Ben Weir has three new friends, they are Swedish Olympic gold medalist Peder Fredricson and fellow Olympian Peter Eriksson, and British Olympic gold medalist Carl Hester. They met Ben when he spent a whirlwind two months in Europe as a recipient of the Nimon Trust earlier this year.
He’s recently returned from his trip and says it was an experience he will treasure for the opportunity to learn from the masters. The trip was enabled by the Nimon Trust, awarded to young riders 23 years of age and under for the development of their careers in international offshore showjumping, and the contacts were facilitated by his coach and Kiwi Olympian, Vaughn Jefferis. Ben (21) applied for the scholarship as a fulltime rider, several years after following his sister into riding while growing up in Waitoki, north of Auckland on a family lifestyle block.
He began his journey by travelling to Peder Fredricson’s yard in Grevlunda, on the southeastern coast of Sweden.
“What really appealed to me about Peder was that I liked the way he manages his yard and his horses, and how he cares for his horses is impeccable. You can really see that in his yard, and how everyone there takes a lot of pride in their work,” says Ben.
Ben worked at Fredricson’s yard for a month. When he arrived at the yard, Peder had had quite a bad fall, so he was not riding for the first few weeks. But just before he left, Peder competed at Gothenburg and won the Grand Prix. Ben also got to have shared lessons with Peder, conducted by his coach Peter Eriksson, another Swedish Olympian.
“Peder would have a lesson and I would shadow him. He would ride the course and then I would follow, which I think is a pretty neat way to learn. I could see what Peder was doing and emulate it.
Ben was familiar with this training model, which he had been introduced to by his own coach, back in New Zealand.
“It was cool to see how he [Peder] problem solves and how he makes adjustments. That’s all part of riding; when you’re sitting on a horse that has a mind of its own and they’re not going to do exactly what you want them to do,” he says.
After his intense month at Grevlunda, Ben took a short break at the property of European champion showjumper Rolf-Göran Bengtsson in Germany, where he caught up with a student friend who worked there.
“It was very good to go from Peder’s to Rolf’s yard and see how they did things differently, but with the same attention to detail. And I was able to ride and receive some tips and pointers there too,” says Ben.
The final chapter in Ben’s trip was at Carl Hester’s yard in Gloucestershire, where he spent a month working with his horses. Hester was the youngest British rider ever to compete in an Olympic Games, so it was a good fit for the young Ben.
“It was amazing. Carl’s yard was also very well run, and his horses were really well trained. I had a lesson with him. Being able to sit on one of his horses and get ‘that feeling’ was really cool; it helped me to know what I need to be doing and he also told me what I am doing right.”
During his month with Carl, Ben also went to a couple of showjumping shows – Longines Global Champions Tour in London and Valkenswaard in the Netherlands. He says it was great to catch up with some of the kiwis there, including Philip Steiner, Annabel Francis, Daniel Meech, Laura Hilhorst, Penny Tapley and others.
“It was really good to watch international showjumping and discuss ideas. Even just watching the warm-ups was fascinating as everyone has different systems,” says Ben.
“I’m really grateful to the Nimon Trust for the opportunity, and it’s really cool that those people at the top of their games had a lot of time for me. It was really inspiring that they really wanted to help me,” says Ben.
The Nimon Trust was established in 1983 after the tragic and sudden death of Ian Nimon who was instrumental in securing showjumping as a discipline in New Zealand. The Trust was established by Ian’s good friend the late Alan Hampton, who remained chair until shortly before he passed away. Ben said he was able to speak to Alan shortly before he passed away, and told him how grateful he was to receive the Trust’s support.
Merran Hain has since stepped in as the chair, with trustees Harvey Wilson and Oliver Edgecombe. Merran says the trust fund is intended for young riders with “quite a lot of talent” who are competing at a high level, are 23 years of age or younger, and it can only be awarded to a rider once.
“The Nimon Trust fund celebrates the rich history of equestrian in this country and the foundational work achieved by those who have gone before the young riders of today. They need to be applying the fund to something that will change their equestrian career.
“Ben deserves it in that he is a leading young rider in the series, both in show jumping and in dressage. It will be interesting to see how he leverages the experience that the Trust has provided him as he develops as an elite rider,” says Merran.
Riders formally apply to the trust for funding through the jumping discipline. The trustees consider each application on its individual merit and in consultation with the discipline before an agreed level of funding is awarded.
Meanwhile, Ben is now back in Matangi in the Waikato at Vaughn Jefferis’ stables where he is applying what he learnt as he gets the young horses, and a couple of his own, fit. He reflects on his experience.
“Contacts are such a big thing and having good relationships with the people you meet can definitely be rewarding. I guess being loyal and working hard. If you go somewhere and work hard they want you back. You get out of it what you put in,” he says.
“I had a really good experience everywhere I went, and I put that down to the connections with people who were known to my coach Vaughn. That really made it work, and I am grateful for it and also the support I got from the Nimon Trust.”
ESNZ administers several trust funds that are listed on our website under the ANNUAL REPORTS heading at https://www.nzequestrian.org.nz/esnz/about-esnz/.