Tuesday, 10 March 2015

IWMT 2015 sponsor: meet Gill Watson

Despite stepping down from her role as trainer to the British junior and young rider event teams in 2011, Gill Watson is still playing a key role in British eventing.  She now coaches elite riders in the World Class Development squad and helps riders from all levels of the sport. So, where did it all start and what drives her undying enthusiasm for the sport? 

Gill started eventing at an early age as a Pony Club member and went on to establish herself as a successful event rider in her own right. In 1968, she was first reserve on her own horse, Shaitan, for the British squad at the Mexico Olympics, which won the first Olympic Team Gold for Great Britain since 1956. However, the highlight of Gill’s riding career was winning Burghley the following year, again riding Shaitan. It is this win which she believes opened many channels for her both as a rider and a coach. 

Her inspiration to teach is attributed to Pat Smallwood with whom Gill trained to attain her BHS qualifications. Not only is Gill a Fellow of the BHS and a FEI listed dressage judge, she gained teaching qualifications at degree level in Physical Education. During this time, riding and competing were still her preference, but as Gill explains, “The teaching helped me to earn a living.” In 1980, Gill was asked to coach the British Junior team. Then, just a year later, her remit as coach expanded to include the newly formed Young Rider team, accommodating riders from 18 to 21 years old. Gill continued to compete herself but quickly realised that her riding and coaching were in conflict with each other. Without the horsepower available to succeed as a competitor, Gill decided to pursue her career as a coach - and what a success story this has been.

Lilly Watson - Gill's co-trainer!
Under her leadership, the British Junior and Young Riders won over 100 European medals (individual and team), of which 46 were gold. Many well-known riders on today’s eventing circuit began their careers in the Junior and Young Rider schemes, such as Pippa Funnell and Zara Phillips. However, coaching is not without its challenges. As a trainer in any equestrian discipline, you have to be adept at dealing with two personalities: the horse and rider. In eventing, Gill has the added dimension of teaching skills in three different disciplines (dressage, showjumping and eventing) and combining them to achieve great results. Gill explains, “You can never stand still as a coach. You have to keep up with changes and the increasing competition from abroad.”

With this amount of success already under her belt, one wonders what ambitions might still remain unfulfilled. Without hesitation, Gill responds, “To keep producing good young people to go on. I still get very excited when I see talented people.” Gill is highly motivated in her role and gains inspiration from speaking to coaches across sporting disciplines. She enjoys listening to other successful trainers to explore different training methods and understand the psychology of coaching. Her skills as a teacher and mentor to riders of all ages and abilities are without doubt. It doesn’t matter what level her pupils are competing at, amateur or professional, her goal remains the same: to ensure they enjoy what they are doing and help them to achieve their aims - whether it be to compete at pre‑novice level or at Badminton. 

With such a highly personable yet talented and committed coach to support our World Class Development riders, I can’t help but believe that Team GB’s long-term success is assured.

Kathryn is owner and director of Cathean Ltd Writing Services. She is a published medical and equestrian writer with a passion for creating compelling text in collaboration with her clients from pharmaceutical, healthcare and equestrian businesses across the world.

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