It is often said that teaching is a vocation rather than a profession. One such lady who emulates this sentiment is Sarah-Jane Doyle.

Sarah-Jane is a BHS instructor and Centre 10 advanced coach based in Co Wexford and she has built her career around nurturing, supporting and progressing many horse and rider combinations. Sarah has also continued to develop and diversify as a coach over the years. She offers online programmes on mindset and mental performance for riders alongside the more traditional on-horse sessions. Around her coaching commitments, Sarah-Jane works as a saddle fitter for the UK company Albion, and she is regularly called upon to judge at dressage competitions and events.

Based at Hillside Stud in Rosslare, Sarah-Jane lives with her husband, Richard, and their two daughters, Faye (14) and Kate (10). The family runs a busy livery yard, as well as breeding and producing young horses. Being from a non-equestrian background has helped to spur Sarah-Jane on throughout her career, making her dig deep and prove to herself that she can achieve her goals.

Riding schools

“I was the kid who came up through the riding schools - I badgered my parents for lessons. I did any job I was asked to do and rode any horses going, just to be near to them. We never had ponies when I was growing up, and I didn’t get my first horse until I was 21. My parents and my granny bought him for me as a birthday present. I think that’s why I have a bit of a thing about proving myself. I always want to do a bit more, apply myself a bit more, learn everything I can because there was nobody at home to bounce an idea off. It all had to come from me but it inspired me to push forward.”

In 2020, Sarah-Jane won the coveted Centre 10 Coach of the Year award. “There’s a notebook somewhere that my granny kept which I had as a child, and in it, I had written ‘When I grow up, I want to own my own riding stables’, so I think coaching was something I had in my heart from early on.

Sarah-Jane Doyle at home at Hillside Stud in Rosslare. \ Louise O’Brien Photography

Because I had to do everything myself when I was younger, as a coach, I like being able to support my riders and give them the help that I didn’t have. I have done everything badly, the wrong way and back to front. I have made mistakes and had the falls. However, I gained tons of experience, and I love putting it into play now with the riders I work with.”

Further afield

Sarah-Jane has built up the unmounted side of her coaching business to incorporate online courses and individual sessions. This allows her to work with clients from further afield and to fit in more easily around both her commitments and those of her clients. “A lot of riders have never really thought about working on their mindset, and I want to help people with that. This summer, I am starting an online programme with younger riders from 12-16 years of age, working on marginal gains and how lifestyle can impact performance.

“Understanding the value of nutrition and hydration and the impact of hormones, mood, and sleep are so important. The rider is 50% of the partnership; it isn’t only about the horse. Then, in the autumn, I will be running a programme for parents to help them to support their children through the ups and downs of equestrian sport.”

Sarah-Jane works one-on-one with each rider to give her clients her undivided attention and support. “I love being a part of the relationship between the rider and the horse. I am really invested in that rider-horse dynamic, and I am there for both in whatever form they need me to be in a session. They might need some support, they might need actual technical training, they might need somebody to bounce ideas off - it’s an open system. Week by week, I am very much driven by my riders, and I adapt my coaching plan according to their needs.”

Sarah-Jane and Richard breed several foals yearly, preferring to stick with the Irish Draught/Thoroughbred cross. The youngsters are given an excellent all-round education on the ground. Some are then broken and produced, and others are sold. Sarah-Jane’s youngest daughter, Kate, is pony-mad, and she enjoys showing and pony club events. Her oldest daughter Faye is slowly growing a small flock of Valais Blacknose sheep, and Sarah-Jane thoroughly enjoys this new challenge along with her newest hobby of flower arranging. “It is much more lucrative than showing horses,” she says, laughing. “I am proud to have gotten to this place in my life. I find the more I know, the more I don’t know - but every achievement makes me want to succeed even more.”