Badminton winner steps back from competing to coach New Zealand eventing team

  • Badminton winner Sam Griffiths has taken on a major new role as New Zealand’s eventing head coach, as he reveals he will be stepping back from riding at top-level competition.

    The Australian Olympic bronze medallist told H&H he is “really looking forward to it”.

    “I have had a quite a long eventing career and in a way, this is a next step,” said Sam, who turns 50 this year.

    He added that this is not the end of his time in the saddle and he will be “keeping my eye in” with some competing at lower levels.

    Fiona Tibone has also joined Equestrian Sport New Zealand’s eventing arm as high performance manager. The pair’s appointment follows the departure of New Zealand high performance eventing manager Graeme Thom in November, after five years in the position.

    “He has left everything in a really good place to move forward,” said Sam.

    The 2014 Badminton champion will continue to be based in the UK and the job will include helping New Zealand riders transition from the southern to the northern hemisphere.

    Sam’s eventing career highlights also feature top 10 finishes in every European five-star, as well as two World Championships and two Olympic Games – including helping the Australian team to bronze at Rio 2016.

    “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,” he said.

    “In my heyday 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.”

    He added that his new role is “not about changing everything”, but helping with the “extra one per cent”.

    “Being an Antipodean, I have always had an affinity with southern hemisphere riders,” he said. “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.

    “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.”

    Equestrian Sport New Zealand high performance general manager Jock Paget said Sam’s understanding of all 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 the northern hemisphere, which is a big part of us,” said Jock.

    “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.”

    Jock added that Fiona has a “real wealth of knowledge and experience” and will be “such an asset to the team”.

    Fiona’s background includes experience across the sport, from riding, coaching, owning, and in logistics and leadership.

    She groomed for Blyth Tait at the Stockholm World Equestrian Games, where he won gold, and was with the team at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Fiona has also worked with the US and Italian teams at major and championship events.

    “This new role is for me a perfect opportunity to continue my journey with New Zealand,” she said.

    “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. Focusing on every detail will be of the utmost importance.”

    Both roles are focused on delivering championship results.

    Jock added that the new appointments are another big step forwards for New Zealand’s eventing programme.

    “These 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,” he said.

    “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 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.”

    Equestrian Sport New Zealand chief executive Julian Bowden said 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,” 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.”

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