been appointed as the new ESNZ high performance director through to the completion of the Tokyo Olympic Games campaign.

ESNZ chief executive Dana Kirkpatrick today welcomed Simon Bennett to the team. He will replace the out-going Sarah Dalziell-Clout who has been in the job for the past four years.
Simon comes from a strong equestrian background. He and partner Julie Evans have attended three WEGs and many other top offshore events in support of the Kiwis.

“I have a real passion for all sport but particularly equestrian,” he says. “If I had my way I would have five TV screens playing five different sports during the Olympic Games to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I love high performance sport and admire people who can stretch that extra 1mm or pick up that 1/100th of a second. It is all about that dedication, training and sacrifice you have to make.”

In his new role he is looking forward to being part of the team behind the team. “I want to help smooth the road for the squad members so they can get the very best out of their horses and record their own personal bests. Naturally, medals are the ultimate goal.”

With the strategy in place already, Simon says his job is very much on implementing it. “I am not looking to change things – we are very close to the Olympic Games so it is totally about supporting those strategies already in place.”

He’s confident he will be able transfer his corporate skills across to high performance sport.

“I am really looking forward to working alongside the team to ensure New Zealand gets the best possible result at the Tokyo Olympic Games.” He has visited the Japanese city a number of times and says the Games will surely be spectacular from an organisational point of view.

“The Japanese are such perfectionists. They will leave no stone unturned in giving riders and horses everything they need. It is sure to be something quite special.”

Simon and Julie have a Limousin cattle stud at Boscobel Farms, just out of Pukekohe, where their focus is very much on high value beasts. Julie was an advanced eventer but now competes at level four dressage as well as hunting.

For a decade Simon was general manager of Amway New Zealand and last year stepped out of the corporate world to work in consulting and oversee building projects. He knew when he saw the High Performance Directorship advertised he could bring plenty to the table. “I have both an affinity and understanding of equestrian and elite sport,” he says. And there’s plenty about the role that excites him too. “We have some really great talent across the disciplines – we have a long history in eventing with some fantastic runs on the board and great memories. Over the past eight or so years our showjumpers have continued to improve and their results at WEG are some of the best we have seen. That was a really proud achievement.”

Growing up in the Manawatu, Simon has ridden since he was a youngster, working his way through Pony Club, competing successfully in showing, eventing and showjumping, before moving to polo for 15 years and hunted for more than 45 years.
A lifetime member of ESNZ, he worked on sponsorship for the Horse of the Year when it was held at Karaka and managed public relations for a New Zealand Polo test series. During his polo years he played in the Saville Cup, took a New Zealand test team to Zambia and was also a member of the winning team in the Zambian Open. Hunting remains his pastime of choice these days and he is currently deputy master of the Pakuranga Hunt with four hunters in work.

His father Keith was chair of the Horse Society Central Districts Committee, was on the New Zealand Pony Club Association committee of management for 20 years, spent more than 30 years as a national showjumping judge, is a life member of the New Zealand Pony Club’s Association and a recipient of the Royal Agricultural Society Recognition Medal.

Simon’s sister Susan Grayling has ridden for New Zealand in trans-Tasman eventing and is a dressage judge, while brother-in-law Matthew Grayling rode for New Zealand at the Athens Olympic Games and in many other teams.

By Diana Dobson
April 2, 2019