International Women’s Day – HSI Active Accredited Coaches Blog Series with Heather Coyle

  • 6 March 2023, 19:24
This week we celebrate International Women’s Day and HSI kicks off the week, celebrating women in the equestrian industry with a return to the first of our Coach Profile Blog series.

We recognise the positive influence our coaches have on the future of learning within the industry and the benefit of their contributions to the next generation of equestrians. We believe that education can unlock the potential in every person, empowering them to achieve their goals and to contribute to the greater good of equestrianism.

In recognition of our HSI Accredited Coaches, we have enlisted 12 coaches from our Active Accredited Coaches list to take part in our monthly blog series for 2023. These HSI Coaches will take us through the highs and lows of their coaching careers, their experiences within the HSI Coaching Programme while sharing what motivates and inspires them and their riders.

First up is HSI Level 3 Show Jumping Coach, Heather Coyle.

Brian Kerr presenting Heather Coyle with her HSI Level 3 Show Jumping Certificate. Photo by Sportsfile

Coach Profile

Name – Heather Coyle-Ireland

County – Tyrone (at the moment)

Coach level – HSI Level 3 – Senior Show-Jumping Coach

Heather Coyle is one of Ireland’s leading show jumping coaches, working with children and adults around Ireland. Heather has been involved with horses throughout her life.

Heather has progressed through the HSI Coaching Programme, completing her Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 course. Through her journey to becoming a HSI Level 3 Show Jumping Coach, Heather has become very involved as a Coach Developer and continues to champion the HSI Coaching Programme.

Heather previously held the position of High-Performance Coordinator within HSI and was involved with the Irish Pony (under 16), Junior (under 18), Young Rider (under 21) and Children on Horses (under 14) Show Jumping teams, who have enjoyed immense success and medals in the last number of years. She herself won a Silver Medal at the Junior European Show Jumping Championships.

Of her many achievements Heather is proud to have mentored Eilish Byrne for two years leading up to and for her London Para-Olympic Individual Bronze Medal and enjoyed side-stepping into athlete support roles too. She has also won a team silver medal at the Junior European Championships.

Heather is currently Show Jumping Coach to the Irish Pony Eventing team who won team Bronze and individual Silver at the European Championships in 2021 and team Gold and individual Silver in 2022.

Heather is passionate about coaching and currently sits on the Sport Ireland Women in Coaching Committee as well as on the HSI Coaching Technical Committee.


Where did your interest in equestrian coaching and the HSI Coaching Programme come from?

In 1976 I went to England for 3 months to do my BHSAI, it was only possible to complete it in that time frame outside Ireland, because I already held my Pony Club H test which was the exam at that time, before the A test. It was a dressage centre, which was a great foundation for my Pony Club A, which I passed in March 1977. I did a little bit of coaching over the next few years, to supplement my income as a competition rider.

In 2001, I was asked / tortured by John Ledingham and Gerry Mullins to go and do my level 1. It had begun with the EFI (Equestrian Federation of Ireland)

So, I did, very begrudgingly. I was completely blown away by the modern approach to competition coaching. This was what I had been missing in my previous coaching experiences.

The EFI Coaching Committee then sent me off to Limerick University to work with Coaching Ireland led by Liam Moggan. I became a ‘tutor’ (now known as Coach Developer) – it did take me quite a while to understand the difference between coaching and tutoring. Now I adore both.


Who do you admire in the sport and why?

In show jumping, I admire Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden and Pénélope Leprevost they are stylish and competitive. Harry Charles is also such a winner. Many moons ago I coached his mum, Tara, on her ponies. My Irish mentor was the late Paul Darragh and watching Eddie Macken was poetry.


Heather is an active Coach Developer with Horse Sport Ireland. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Who has been an inspiration to you and why?

I love listening to other coaches coach. I think we can get small bits of inspiration from a lot of different sources.


What is your greatest strength as a coach and why is it important to you?

I like to help the rider, regardless of their age, take responsibility for their own development and learning. The rider is the person who must put into practice and perfect what the coach coaches. I like to ask these questions at the end of every session – “what have you learnt in today’s lesson? What are you going to practice and technically, how will you do it?”


