Equestrians of the Carolinas: Georgia Coyle

by Lauren Allen

Georgia Coyle has taken care of some the best horses in the world, all over the world. If you know anything about the golden age of showjumping, then names like Rodney Jenkins, Ronnie Beard and Robert Ridland, or horses such as Idle Dice and Southside give you a thrill. Georgia Coyle was there for all of it and she is still getting her horse fix at 70 years old at Olive Branch Farm, the breeding and layup facility she runs in Wingate, North Carolina with her husband Chris Coyle. “I’ve been lucky and I’ve had fun, and of course, worked hard,” she says.

Georgia and her sister Mary

Georgia remembers her very first experiences with horses when she and her sister were put in a little western saddle for a pony ride. “The first touch or feel you get, you’re either bitten or you’re not” says Coyle, and she was bitten hard. She lived in a regular neighborhood in the Charlotte area, but it wasn’t long before her father picked up a little Quarter Horse mare named Ginger Ale. She rode where the Mecklenburg Hounds used to ride on land now filled with endless development and the shops of the Charlotte Arboretum.

In high school, Coyle had a dark bay Thoroughbred mare named Wine Bearer that she showed in the equitation, junior hunters and regular hunters. She trained with Nora Cooke at Cedar Hill Farm, but when she graduated high school, she didn’t have the money to continue showing and she didn’t want to lose her connection with horses, so she went to work for the legendary judge and trainer Jimmy Lee as a groom.

Georgia on Wine Bearer showing at Blowing Rock

Eventually Georgia took a job with Rodney Jenkins, where she would occasionally be responsible for the care of the renowned showjumper Idle Dice, if his regular groom didn’t go to the show. “Everybody woke up at 3:30,” she laughs. “There were some long hours.” She went to the FEI World Championships in 1974 in Hickstead, England. “Idle Dice was a great big horse, but he was very gentle. When he went in the ring with Rodney it was like watching poetry.”

Back then, everyone was responsible for braiding their own horses, but two friends of Georgia’s started one of the very first horse show braiding services, and she went with them to follow the circuit. “We were so close, all of us, we were like carnival people where every week we went to a different show.”

Then, Georgia was asked to help Ronnie Beard and Robert Ridland at Winter Place Farm in Maryland. When Ridland went to Europe to compete with his champion jumper Southside, she went along, and then accompanied the U.S. team to the Montreal Olympics in 1976. When Winter Place Farm folded, Georgia came home to the Southern Pines area. She was quickly snapped up by the jumper phenomenon Michelle McEvoy (now Michelle Grubb) who had recently opened a stable in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Georgia Coyle with the showjumper Southside

Georgia settled down a bit after she met Chris. They married in 1983, and had two daughters. He worked at prestigious Standardbred breeding farms in New York and New Jersey for many years, but eventually, the couple returned to North Carolina and opened Olive Branch Farm.

“It’s been mostly Standardbreds since then. Trotters and pacers, some of the top horses in the world come to the farm to rest between races. We don’t train anything here; horses just come in to take a break for a month or two, and we do the mare and foal thing. We’ve been averaging 20-30 foals a year.”

Georgia with Cool Enough and Laura Orlowski

Georgia says she is slowing down a little and travelling more and she enjoys visiting her two granddaughters. But she doesn’t seem to be slowing down that much: “My new venture is I have a 5-year-old gelding in training to be an event horse. That’s a new world for me, but it’s fun. He is in training with Laura Orlowski in the Gastonia area.”

Her event prospect, Cool Enough, is a homebred. Georgia says she had a retired Standardbred mare named Cool Character that she bred to a Thoroughbred stallion. The pairing was inspired when Georgia heard a song on the radio called “Cool Enough.”

“I thought, that would have been a perfect name for one of her babies, so I was like, I could still breed her.” She laughs, “I bred a horse just so I could name it Cool Enough.”

Cool Enough is now almost 17 hands tall and competing Beginner Novice. “He’ll have to be sold at some point, but I just want him to learn a lot and get to as many shows as I can get to and be his groom.”

It seems that grooming horses is truly what Georgia was born to do. She also has a horse named Fields of Gold, that she bought for $800 from her bank teller because owning a palomino was on her bucket list. She doesn’t ride as much anymore but she still loves to care for him, even after all the years of caring for horses professionally.

“I go out and groom him and I have fun doing that. It’s therapeutic—there is just something about spending time with a horse and making them look good and feel good. It’s just very rewarding.”

With Fields of Gold: “Owning a palomino was on my bucket list.”

 

 

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