Morgan Cooper was one of those lucky kids who was riding a horse as soon as she could sit up straight. Growing up on a farm in Staunton, Illinois, she joined her mom Dorothy Speakman and grandmother Mary Jane Ball in the family business of breeding and showing Paint horses from a young age.
“We did western pleasure classes, the hunter under saddle, and halter,” she recalls of her early years showing. “In addition to that, we would do showmanship, patterns, and trail classes. It was a family affair for me and my mom and grandma.”
Her involvement with the Paint show world came to an abrupt halt, however, when her mother died in a car accident when Morgan was eleven years old. “My grandma was getting older by that time, and she really couldn’t handle the stud and all the mares and breeding on her own. I was too young to take over so we ended up selling all the mares and our stud, and we started running more of a boarding barn instead of a breeding farm.” Traumatized by her mother’s death, Morgan wanted to give up riding altogether. “It just hurt me to be around the horses,” she remembers.
But her grandmother refused to let her quit. “Horses are going to keep you out of trouble in your teen years,” her grandmother advised.
“Just go in a different direction with it.”
To encourage her to move forward with horses while also avoiding painful memories of her mother, Morgan’s grandmother bought her a Thoroughbred off the track. “We had no idea what we were doing,” Morgan laughs.
With her Thoroughbred, Morgan began experimenting with a range of other riding disciplines. Following a friend’s lead, she joined Pony Club, which was, at that time, focused solely on eventing. She also started taking lessons with a local hunter/jumper trainer, but because she was terrified of jumping, she ended up settling on dressage. Dressage turned out to be a tremendous benefit as it helped to establish her seat and hand, and her former trainers in the western pleasure world noted that her riding improved ten-fold because of it.
She did not revisit eventing as an option until she went through a divorce in her 20s. One of her current horses – Captain – was purchased as a four-year-old off the track in 2013 as a “divorce present to myself.”
The divorce also provided Morgan with the impetus to overcome her fear of jumping and to actively pursue her dream of becoming an eventer. But the decision to give the sport another try led to additional obstacles.
“In Illinois, it was hard to find anyone to ride with. There are not a lot of eventing instructors, and we only had one event within an hour from us – Queeny Park in St. Louis. Everything else was four and a half to six hours away.” Due to the lack of accessible eventing opportunities, Morgan and Captain focused on dressage and attended local jumper shows for five years.
In 2018, she met her current trainer, Alexis Baker, whose husband was stationed in Illinois at the time.
Morgan credits Alexis for helping her overcome her fear of jumping and fully transform into an event rider. “I started riding with Alexis and we were able to get me to go from terrified of cross rails to qualifying for the AECs in 2021,” Morgan says with a degree of amazement. “Show up every week. Go home and do your homework. Ride consistently,” Alexis told Morgan, encouraging her to push through the various challenges they encountered along the way. In addition to helping Morgan with her confidence issues, Alexis was also able to resolve Captain’s habit of rushing his jumps. Now competing with him at Novice, Morgan can trust him to take care of her on course. Her connection with Alexis was so strong that when Alexis relocated to Tampa, Florida, Morgan eventually followed, taking a travel assignment as a nurse near Ocala and then eventually settling in Jacksonville in November 2021.
Currently, Morgan owns two event horses: her 13-year-old Thoroughbred Captain Crown (Semoran x Nikki's Growl) and her 5-year-old American Warmblood mare C’est Si Beau (Rijn Beau x Nicolette), AKA Classy, who just completed her first Beginner Novice this summer.
“I thought we could be Beginner Novice king and queen of the world,” Morgan reflects on her journey into eventing with Captain. “But when we got to Florida, we ran our first Novice and it’s gone really well so I even have the thought that we could do Training level.”
While she works as an ER nurse, Morgan also says that she rides full-time. Like so many adult amateurs, she balances her career outside of horses with the demands of her horses’ training and care.
While her early upbringing on horseback has gifted her with natural balance, Morgan admits that confidence has been her biggest ongoing challenge. “My Paint horses were very laid back, very quiet. My Thoroughbred now, who is also laid back, is still a little hotter and just a totally different ride than a western pleasure horse.”
But Morgan is embracing all the challenges of owning and competing event horses and gives credit to the camaraderie and friendliness of the eventing community for keeping her going in the sport.
“Showing is fun but I also love hanging out with my friends [at events].” She appreciates the openness and eagerness of eventers to help one another; a characteristic that she has found unique among the other competitive disciplines she has tried.
“If I’m stalled next to you, we’re going to be friends by the end of the competition.”
The eventing world has also brought Morgan full circle in her personal life. She bought her mare as a 6-month-old and named her after her mother’s favorite horse – a Paint mare named Classy. “The reason I got my warmblood is because she is a pinto, so she is colored like a Paint,” Morgan explains. “Getting a sport horse but with color was always my dream. To me, that is my link to my family.”
The United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) is thrilled to announce that Sidelines Magazine will not only be returning as a “Media Partner of U.S. Eventing,” but they will also be supporting the Association as a “Contributing Level Sponsor of the USEA Emerging Athletes U21 Program” and a “Prize Level Sponsor of the USEA American Eventing Championships.” Sidelines Magazine will give the USEA additional promotion and exposure through their printed and digital media products, while also providing prizes for participants at the AEC and EA21 clinics.
Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.
When super groom Max Corcoran mentioned in 2005 that it would be fun to participate in a USEA Classic Series event, her employer and eventing legend Karen O’Connor took that to heart. “I did a lot of grooming for the classic format when Kentucky and all those other competitions were proper long format,” Corcoran shared. “When Gretchen [Butts] started offering the Classic Series at Waredaca [Gaithersburg, Maryland,] she asked if I would come up and do some lectures to help people understand what the 10-minute box was and how to pack for it. I did that a few times and said to Karen, ‘Man, it would be so fun to do one of these.’ And so Karen's like, 'You want to do one? Yeah, you're gonna do one next year.'”
Has this horse quality? The answer is definitely yes. This first impression is so important. As a selector for the Goresbridge Go for Gold Event horse sale, I have an abbreviation ‘GPO’ which stands for "Good Pull Out." It means that the first look prompts the potential client the need to bring the horse out of his box for a further look.