Two hugely experienced people are the latest addition to the ESNZ Eventing High Performance Programme. Fiona Tibone is the new high performance manager, with Olympic medal-winning, five star victor Sam Griffiths the new head coach.

ESNZ high performance general manager Jock Paget says it marks another big step forwards for the eventing programme. “These new appointments come out of an extensive debrief following the Tokyo Olympic Games and understanding the context we are in within the high performance programme – like what the barriers are, what the riders need and how we best support them. The riders have been heavily involved in shaping that need, so this is all completely linked to both the debrief and the strategy going forwards.”

The two new roles are linked heavily to the strategy and are targeted and focussed on championship results.

Jock said there had been an impressive calibre of names put forward. “The interview process was very enjoyable with a chance to speak to some real high quality people about the sport and their vision. It’s great for New Zealand to have that sort of international interest.”

ESNZ chief executive Julian Bowden says it is exciting to have such talent joining the high performance team. “I am very excited about the opportunities and knowledge Sam and Fiona bring to ESNZ,” he said. “Their credentials and track records will certainly bring real value to our entire squad. These appointments show a true commitment to ensuring our eventing programme remains successful going forwards and has the necessary support to perform on the world stage. We believe this team will give us the best opportunity and structure to do well at championship level in the future.”

Fiona Tibone has some very strong New Zealand connections, including as groom for Blyth Tait in 1990 when he became world champion in Stockholm, and with the team again at the Olympic Games at Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996. She has an extensive equestrian background with hands-on experience across all layers of the sport including riding, coaching, as an owner, logistics and in leadership, with a real passion for producing young horses.

New HP performance manager Fiona Tibone with her border terrier Jazz in the western Italian Alps. Photo supplied

She has also worked with teams from the United States and Italy at pinnacle and championship events. “She has a real wealth of knowledge and experience and will be such an asset to the team as the new high performance eventing manager,” says Jock.

Fiona says Stockholm 1990 was her first real taste of working for the Kiwis. “That and the following Games at Barcelona and Atlanta really gave me a passion for the New Zealand team,” she says. “This new role is for me a perfect opportunity to continue my journey with New Zealand.”

She figures her decades of experience at World Champs and Olympic Games gives her a skillset she can share with the team to glean the best possible results at World Championships 2022 and the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. “With hopefully many titles in between,” says Fiona. “With horses as the best levellers, there will be challenges but we’ll all be more than ready to interact with the curve balls that come. Focussing on every detail will be of the utmost importance.”

She is thoroughly looking forward to being back in the Kiwi fold, re-living the precious moments of seeing the Kiwis step onto the podium and celebrating with the team behind the team. Fiona has spent several summers in New Zealand including one with her Italian husband Federico and then four-year-old daughter Maddalena.

Sam Griffiths figures he brings to the table a very holistic understanding of what the riders and team need. The 2014 Badminton winner is a two-time Olympian who also won a team bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and has twice represented Australia at World Championships (previously World Equestrian Games), has been a professional three-day event rider since 1995.

Sam Griffiths brings plenty of championship experience to the New Zealand eventing team. Photo supplied

While he has been UK-based for the past 20-plus years, his roots are firmly Down Under. “Being an Antipodean, I have always had an affinity with Southern Hemisphere riders,” he says. “New Zealand has a lot of very talented riders and I know quite a few of them so feel I have a good rapport with them.”

He’s pulling back from top international competition, and figures his new position makes for a nice transition. “In my hey day I had a lot of horses but over the last few years I have been doing more coaching. I am really excited about this. They are such talented riders and if everything comes together we should be able to get some good results. I am looking forward to the challenge.”

As a top international, he knows what riders need to be successful. “I was never the most talented rider. I really had to learn how to manage myself and what had to be done to be competitive to a high level. I bring that experience and knowledge, knowing how to find a way to work through a challenge to get to where you want to go.”

The highlight of his career was surely the Badminton win. “Like anyone from the Southern Hemisphere there are two things you want to do – win Badminton and an Olympic gold. Winning Badminton really was a dream come true.”

Coming into an established team and gaining that understanding between rider and coach will be his first challenge. “Then we can get on with converting good training into winning medals. I feel honoured to get the role and excited about the future of it.”

Sam lives with partner Hayley Lippiatt and his six and eight-year-old children on a 19-acre equestrian property in Dorset.

Jock says that Sam brings such an understanding of all the layers of the sport, is a huge bonus. “He knows how to prepare different types of horses, how to transition them from the Southern to Northern Hemisphere, which is a big part of us. He has a great way with people so will fit well into the team. It is exciting to have someone with his experience on board.”

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison