HSI Active Accredited Coaches Blog Series – Tom Holden

  • 28 March 2023, 10:23
In the third part of the HSI Active Accredited Coaches Blog series, we spoke to Tom Holden about how he became one of Ireland’s leading course designers and what he loves most about being a coach.

Name: Tom Holden

Location: Julianstown, Co. Meath

Coach Level: HSI Level 2 Coach and Coach Developer

Tom Holden is a HSI Level 2 Coach, HSI Coach Developer and Level 3 FEI Show Jumping Course Designer.

Tom has a wealth of experience both as a coach and as a course designer. He is currently a Level 3 Show Jumping Course Designer having progressed through the FEI system, making him an international course designer. Tom is well regarded as one of Ireland’s top course designers. He has designed courses around the world, including some of the most prestigious international events such as Spruce Meadows, Canada, and FEI World Cup qualifiers in Estonia, Croatia and Slovenia.

Over the last number of years, Tom has worked closely with the RDS Dublin Horse Show, regularly building for Young Horse finals. Just last year he was responsible for designing and building courses for no less than 10 international competitions in the main arena.

As a HSI Active Accredited Coach and HSI Coach Developer, Tom’s expertise is invaluable to the programme. From riding club beginnings to becoming an internationally sought after course designer, HSI are delighted to talk to Tom for our part three in the HSI Active Accredited Coaches Blog Series and get an insight into his career highlights and influences.

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

I have always had an interest in horses. When I was on the executive of the Association of Irish Riding Clubs, Lt Col Gerry Mullins came to a meeting one evening and explained the new coaching system to the committee.

Shortly afterwards I attend the pilot Level 1 course in McKee Barracks, this really sparked my interested in coaching. I had done the ICES exams previously, but this was a new and interesting approach which really appealed to me.


Who has been an inspiration to you and why?

As I said Gerry Mullins started my interest in the HSI Coaching programme. After that, I was lucky to work with Comdt. John Ledingham, Jack Doyle, Ian Fearon, Gisela Holstein, William Micklem, and many others, who all have a great understanding of horsemanship and I have learned from them all.

Another person who really helped me understand how horses develop and move was Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. He gave a talk at the HSI Coaching and Breeding Conference at City West several years ago. He gave us his phone number and the next day I rang him in Germany. He gave me 45 minutes of his time because he is so passionate about horses. I then looked more closely at how horses grow, move and develop.

But the person I learned most about coaching from was Liam Moggan. During the (Sport Ireland) Coach Developer course in Limerick, we had Liam for all five weekends. He taught us so much about how different people learn.


What do you love most about being a professional coach?

The variety is the most appealing aspect of coaching. Lots of different people, horses, venues, problems, solutions, etc. Almost always you are out in the fresh air, which is so good for you.


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

When a student has a good day out, not necessarily winning but going well and enjoying the sport and their horse, it gives me a buzz. On the other hand, when they have put in a lot of work and effort, but end up having a bad day, that can be difficult to take.


What has your career with this sport taught you about life?

This sport has taught me to be patient. Think about what a particular horse might need to be able to give their best. If you apply that to life, it will help greatly in getting on with people as well. Liam Moggan has a great quote:

“Everyone can learn, but not all on the same day and not all in same way.”

I go along with that. Find out what you need to do so that the horse can be happy in giving his best. Then you will not be too far wrong.


Tell us about the horse/pony that taught you the most?

I had a mare at one time who was on the way to the factory when a friend of mine suggested that we buy her and see if we could rehabilitate her. She had pony raced as a 2-year-old, whipped hounds as a 3-year-old, and by the time she was a 5-year-old she did not have much of an appetite for life. We evented her with a bit of success but what she taught me about horses and how to “listen” to them stays with me to this day.

Her first foal was called Willow and she bred Cillnaradden Evo who completed Badminton Horse Trials – clear cross country, clear show jumping, some cross-country time penalties and with the lowest Dressage score in Badminton history.


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

The correct attitude is vital. Taking shortcuts might work for a while but will eventually show up in performances.

Motivation is key to overcoming the bad days and there will be plenty of those when you are involved in horses. There is an old saying that I like, “Get up, dress up, turn up, and never give up.”


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

A friend of mine who I helped, qualified 2 horses for Lanaken a few years ago. That was special. Another girl that I coach won a 6-year-old final in Lier in Belgium last November on a horse she bought as a 4-year-old and produced herself. That was super special.


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

Go through the HSI Coaching Programme. It is systematic, horse centred, and logical. Keep up to date with changes to the programme, watch the best coaches and ask lots of questions. Most senior coaches will be very happy to help. And then stay motivated.


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

I can do a reasonable Donald Duck impression.


HSI Level 2 Coach Tom Holden 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.