What are some of the most satisfying and most frustrating parts of coaching?

Satisfying – when you see that big beaming smile, they get it.

Frustrating – when the rider doesn’t want to be there or doesn’t want to learn or makes excuses and blames their horse. This type of rider needs the most help and often a very different approach. I try to find out what motivates them.


What has been the funniest thing that has happened to you while coaching?

My first lesson ever in England, being assessed by a very superior BHSI with a clipboard – was a 1/2hr lesson with a beginner, Penelope, just off the lunge. Her assigned pony was an Irish Connie named Seamus. He had a sense of humour. It was on a Saturday morning, I was given the top half of the outdoor arena. There were lessons in the indoor, and a cross country lesson in the 24-acre field beside the outdoor. Penelope’s mum was in a twin set with pearls and clutching her handbag, she was very anxious. The lesson had only just started, maybe 4 min into it – I’m trying to exude confidence so I asked Penelope to go forward to trot. Seamus obliged and trotted slowly towards a very sizeable cross country tree trunk with a plank above it, between the outdoor and the field and he jumped it.

Penelope stayed on which was very impressive. I was encouraging her to put her heels down and sit tall and pull with both reins.

Her mum had clambered over the trunk and was shrieking after us, the BHSI also climbed over and was running after us, scribbling furiously on her clipboard. Penelope eventually fell off, never to ride again. I had to do the walk of shame to the office to fill out my accident report only to find my best friend already filling one out too. Her first lesson hadn’t even started, giving an enthusiastic leg up, Carol, fired her young rider over the other side of the pony to land on their head!


Tell us about the horse that taught you the most?

My grandfather found my first horse when I was 14 years old. He was a 5-year-old brown thoroughbred called Maguire, who had raced, he just wasn’t fast enough. He was 16hh. He went from walk to gallop, there were no gears in between. In three years, we had moved up the grades, worked out the flat work and we were selected for the Irish Team at the Junior European Championships in La Tour de Peilx, Switzerland, where we were on the Silver Medal winning team.

I always backed my own horses and trained them on, Maguire helped me understand ‘horse’.


Do you believe attitude or motivation are the key factors for longevity in the sport and why?

I believe in attention to detail, every tiny piece, is the greatest key factor.  I think you have to find a key to every horse, keep him sound, happy, interested and enjoying the sport. If the horse doesn’t have someone watching him, noticing the small changes, finding those keys, nothing else will work.

There is a whole team behind every rider, the coach is just one member of the team, but a good coach can have a huge influence on the other team support, motivating not just the rider, but the rest of the support group too.


What has been the highlight of your coaching career to date?

This is a hard question to answer, team medals are of course highlights, I’ve been coaching the HSI High Performance Pony Event Team – Show Jumping phase. In the last two years we have won 2021 team Bronze and individual Silver Medals and in 2022 team Gold and individual Silver Medals.

However, I get a huge kick out of every success that my clients achieve, every year I have approximately 9 or 10 riders qualified for Dublin, which is for most Irish riders, their main goal each year. The first 0/0 for an under 10 rider is such a big deal – it is a constant reminder how difficult the skills are in our sport.


What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who would like to begin their career as a professional equestrian coach?

Get qualified, it’s a great background, you will have a network of support. Keep learning, good coaches keep asking, learning, and evolving.


Just for fun – tell us an unusual fact about yourself!

I was born in Kenya, my parents met in Trinity, both were doing Veterinary, they got a 5-year contract straight out of college to work in Kenya and got married out there.

Irish Pony Eventing Team


HSI Level 3 Show Jumping Coach Heather Coyle is listed on our Active Accredited Coaches (AAC) list. Coaches on the HSI AAC List are those who regularly engage with the HSI Coaching Continuous Professional Development programme and have met the minimum requirement of 5 annual CPD points. They also have valid and in date Garda Vetting and / or Access NI completed through HSI as well as valid First Aid and Child Safeguarding 1 certification.

To find a HSI Active Accredited Coach near you, please see our Active Accredited Coaches list.