By BEN BAUGH
It was a Pony Club Rally on land that was adjacent to Lynn Coates-Holmes’ step-father’s home that served as the impetus for the horseman to get involved with the sport of eventing. Prior to that experience, Coates-Holmes who was 13-years-old when she got her first horse, had been riding bare back and western, tearing through the woods like most kids her age. But, the Pony Club rally had a profound influence on the teenager, forever changing the complexion of her life.
“When I saw the rally, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” said Coates-Holmes, who grew up in Rochester, N.Y. “I was hooked after that.”
The future professional had to make several adjustments which included learning how to ride English. She rode with the Mendon Pony Club, and would eventually obtain her Pony Club A rating.
Eventing at that time was much stronger in the northeast, and Coates-Holmes through trainer Suzi Gornall, who was conducting a Pony Club clinic at the Mendon Pony Club, helped the aspiring rider find an opportunity at a barn in Vermont.
There was absolutely no doubt in Coates-Holmes mind that she had found her destiny while watching the Pony Club Rally that fateful day, and that she wanted to be an event rider and become a trainer.
“It’s in my blood, and I love it,” she said. Coates-Holmes, who has been involved with the sport for more than three decades.
Coates-Holmes would also go onto work for Eventing Hall of Famer Denny Emerson for 16 years as an assistant trainer and instructor at Tamarack Farm. She was involved with the facility’s breeding program for 12 years.
“I had a great time, teaching and training, while managing the breeding program,” said Coates-Holmes, who is now based at Rumor Has It Farm in Williston. “I had a blast working with the working students, showing young horses and training young horses, and teaching kids. I don’t see Denny that often as he’s based in Southern Pines.”
But, it’s that same passion that compels Coates-Holmes to continue in her quest for knowledge while improving as a horseman, observing and learning different techniques and making them part of her routine and program.
“I enjoy teaching,” said Coates-Holmes. “People ask me, what do I like better, working with amateur adults or kids. They all have their own specialities. Amateur adults get so excited about the simplest things.”
The psychology of training, the challenge associated with getting into a horse’s head is something that Coates-Holmes willingly embraces.
“I enjoy breaking down the horse,” said Coates-Holmes. “You find out what works for them and go forward. It’s fun to pick them apart. You also have to be able to pick the rider apart. You have to be able to break them down, put them back together, and make it flow for both of them. It’s a fun puzzle.”
There are a number of challenges when competing including managing multiple rides, and memorizing dressage tests at the different levels.
“You’re always going to make mistakes, and there’s going to be mistakes made,” said Coates-Holmes. “You forget a movement in a test. It’s there to be had. Doing it so often, you learn the dressage test, so that when you have that test, you know how to ride it. I have to think about it, focus on it, but it’s in my head.”
The challenge is knowing your horse, and making sure you’re going to get optimal results on a particular test with that horse.
The same applies to the stadium jumping and cross country phases, walking and getting to know the courses.
“You can miss a fence, jump the wrong fence because the adrenaline is running,” said Coates-Holmes. “You aim at the bigger fence instead of the smaller, and you’re done. Overall, you walk your courses and you pay attention. I think for me, the best part of knowing my courses is when I have the opportunity to walk them with my students because we talk about each fence, discuss the approach, discuss the takeoff afterwards, what you do, so it’s all in your mind.”
And, it’s Coates-Holmes passion for competing that has compeled her to become a master practitioner, helping her to excel in the sport. It can be a challenge, having to balance competing and coaching, she said.
“I love young horses, educated horses,” said Coates-Holmes. “I can get just as much of a thrill out of either one. When I have students there and I’m riding at a competition, it splits your time. You can’t always be there for everyone. So, I have to make sure that I’m schooling them at home, that they’re prepared to be able to do that by themselves, or with someone’s eye on the ground. If they’re at a very serious competition, and I can’t be there, I have to find a trainer that teaches similar to me, or can do what I ask them to do in order to help that student out.”
Coates-Holmes has also earned her United States Dressage Federation Bronze medal. The eventer had to direct her energies toward flat work a few years ago because of a blod clot in her leg.
“I was on a blood thinner, and I decided not to jump,” said Coates-Holmes, who earned her USDF Bronze medal while riding her intermediate horse, but has since returned to eventing. “I went into the dressage world for a year. It gave me a much better understanding for the dressage test for eventing.”
The dressage tests for the two disciplines are different, with the eventing tests being a bit kinder in general, said Coates-Holmes.
“(It’s) you survived that movement as opposed to you did that movement brilliant because we’re on horses that are fit and educated,” said Çoates-Holmes. “They know what’s going on, they’re ready to go. It gave me a much more precise ride in my dressage. Dressage really is everything. It’s your jumping. It’s your cross country. Dressage is in everything, and knowing what your horse is capable of doing under you on the flat leaves you so much more confident for what your horse can do over fences.”