Gina Haddad

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The new equestrian coach at New England Girls’ School, Gina Haddad, has spent the majority of her life around horses. From cashing in aluminium cans to purchase her first pony at 13, to competing for a place in the Australian Olympic team, her story is an inspiration to all aspiring equestrians.

> When did you first become involved with horses? 

I grew up on a farm in Milton on the picturesque South Coast of NSW. Horses have been my passion for as long as I can remember, although growing up in a non-horsey family, I didn’t fulfill my dream of owning my own until I was 13 – and then it was after raising the necessary funds from recycling aluminium cans. I then joined the local pony club and revelled in weekends surrounded by all things equine.

> How has your career progressed from those humble beginnings? 

Upon completing my HSC I deferred from studying Law at UNSW, for what was initially supposed to be one year, to pursue my equestrian career, training with renowned Australian riders Heath and Rozzi Ryan at Lochinvar. The time spent with the Ryans proved to be the catalyst that cemented the direction my career would take. 

Heath has an incredible ability as a coach to inspire and motivate riders to achieve things they never thought possible, and to this day he remains the most influential person in my career.

From Lochinvar I went to New Zealand, determined to carve out a future as an elite event rider and coach. I enjoyed three fantastic years working and competing in NZ, based at Mamaku Stud in Masterton on the North Island (famous for breeding ‘Charisma’, who Mark Todd rode to win a gold medal at the LA Olympics). My role was training and producing horses for sale on the US and UK markets. With the support of my employer, I returned to part-time university to study marketing during this time. In conjunction with the industry experience and contacts I was making, this proved invaluable when I was to establish my own equestrian business in the future.

My time in NZ was also memorable, because it was there that I purchased a young horse called Nightwatch, with whom I developed a very special partnership. He turned out to be the horse I had the most successes of my career with. In 1992 I was honoured to win the NZ Horse of the Year with Nightwatch. 

Later that year I returned to Australia with ‘Morris’ as he was affectionately known (who was by then an established Advanced horse) after turning down a lucrative offer for him from the then World Champion, NZ’s Blyth Tait.

> What happened to you professionally after your return to Australia? 

Back in Australia I continued to compete at an elite level with a number of horses and was a member of the NSW institute of Sport Elite Squad for the next eight years. I represented NSW on several occasions and went on to place 10th at the final Australian selection trial for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 

I retired from international level competition in 2000 to start a family, and while still producing and selling several horses overseas in recent years, my main focus is now my coaching career. 

I am a triple accredited NCAS EFA Level 2 Coach in Eventing, Dressage and General, as well as a qualified Coach Educator and Assessor, and for the past 13 years have been the NSW Pony Club Association State Eventing Coach. 

Together, these roles have involved extensive travel, both within NSW and interstate, coaching riders and assessing trainee coaches.

> What was it that attracted you to NEGS?

There were a number of factors that combined to entice me to NEGS. I had visited the school on a number of occasions over the years to conduct coaching clinics for riders and in the capacity of an EFA Examiner and was always very impressed with what the school had to offer. I was also aware that there was quite a pool of talented and ambitious young riders within the ranks of the NEGS Equestrian Centre. 

This, coupled with the school’s long and prestigious history in the equestrian industry, was appealing. I was at a stage were I was looking for a new professional challenge that didn’t involve quite so much travel and time away from my young family, and the educational opportunities that abound in Armidale were a big selling point. 

My husband Andrew, and my two sons Ben (7) and William (6) and I visited St John’s Junior School and were extremely impressed with what it could offer our boys. The small class sizes and caring, nurturing environment convinced us that the move to Armidale was the right one for our family.

> Tell us about your role at the Equestrian Centre and your goals professionally and personally?

My role at NEGS is primarily that of coach, and I am excited at the prospect of helping drive the NEGS Equestrian Centre forward towards our goal of establishing NEGS as the pre-eminent school based equestrian program in Australia.

I have barely had time to catch my breath since arriving in late August, however I am looking forward to exploring Armidale and the New England area – in particular the various National Parks.

> Is horse riding still a popular sport or pastime? 

All aspects of equestrian sport appear to be growing rapidly, particularly in the Olympic disciplines. Australia’s continued success on the international stage, including our eventing team’s silver medal winning performance at Beijing, appears to be inspiring a whole new generation of riders to chase their dreams in the competitive arena. The depth and quality of both horses and riders that Australia is producing has improved tremendously in the past decade, and we are witnessing a new level of professionalism in the sport.

> What is it about horses that you love? 

At the risk of sounding clichéd, there is something about that bond that develops between a horse and a rider; it is a very special partnership based on trust and respect, that once you have experienced it, there is no going back! But, aside from an obvious love of horses, I would have to say it is the people who have made the sport so special for me. 

The sport is unique in that your performance is dependent on another living thing, and this makes it a great leveller. It is not unusual to see one of our Olympic riders walking the course at a local event with a junior or a recreational rider, willingly giving them free advice on how to ride each fence. There is a genuine camaraderie and mateship among the riders.

As a coach it is a privilege to be a part of that unique horse/rider partnership. It is also incredibly rewarding when a rider trusts you sufficiently to allow you to extend them beyond their comfort zone and help them achieve what they had never dreamed possible, whether that be cantering for the first time or competing in their first CCI*** competition.

> Thank you Gina.

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