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.”
To accompany the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, USEA Educational Partner STRIDER has prepared Digital Resources to Maximize Education & Access for the Eventing Community. In keeping with the USEA’s mission to expand the sport of eventing, this webinar outlines ways in which digital tools can be leveraged to increase access and education across equestrian opportunities. As part of STRIDER’s popular Professional Development Webinar Series, this presentation aims to provide a quick overview of best practices and digital tools used across the equestrian industry to boost growth.
Every horse who participated this year in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program has a story—a background that involves a breeder who labored over bloodlines, veterinary care, initial training, and so much more. This year’s highest-placing U.S.-bred horse in the 5-year-old division at the Dutta Corp./USEA Young Event Horse Championships, Arden Augustus, is no exception. His breeder and owner, Anita Antenucci of Arden Farms in Upperville, Virginia, started her program nine years ago and said that the Warmblood gelding was a more emotionally driven breeding for her than others due to his connections with Antenucci’s long-time friend Sharon White.
Have you ever wondered why professional riders love bringing their horses through the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program? USEA Podcast host Nicole Brown chats with two of this year's YEH Champions, Caroline Pamukcu who won the USEA YEH 4-year-old East Coast Championship aboard HSH Afterglow, and Andrea Baxter who won the USEA YEH 5-year-old Championship with Camelot PJ, to discuss this year's Championships and all of the great things that the program has to offer.
The United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) is delighted to announce its renewed partnership with Rebecca Farm for the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention. Rebecca Farm, which is owned and operated by the Broussard family, will return as a Gold Sponsor of the event and act as the Official Sponsor of the Annual Meeting continental breakfast. The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention will take place this week on Dec. 7-10 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.