Marketer by day, rider by night – Samantha Felton – 30 Under 30

Sam on Henton After Dark


Like a double agent, Samantha Felton (NZL) leads two distinct lives. Utilizing her university degree, her mornings begin in the office with a budding career in marketing. However, every afternoon when the clock strikes 1:30 she sheds her civilian clothes, dons her jodhpurs and pursues her passion of Eventing.

With a day career and an after hours career Sam puts in long days. She rides six horses, coaches and is in the process of setting up a new farm. At only 23, she is a member of the New Zealand Talent Development squad and is consistently in the ribbons at the three-star level. Breaking her pelvis last year was a minor set back and she was back in the saddle as soon as she was able. She is a well-rounded individual and her riding skills and marketing background are a wicked combination for success, making her one of the world’s “Top 30 Under 30”

Marketing maven
Graduating in 2013 from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Management Studies (Hons) in Strategic Management and Finance, Sam was able to continue riding competitively during her studies.

With focus and determination, she is managing to successfully juggle a career in Marketing and Eventing. “It is a special situation. I am very lucky to have a good boss,” explains Sam. Her marketing job certainly helps to subsidize her riding.

In addition, she with works with fellow riders to help them with sponsorship proposals. “My background helps and I think it is key to involve fans and portray yourself as a professional,” says Sam. Her own website and social media is a testament to her skill set and top-notch marketing is a very important aspect to developing a sustainable business in this sport.

Sam when she graduated from the University of Waikato. She is celebrating with her parents and her sister Nicky who all have been incredibly supportive of her riding career.

Sam when she graduated from the University of Waikato. She is celebrating with her parents and her sister Nicky who all have been incredibly supportive of her riding career.

Meet her ponies
“I do not have owners yet and that is the next big challenge for me,” says Sam. Getting owners in New Zealand is not easy, the country lacks the owner culture.  Events here do not have VIP experiences for owners like events in the UK. Currently Sam is putting together a syndicate to sell shares in her two top horses, Ricker Ridge Pico Boo and Ricker Ridge Escada.

Sam gravitates towards horses with some thoroughbred blood. “I think I ride the thoroughbreds better and I get on with them really well. I am not stuck onto any particular type of horse, I look for a nice horse but I do find the thoroughbreds easy to ride,” clarifies Sam. Her team roster includes:

  • Ricker Ridge Pico Boo: 3*, KWPN x Thoroughbred
  • Ricker Ridge Escada: 3*, Thoroughbred
  • Henton After Dark: 2*, Hanoverian
  • Ricker Ridge Rui: 1*, Holsteiner x Thoroughbred
  • Ricker Ridge Rodstar: 1*, Thoroughbred
  • Ricker Ridge Figaro MVNZ: Training level (CNC105), Holsteiner x Thoroughbred

Training with top riders
To succeed in the big leagues, you need to train with the athletes who compete there. Sam is a member of the New Zealand Talent Development Squad, which is the top national squad that bases in New Zealand. These riders receive training but no funding. This enables her to train with:

  • Dressage coach, Penny Castle (NZL) who has evented to the three-star level and is now aiming for 2016 Olympics in dressage; and
  • Jumping coach, Clark Johnstone (NZL), 2010 WEG Bronze Team Medalist and aiming for the 2016 Olympics.

Sam has ridden with some of the biggest names in eventing. Winning the CIC1* junior championship in 2008 and receiving the ‘10 day Clifton Scholarship’ gave her the opportunity to travel to the UK to train with Jock Paget.

He has been a mentor to her ever since, helping her out whenever he goes to New Zealand. “I really appreciate all the help Jock has given me over the years. He always makes time for me even when he does not have time,” says Sam.

This year, Sam attended the World Equestrian Games and Burghley and was able to stay with Andrew Nicholson because Jock was moving yards. “There is a network of New Zealanders and the older riders are very accommodating to take us on for a couple of weeks to show us the ropes and what it is like overseas. You work and help out at the yard but they do a good job of showing you around and letting you go to events,” explains Sam. “Being at Andrew’s was different than Jock’s. With Andrew you learn purely through observation, where as Jock explains things and teaches you riding lessons.”

Unconventional lifestyle from the start
It is no surprise that Sam is making her riding career happen a bit differently than others. Her childhood was far from typical as much of it was spent being raised on a boat with her parents and sister Nicola. “While living on the boat, owning a horse was out of the question. I would always look at picture books with horses and just kept dreaming of having one, but it was not even a possibility,” says Sam. Sailing the South Pacific seas was how her parents discovered New Zealand and then decided to settle there.

Sam and her sister were reluctant to move to New Zealand until their parents told them they could have a pony as part of the package. With this suggestion, the idea of New Zealand became a little more palatable. With the first pony in the family, Sam’s dream of horses began to grow into a passion. “I owe so much to the support of my mom, dad and my sister Nicola. The lifestyle eventers live is quite selfish. It is an all-consuming sport and it is hard for a little sister to put up with a big sister that is taking up so much family time. But Nicki has been so supportive and understanding,” says Sam.

Raised on boat in the South Pacific Sam longed for a pony and got her wish when her family finally settled in New Zealand.

Raised on boat in the South Pacific Sam longed for a pony and got her wish when her family finally settled in New Zealand.

The 2015 plan (in pencil)
This weekend at the New Zealand National One Day Event, with three horses in the CIC3* she managed every possible scenario:

  • placed 3rd on Ricker Ridge Escada,
  • retired Henton After Dark; and
  • had a fall from Ricker Ridge Pico Boo when he tripped after landing off of a big brush skinny, breaking her collarbone.

Her riding is on hold for about eight weeks while she recovers but she is hoping to shorten the recovery time as she has big plans for 2015.

“My biggest priority at the moment is riding on the team at the Trans-Tasman CC13* at the Taupo Three-Day Event in May,” says Sam. Trans-Tasman competitions take place between friendly rivals New Zealand and Australia and are an important stepping-stone for many riders aiming for international team experience. With a trio of competitive horses gearing up for three-stars, her chances are promising.

Sam takes the knocks of Eventing in stride and a broken bone here and there are unfortunately part of the job description. She has the ability to maintain a jam-packed schedule managing two careers, coaching and running a farm. She knows what is required and looks forward to the journey. Look for Sam on a New Zealand team riding shoulder to shoulder with the world’s top riders in the next few years.

To keep up with Sam daily:
[Website] [Facebook] [Twitter]


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