This week I’m chatting with brilliant young dressage rider Hope Cooper. One of the USA’s brightest young stars, Hope has already achieved some notable successes and is certainly someone worth keeping an eye on. Read on to learn more about Hope and her very special horses.
Tell us a little about you and your horses
I am 24 years old; I have been riding since I was in the womb (my mom is also a Grand Prix rider and trainer). I ride and train every day. Horses are my number one love, but in college I also studied dance and Neuroscience. I play the Violin, but just for fun!
I am based near Boston, MA at Bear Spot Farm in the summers and Wellington Florida in the winters. I have three horses I have been competing recently in the Under 25 Grand Prix: Hot Chocolate W. (Owned by Mary Mansfield), Don Diamond, and Sunshine Tour. I am very fortunate to train with Christoph Koschel and my mom Jane Karol.
Chocolate is a 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Hochadel who I have had the pleasure of riding since his mother Mary bought him at age 11.
We both did not know very much when we started out together, but somehow along the way have gotten the privilege of competing at the U25 USA National Championships and earning the Bronze individual medal (earning silver in the freestyle) in 2019. We also competed on Wellington CDIO U25 nations cup team in both 2020 and 2021. This past March at the CDIO U25 we earned a team silver medal and Chocolate and I won individual gold in the U25 GP test! Chocolate is an absolute joy to work with. He always puts his full heart into everything he does, and he constantly inspires me to ride better. I am excited for the future with him as well.
Diamond is a 16-year-old OLD gelding out of Don Gregory. He has been my horse since he was 8 years, and I was 15. We have had a long partnership together and have taught each other almost everything we know. Diamond and I competed in Juniors and then Young riders earning our spot at NAYC (North Americans) in each division. During our young rider years, we earned individual Bronze. We worked our way up to the U25 division and have competed in many CDIs in Wellington FL including a silver medal in the Youth Championships in 2020 and having some of our personal best rides and scores yet in the CDI ring in 2021. Diamond is absolutely my heart horse and my best friend. He is always there for me and I look forward to hearing his whinny every time I walk in the barn. I am excited to compete him this summer in both of our first real Grand Prix and a bit more in the U25!
Sunshine is a 14-year-old OLD mare out of Sir Donnerhall. My mother bought Sunshine as a four-year-old and developed her to GP. They had many successes together including reserve champion as a 6-year-old at our young horse championships and winning the Developing Horse Grand Prix also at our National Championships! My mother is so supportive and generous and has recently given me the ride on her most incredible horse (but don’t worry my mom has some absolutely stunning young horses coming up the levels!). Sunshine and I competed a bit last season in the U25 and qualified for our National Championships, however we chose not to go due to COVID. We also had some great CDIs in Wellington!
This season we have been working on developing our partnership towards the open Grand Prix and I am very excited to see what the future has in store for us. Sunshine has already taught me a lot and made me a much better rider. I really think I am Sunshine in human form and she is me in horse form. I often laugh about this, but we really get each other and seem to have a very similar sense of humour!
How did your horses come into your life?
I have been lucky enough to have a mother who is a dressage trainer. I grew up on a horse farm. We have a working farm with about 25 horses, most of whom are clients of my mother’s. My mom is also an Equine Facilitated Psychotherapist, so she uses the horses as her co-therapist in her practice. We have many horses and ponies who are used for therapy where we live and when I was younger, I was often in charge of exercising all of these horses and ponies on the days when they were not being used in a therapy session. I think this is really how I started to fall in love with horses, and also how I began to understand the truly therapeutic effect they have on people.
How long have you been riding?
I have been riding since before I can remember, but I truly started to get into the competing when I was seven years old on my first pony Orion. Orion is still alive, and we still own him – he is about 30 years old and lives in a massive field in Tennessee with his paddock mate from our barn named Jake (my mother’s wonderful co-therapist for many years) who is also retired!
When and where do you ride?
I ride almost every day of my life. Sometimes I try to take one day off, but I normally end up heading out to the barn to hang out with the ponies anyways. During the summers I ride outside of Boston MA at our farm – Bear spot Farm. And in the winters, we come down to Wellington, FL for the season. I am hoping in the near future to travel to Germany to train and compete with Christoph Koschel in the summer and fall.
How did you start riding?
I honestly don’t remember because I have pictures of myself on a horse being held by my mom from when I was maybe a few months old. My mom is really the best mom! I began to take riding more seriously when I was seven and my mom’s trainer Gerrit-Claes Bierenbroodspot came over from Holland to teach a clinic. I think this was the first clinic I was allowed to ride in, and I very clearly remember working on how to make my pony walk more forward without allowing him to trot and run away with me (lol!) I was hooked after that.
What you and your horse currently working on?
With Chocolate we are working towards continuing our really amazing season at the U25. For now, he will have a bit of a break from competition until the end of the summer when our national championships happen!
With Diamond and Sunshine, we are working towards our first real Grand Prix which we hope to debut soon!
What do you love about riding?
My favourite part about riding is the feeling of being in the zone with my horses. It’s a feeling of such a deep connection it’s as though we are reading each other’s minds. I think this happens both on and off the horse. On the horse it most often happens in training or in a show when they start to relax their back and swing that extra amount through their whole body. There is really no feeling like it- almost everything makes sense in those moment. Off the horse it is a feeling of pure trust and connectedness. Having a friendship with a horse is not like any relationship with a human being I’ve ever had. They are a mirror when you need them to be a mirror, a best friend when you need them to be, and they can give you a kick in the butt when you need it too. They are never lacking in their side of the relationship.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
In the future I would like to continue becoming an even better rider and horse person. Of course, it would be incredible to be on a US team and represent my country in this sport as well. For now, I am excited to explore showing all over the world and continue on my journey with my three incredible GP horses I have now and some young ones as well!
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding and how do you deal with them?
YES, absolutely! Just getting out there and showing more has been really helpful for nerves, but the biggest thing for me has been remembering in the moment I get nervous that my horse is right there for me. I do this by giving them a pat or a scratch before we go down centre-line and looking down at them and remembering that were in this together. Now for the most part I don’t get as nervous once I am on the horse, but every once and a while I really have to remember that together my horse and I can do it!
Your Top Tip
Keep your sense of humour! It gives perspective. There are many ups and downs in this sport if you can remember to laugh and hug your horse as often as possible that is the best thing you can do.
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
Bella Rose for sure!
Who is your equestrian hero?
Wow SO MANY, this is so hard to answer. Isabell Werth, Christoph Koschel, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl, Carl Hester, Debbie McDonald, and of course my mom, Jane Karol!!
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
Oliver Sacks (really incredible Neurologist who died in 2015), LeBron James, Alvin Ailey, Michelle Obama, both my grandfathers (who I didn’t get to meet but from my parents descriptions sound like the most incredible people). (sorry, that’s six J)
Favourite colour horse?
That’s the hardest question so far- all of them!?
Favourite horse event
It would be a dream to go one day, but from photos I would love to ride at Manfred and Hilde Swarofski show in Fritzens, Austria! It looks so gorgeous there!