When Dressage Hawke's Bay (NHB) decided to provide the opportunity for regional riders to be part of a development squad, it was with the purpose of ensuring the addition of depth and breadth to talent here.
This weekend sees the fruit of this focus with 9 of this year's 10 development squad riders competing at the Steed Health Dressage Hawke's Bay (NHB) Championship event, which will be held at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, in Hastings, on Saturday and Sunday.
Of particular interest are the diverse ages of squad members and the range of levels they compete at. Unlike some squads, which focus simply on one age group, or offer additional, specialist training to those already achieving at a high level, the local dressage squad has riders from 14 to 60, riding from the lowest level - one - to level 6, or Advanced.
The most recent Olympic Games suggest that this is a very valid approach as dressage competitors at that event ranged from their 20s to one of over 70.
Chris Paston, president of the group explains: "While our youngest squad member, Willa Aitken, 14, has this year achieved a number of local championships at lower levels, and is involved with the national pony and young rider development squads, our advanced rider who came back to riding just 8 years ago after more than two decades away from horses, has the goal of riding for New Zealand at the Sydney CDI - one of the largest international dressage competitions accessible to New Zealand riders. We want to provide the opportunity to encourage both of them in their goals and for all squad members to learn from each other as well."
When asked why the squad is achieving success for each one of its diverse members, Paston responds, "We have been lucky in our ability to secure the services of trainer Debbie Barke from Rotorua. Debbie has ridden at Grand Prix - the highest level of dressage - has international qualifications as a trainer, and was the trainer for the UK Paralympic Dressage team that competed at Sydney Paralympics in 2000".
Barke will also be competing this coming weekend on her new mount SR Lucrative, she has recently agreed to continue as coach for the local squad next year, and Paston confirms the local group is delighted. "All of our current squad members have benefited hugely from her assistance", she says.