One of the West Coast’s best-kept secrets is now out. There’s a super coach who has been developing her talents and young riders on the Coast where she has lived for “about 35 years” and she is now loving seeing her pupils achieve on the national stage.
Penny Jones has already taken her charges to win the teams event at the South Island show jumping champs, and over the weekend she added to the trophy cabinet with the prestigious Pryde’s Easifeed PGG Wrightson New Zealand Pony Club Eventing Championships.
This is the first year the team has won it (although back in 1987 the Canterbury-Westland team took it out – but all the riders were actually from Canterbury).
This year, while they were known as the Marlborough-Nelson-West Coast team, all the members were from the Greymouth Pony Club, where Penny is Head Coach.
She’s been training this current group of riders since they started. “We do most of the training at our farm where I have recently put in an arena and bought some show jumps.”
The training is somewhat unique, and perhaps explains why the team members have such strong bonds and great camaraderie. “Our typical training day consists of starting at 7am and working until about 2pm building the courses, and then spending the next few hours – until it is too dark – jumping them!”
Until recently, the West Coast area has not been known for its equestrian achievements, and competitions in the region are fairly low-level. There are few cross-country courses on the Coast; one at Reefton, two small ones at Westport Pony Club and Kokatahi/Kowitirangi Pony Club, and one at Penny’s place. The team stopped at the Waihora Pony Club in Canterbury a few days before the competition to do some additional water jump practice.
Penny encourages the children to compete as much as they can. Many of them jumped at this year’s Horse of the Year Show, with Todd Magner (second in the A1 class) winning a 1.25m class.
“The hardest thing is having to travel for every single thing we do. Canterbury is practically our home turf!” They made the trip to the same venue last year for Springston Trophy, and finished fourth.
There is more travel in the pipeline. Penny is already planning to take her riders to Champs next year – despite the fact they are in Whangarei. “We hope to take 10 up north, so we are going home to start fundraising!”
Penny herself still rides a bit but her main focus, besides coaching, is breeding sporthorses (warmblood crosses). She bred one of the horses in the team, Kendall Thompson’s Awatuna Gypsy Rose.
Three of the horses were Coasters “born and bred” and the team were very proud of the fact that they had all “home-schooled” their mounts.
The riders are full of respect for Penny. Team captain Todd Magner, who finished second in the AI section, referred to her in his victory speech as the “all-giving coach.”
Apparently she is the “heart and soul” of the Club. The kids refer to her as their secret weapon, and acknowledge that the “endless training” was the reason for their success.
The children loved the experience of being at Champs. Ella Rae Wood said she enjoyed the opportunity to “learn how to jump tree jumps” while team mate Rebecca Wardle thought the cross-country was her highlight. “It was awesome, really cool.”
Kirk Magner was also a big fan of the cross-country. When asked if he was going to make a career of riding, he was a bit hesitant to confirm. “I’d like to keep riding, but it’s not a money-making venture” said the 13-year old!
Gretchen Anderson, who the team unanimously voted the “cheekiest” member, was another who named the cross-country as her highlight. “Cross-country is our thing” she declared.
The riders also enjoyed activities outside the competition, especially ‘top team night’ where they got to know the other competitors better. Another highlight was dinner at the local Indian restaurant. Kendall Thompson explained that while there is an Indian restaurant on the Coast, it doesn’t compare to the one in Rangiora.
Unfortunately for the riders, there was no time to go back for a celebratory Indian meal, as they left as soon as possible to head back to the Coast – no doubt to start practising for the next time they venture out of their region.