Her first homebred made it to the five-star level and since then, she’s never looked back. With his natural athleticism, strong work ethic, confident attitude, and just the right amount of spunk, it was Who’s A Star that got Courtney Cooper and her husband, Neal Camens committed to breeding event horses. Who’s A Star (Aberjack x Heavenly Star), also known as Tag, was “never an attractive foal,” explained Cooper of the 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by herself and Camens. “His head was very large, he was long-legged, and looked very weak.”
“By the time he was 6 years old, I was like, "Oh, that’s what you’ve grown into,'” said Cooper when she realized that Who’s A Star was going to be something special. “That is the fun part about breeding. Since he was our first, we had no idea what he was going to do.” From starting his eventing career in 2007 as a 4-year-old with the USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) to making his five-star debut in 2016 at the Kentucky Three-Day Event – Who’s A Star went on to do quite a bit.
Cooper’s first homebred, that doubled as her first five-star event horse, had an “extra spark and brilliance about him,” making it clear to Cooper that she should continue with breeding event horses. Now, 17 years and 18 foals later, Cooper and Camens' brand can be identified through the name ‘Star.’ “The significance to the Star name is that our foundation mare, Heavenly Star by the Irish stallion, I'm A Star, that produced many top eventers in his day. We wanted to honor her legacy by keeping ‘Star’ in the names of the foals we breed. Our farm has become known now as the home of the ‘Stars’. So, when I started again importing well-bred and athletic [horses] from Ireland, I kept the ‘Star’ name, and my Irish partners added ‘Excel’, creating the ‘Excel Star’ name for our imported horses.”
With many years of breeding experience, Cooper explained the strategy behind her and her husband’s breeding program at C Square Farm. “First and foremost, I like to see what the progeny's temperament is like. Next, we look for a horse that has a lot of Thoroughbred or is a Thoroughbred type. While I think you do need a high percentage, I believe that it is important to look at the phenotype rather than just the paper. So, I think it is important to consider what type of children the stallion produces with what type of mares - look at their bodies, look at their step, and look at their minds.”
“As for a dam, I think it is paramount to pick a horse of the highest quality. As breeders, we get drawn into the stallion's statistics but oftentimes it is the mare who stamps her foals,” said Cooper. The dam plays a vital role in Cooper’s breeding program as all the ‘Star’ foals can be traced back to one mare, Heavenly Star. An Irish mare who, “had a career ending injury due to a bad step. She was 9 years old at the time and very well-bred, so we decided to take a chance on breeding,” said Cooper.
“As for a stallion, I like a horse who produces a trainable mind. Then, I look at the [stallion’s] gaits and jumping style. I want to see a good walk and canter, as I believe you can ‘make’ a trot to some extent. I do not select stallions based on a big expressive trot; if he has one with the other factors [mentioned], then that is an added bonus. I also look to see what a stallion has produced with a mare similar to mine. I do not want to breed one of my heavier mares to a heavier producing stallion.”
“We had three foals in 2019 and we are expecting three in 2020. Of the 18 horses we have foaled, four are 3 years old or younger, and three have just turned 5 years old,” said Cooper. “Of the others, seven have gone Preliminary or above, one has made it to the five-star level, and one was the USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Champion.”
Those seven horses include Who’s A Star (Aberjack x Heavenly Star), Star Dazzler (Catherston Dazzler x Heavenly Star), R. Star (R. Johnson x Heavenly Star), Rock Star (R. Johnson x Heavenly Star), Count R Lucky Stars (Linaro x R. Star), Believe in the Stars (Linaro x Heavenly Star), and R River Star (Riverman x R. Star). The 17-year-old Irish Hunter gelding, Who’s A Star (Aberjack x Heavenly Star) made it to the five-star level, and the 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, R River Star (Riverman x R Star) won the 2018 USEA YEH 4-year-old East Coast Championships. All seven horses started their eventing careers with the USEA YEH program.
“We are happy with the results and think that we are breeding a better type each year. There is nothing more rewarding than creating a successful pairing, watching the birth of your foal, and then ultimately taking that horse to the top of the sport.”
After all, “it is really hard to be in a bad mood when you have a foal in the barn,” concluded Cooper.
About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.
About the USEA Future Event Horse Program
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse Program in 2007 in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are presented in-hand while 4-year-olds are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated on their conformation. Divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.
The spring eventing season in the Midwest is always a toss-up due to unpredictable weather. Will it rain, will it be sunny, or will it be a snowstorm? No one knows! Mid-America Combined Training Association’s (MACTA) first cross-country schooling of the season was cancelled in March due to extremely muddy footing conditions and by the time our April dates came around, COVID-19 was in full force and we were unable to host our cross-country schooling and schooling show.
The FEI has published its Policy for Enhanced Competition Safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed at assisting organizers and national federations with the safe resumption of international equestrian events in line with national and local restrictions.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) has approved additional modifications to the qualification period for the 2020 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds. The AEC is scheduled to take place August 25-30, 2020 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, and the USEA is doing everything possible to ensure a safe and successful Championship, while also ensuring fair opportunities for all.
This article will be updated to include statements as they are released from upcoming USEA recognized events regarding actions they are taking due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).