“Being able to support the riders and actually have resources to do it… it’s like the best gig in the world, to be honest!” says Victorian event rider and coach, Will Enzinger. Will has been involved in the high performance side of eventing for some time and was appointed to the High Performance Panel in 2018. A year ago, he became the Eventing Pathways Manager.
Will doesn’t just have an interest in facilitating pathways to the elite level — he’s walked that road himself. First sitting in the saddle at seven, it wasn’t until the age of 16 that he joined Pony Club and began to get serious. A transition to EA level events followed, before a stint at Lochinvar with Heath and Rozzie Ryan gave him the tools he needed to step out at FEI level. Since then, he’s ridden up to five-star on multiple horses. However, coaching has increasingly become a big part of his life, and he and his wife Emily Anker run an eventing business where they teach, train and compete. With his elite riding experience, strong coaching background, and “people person” reputation, stepping into a role with the High Performance Program was a natural progression.
“Gina Haddad, who was in the role previously, was phenomenal and had just set up everything… all the processes and the structures were there,” says Will. “I was so, so spoilt to step in after her. Initially I just had to implement, and it means I’ve had time to be a little more proactive with new initiatives, which is good.”
As Will explains, Eventing Pathways Manager is not a role that is undertaken in set hours; it’s a part of his life that is now on the mind most days. Not that he’s complaining. “I’m so passionate about it and I love it so much that it really doesn’t feel like work, to be honest!”
Part of Will’s role is to look after the NEXT (Developing and Emerging) squad riders. This squad is part of the High Performance Squad list, following GOLD (Podium and Podium Ready) and GREEN (Podium Potential). The NEXT squad is comprised of those who have been identified as being part of the AIS athlete category Developing and Emerging, and includes Annabel Armstrong, Olivia Barton, Emma Bishop, Lauren Browne, Catherine Burrell (UK based), Andrew Cooper, Isabel English (UK based), Jade Findlay, Thea Horsley, Ema Klugman (US based), Shenae Lowings, Emma Mason, Jessica Rae, Katie Taliana, Gemma Tinney and Madeline Wilson. It’s certainly a very strong and exciting list of riders, and Will agrees.
For the NEXT squad, the goal is the FEI World Championships for eventing, which are due to be held in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, in September 2022, and the next cycle for the Olympics, which includes Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.
Although Covid-19 has disrupted plans for Tokyo Olympic preparation, it’s still somewhat ‘business as usual’ for the NEXT squad with long-term goals. That’s not to say these riders haven’t been affected by the pandemic. Talking to them early on, Will found the common theme was that squad members were struggling to continue working towards their immediate goals with competitions cancelled and movement restricted; like many during Covid, they felt a little lost.
“They were managing all the difficulties of being locked down to different degrees. Some people were losing income; some were only mildly affected. But from a competition perspective, a lot of them, although they knew they should keep training, were a little bit uncertain as to what to do or what that would look like.”
Just like many other industries and workplaces during the pandemic, the High Performance Team turned to technology, and under the guidance of High Performance Director Chris Webb, they were able get everyone engaged and on the same page. Microsoft Teams, like so many Covid-struck workplaces, has proven to be a great way to facilitate virtual meetings. After some initial catch-ups with squad riders across all disciplines, the eventers have since run their own meetings with input from elite riders such as Chris Burton, with a view to involving more from the GOLD Squad.