The influence of social and psychological factors on practices and performance of Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) endurance rider-owner-trainers in Aotearoa/New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Animal Science at Massey University, Manawatū, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Since 1998, governance of endurance horse riding in Aotearoa/New Zealand was aligned with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) to enable regular participation in world championships. These aspirations were facilitated by a high-performance programme. Despite this support, New Zealand riders performed poorly in FEI-level competitions within New Zealand and at world championships. This research aimed to understand factors that influenced the practices and performance of endurance riders
in FEI-level competition within New Zealand. A qualitative methodology was chosen for the ability to understand meaning from participants’ perspectives, to understand context, and to identify unanticipated influences in this under-researched subject. Twenty-three purposively selected participants contributed data to four studies during the 2016–17 endurance riding season in New Zealand. A survey and an observational study collected participants’ self-reported descriptions of practices. Pre- and post season interviews explored participants’ motivations, competitive orientations, experiences, and perspectives. The complementary results from all studies showed that the performances of rider-owner-trainer participants were logistically, psychologically, and socially constrained. Amateur status limited time, money, and number of horses so participants rode slowly to avoid harming their horse and not achieving their goals. Performances were constrained by autonomous forms of motivation that drove risk averse practices and a task-focused competitive orientation that emphasised horsemanship over winning. Finally, through modelling, compliance, and comparison, the small, closely connected endurance riding community reinforced a conservative ethos that stigmatised harming horses. Based on the understanding of performance constructed in this research, adaptive performance strategies, autonomy-supportive
coaching and greater use of sport science tools were recommended to enable riders to be comfortable with risk and riding at speed. Inadequate training could not be dismissed as a reason for poor performances, therefore further work was suggested to explore variation and periodisation in training programmes. The results suggest the qualitative methodology could provide contextual understandings of practices and performance in other countries where horse welfare suffers from competitiveness. The results also bring into question the relevance of the FEI for New Zealand riders because, although
competitive, participants’ style of endurance riding emphasised intrinsic enjoyment, their own and their horses’ well-being, and persistence in their sport of choice.