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Indigenous | Te Rito

Olympics ambition for rising Māori star

A third-generation equestrian is riding her way to victory, setting her sights on an Olympic qualification.

Samantha Wells (Ngāti Kahu) started riding at the tender age of two, and describes horse riding as ‘a feeling like no other’.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to sit on a horse every day and ride and get to connect with an animal.”

The 19-year-old follows in the footsteps of her mother Dna and grandmother Ona who were also equestrians.

“I guess you could say it was born into my blood.”

Wells has developed as a skilled rider over the years, excelling at a national youth level. While her mother specialised in eventing and grandmother in showjumping, Wells has focused on dressage for the past three years.

Started as underdog

“It started off as wanting to go as a showjumper but I didn’t inherit my mother’s brave gene - so here we are doing dressage.”

Her passion for the discipline started at the New Zealand Pony Club Dressage Championships in 2019 where she won her first national title - a standout moment for the young rider’s career.

“I guess I went in as a bit of an underdog,” she says. “[It was] such an outstanding moment and I guess it sort of sparked my love for dressage.”

Her most recent victory saw Wells win her class (Elementary and Elementary 3A) at the ORO Equestrian Dressage by the Lake competition in Cambridge. However, this victory doesn’t only belong to Wells - she acknowledges her horse Ruby, a seven-year-old Hanoverian mare, who has been her most loyal companion on this journey.

Bonding with Ruby

Wells admits the relationship took time to develop. “I’d say it took us a year and a half to bond,” she says. “I think Ruby definitely is the horse version of me. I know people from the outside probably think that’s crazy, but I think that’s why we’ve bonded so well together.”

Wells says they sought the best horse to support her along this journey in her pursuit of an Olympic qualification.

“I’ve had a dream of going to the Olympics since I was a little girl.

“I’m very lucky and thankful to Wendy Williamson, my new coach, who can hopefully help us get there.”

Wells and Ruby train five days a week when preparing for a competition.

This journey hasn’t come without its trials - balancing a busy schedule has proven to be a big challenge for Wells. In addition to training and working part-time, she also studies at The University of Waikato, pursuing a honours degree in management.

“At the end of the day, Ruby will always come first and my riding will always come first.”

Finance always an issue

Finances are also a big barrier for equestrians. Wells says competition fees alone can cost up to $400. “I know a lot of people in the equestrian industry across all disciplines like myself, we work very hard.”

“We’re often up at the crack of dawn and we don’t go to bed until very late trying to fit in work life and horse life.”

Another significant connection between Wells and Ruby is their Northland ties, as the horse was purchased from Kaitāia.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to buy Ruby from my parents and grandparents’ hometown.

“And then go on to achieve and aspire to have goals like the Olympics.”

Wells hopes to inspire others to excel in their mahi and be proud of their cultural roots.

“Hopefully it encourages other people like me or other Māori to get out there and be proud of who they are and what they’re doing.”

Aside from Olympic qualification, Wells has her sights set on more national titles.

“[That] will be next season’s goal, now that I am [with] a horse that can hopefully make that possible for me.”

Hot off the heels of her latest victory, Wells is mow to compete at the Dressage Waitematā Premier League Show this month.

Te Rito