The future is bright for New Zealand eventing, says outgoing ESNZ high performance eventing manager Graeme Thom. After five years in the job, he has decided to call time but says he is happy to be leaving the discipline in a far better place.

ESNZ high performance general manager Jock Paget says it is a tough day for the Kiwi eventing team to say goodbye to Graeme. “He has been on the frontline for a rollercoaster of an Olympic cycle which ran for five years and included a WEG and two Olympic preps in succession, with the postponement of Tokyo,” said Jock. “Add that to the numerous changes to senior management, some legends of the sport retiring and a global pandemic, it’s hard to imagine how Graeme managed to finish the year with the same level of motivation and skill to contribute to the amazing success of Fair Hill and Pau.”

He says the Canadian will be sorely missed by all. “He has been the linchpin, who was tasked with the job of pulling everything together for the HP Eventing Programme and as a result has formed many strong connections.”

Tim and Jonelle Price say they are incredibly sad to see Graeme go. “For me personally, he has been instrumental in all the successes – both with the team and at events where I have competed individually,” says Tim. “He has been the lynchpin in terms of the logistical side and all the really important connective tissue aspect of what we do. That has enabled us to do our jobs to the best of our ability and to prepare to do our jobs to the best of our abilities which is where the true success is created. He has been amazing with the preparation and training.”

Tim wished him well for his future endeavours. “We will certainly miss him – no doubt we will still see him out and about but we will always be very grateful for everything he has done behind the scenes, a lot of it thankless – he just gets it all organised!”

Jonelle reiterated Tim’s words, saying it was very sad to see “Big G” leave. “It feels like we are on the cusp of some great things following a difficult time bouncing back from a generational change,” she said. “We are hugely grateful for his help and guidance in getting to this point and hope we can produce some results in the coming years that will reflect the ground he has made. His professional approach and concise strategy and execution are key factors that we will look to take forward with us.”

Jock said Graeme had contributed so much to both the team and the programme which would be continued as part of the drive towards the next pinnacle event.

“He has an incredible mind and has brought some innovative and world class concepts to the team and programme. We are hugely appreciative of Graeme and his time with us. His input has been invaluable and he will always be a part of this team. We wish him all the best for his next chapter.”

Graeme has had many highlights in his time in the job, but for him it is mostly the people he has worked alongside. “From the riders to the coaches, horse health team, athlete support, selectors, owners and those at ESNZ who have given so much to the team.” He also paid special tribute to the immense support from High Performance Sport New Zealand and the New Zealand Olympic Committee. “Our team, programmes and ability to participate at the Olympic Games would not exist without them.”
When Graeme first took the role he was quick to acknowledge it would be a matter of making only small changes – both additions and subtractions – that would make big differences. “I feel a lot of comfort from the buy-in and trust by the riders and staff to the incremental improvements, which have in turn have led to continued good team camaraderie and moral.”

COVID had been a massive challenge for everyone wanting to travel. With Graeme based between Canada and the UK, he has lost count of the number of tests he has had and figures he’s completed seven two-week quarantines. “When you see the determination of our riders, led by the Prices, to just keep going through these challenging times, it inspired me to make the effort as well.”

Going forwards, Graeme says the key will be to continue to build a larger base of horses and riders. “It is great that a few more riders have made the trek to the UK and that they recognise it is an absolute must if they want to be compared to the best and grow to beat the best.”

Expanding the base of horses also needed to be front and center. “It is important to be looking forwards and managing the gaps amongst our horses – both relative to each other and to the world stage.”

Graeme has no immediate plans to do anything other than enjoy the balance of the year in one place. “After that I will investigate what opportunities may exist and look forward to staying within sport if possible,” he said. “It has been an honour and a privilege to have been part of the New Zealand eventing team.”