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Posted by Christine Armishaw on 09/01/2019.
Olympic great Denis Pigott is returning to coaching
Photos Courtesy of Hillstead Equestrian Parks

Olympic Great Returns to Coaching

It is with delight we welcome the return to Coaching by Olympic great, Denis Pigott.

At the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, riding his great horse ‘Hillstead’, Denis joined Merv Bennett, Bill Roycroft and Wayne Roycroft in winning a bronze medal in the team three-day event. Denis and Hillstead also placed 20th in the individual three-day event.

Denis and Hillstead

Denis and Hillstead at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games

Competing at an Olympic Games is a defining moment in any athlete’s career ...and life for that matter, especially when a medal is won. So what comes next?

Directly after the Games, Denis spent a further year abroad, competing in the UK with his Olympic mount Hillstead. In times prior, some Olympic riders sadly had to leave their horses behind after competing overseas. However, in a turn of goodwill, riders in Australia ended up rallying together to finance bringing Hillstead back home to Australia – so great was the community’s love for this horse.

Once back on home turf, Denis kept on with horses. What’s more, he went on to share his knowledge and skill set to benefit the equestrian community, across multiple facets. As the Pony Club Association Director of Coaching he impacted the lives of many a young Aussie rider. He also travelled throughout NSW to run clinics for young riders.

Denis did not stop there, helping to start the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) with fellow Olympian Mary Hanna. He also went on to work with Sue Gunn as Course Designer and helping to organise the Sydney ODE from 2005 to 2010.

“[It] was a wonderful team, everybody worked hard and had lots of fun”, tells Denis of his time working with Sue.

With such a strong knowledge base and skill set, Denis was in high demand. He acted as a National Selector for both the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics. 

Notably, in 2012, Denis and his fellow 1976 Montreal Olympic teammates had their previous international achievements recognised on an even greater level. All four riders were inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the Bronze medal winning Olympic Three-Day Eventing Team at Montreal. This eventing team was responsible for a fifth of Australia’s total medal haul for that Olympics.

Denis and Hillstead

Denis riding Cross Country

In more recent times, when Denis noticed there was a lack of facilities in his area, he started up a Show Jumping Club for local riders on the Mid North Coast. As could well be expected, many of the riders began asking for his help too.

“That is when I decided to renew my registration to give them official instruction.” said Denis.

And so, to the delight of riders eager to learn from an Olympic great, Denis returned to teaching as an EA accredited Level 3 Eventing Coach. Ever interested in expanding his own knowledge, Denis also went on to further grow his Official skills, building up to a Level 1 Show Jumping Course Designer, Level 2 Eventing Course Designer and Level 2 Technical Delegate (TD).

Denis now coaches from the aptly named ‘Hillstead Equestrian Park’, in Mondrook NSW. The property has a full all-weather show jumping arena, with a complete jump course set, cross country training fences and a Club House on-sight for the Show Jumping club. The club and Denis run clinics and private lessons year-round.

Denis believes the most important part of teaching is to be able to first assess the horse and rider individually, then as a combination. 

Denis with his Junior Show jumping Team

Of his teaching style Denis describes, “Most other Instructors I come in contact with are usually in the 50 years onwards age group, and I find their basic knowledge is the same as mine.  I was taught by Doug Green, Mrs Bunsworth PC, Franz Maringer, Tina Wolmerstoff, Art Utendale and Dick Stillwell UK.  So I am a product of all.  Franz probably being the most influential.”

When asked to characterise his ideal type of rider to train, there are qualities Denis looks for that he knows will be a good fit for his style of teaching.

“Firstly, a rider that is willing to listen and wants to improve themselves to benefit their horse. A little confidence helps. A willingness to learn is key. I like a rider to ask questions - why? It shows that they are thinking about what is being asked of them or the horse,” Denis explains.

“Also, they need to be attentive, trying to improve throughout the lesson and able to practice what you teach at home. I get great satisfaction when my riders can come back and show an improvement in areas that have been worked on.”

Denis has ridden a lot of good horses in his time, but he describes his Olympic mount Hillstead as the best horse he ever rode. In true fairy-tale fashion, the authentic backstory is that Hillstead was an off-the-track Thoroughbred, found in a paddock in Moree, who went on to be an Olympic eventer.

“He never had a stop, or any rails in the show jumping during his career in eventing.” recalls Denis fondly of his number one mount. “My dearest wish would be to see Hillstead in the Hall of Fame, before he gets forgotten, he had so many loyal followers in his day!”

Denis Show Jumping

Denis Show Jumping

In response to his thoughts on horse breeds for eventing, Denis shares, “I have never had a Warmblood as a competition horse, so I cannot comment on their performance, they do take a little longer to mature.” The Olympian continues, “If I was still competing today, I would still go for the Thoroughbred.”

Other horses of note that Denis rode include ‘Chico Dora’ (owned by Bev Chugg), and ‘Harvestime’. The latter he rode for the Roses and also qualified for the Olympics.

Throughout his journey, Denis has discovered there are so may gaps to fill with both horses and riders. He believes you never stop learning or analysing horses, riders, events, why things happen and safety issues. This advocate of the discipline hopes the sport of eventing survives, that safety is resolved, and riders keep on enjoying their sport. 

“We can only rely on Course designers/builders/volunteers to make this happen.” reminds Denis.

If you are interested in meeting Denis and learning from an Olympic great, get in touch HERE.

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