May 21, 2021

Horse Heroes: Cool Mountain

USEA Archives Photo

How many CCI5* winners and double World Equestrian Games medalists end up teaching an un-horsey teenager to ride? It wouldn’t be a long list, and in fact, there may only be one - Cool Mountain.

It’s been 11 years since the son of Primitive Rising made two successful trips across the Atlantic to Kentucky, once to win the CCI5* and, a few months later, to take team gold and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games with William Fox-Pitt (GBR). Yet “Ollie,” as Cool Mountain is known at home, is still in work at Fox-Pitt’s Dorset yard and a treasured member of the community there.

“He spends the winter with his owner, Teresa Stopford-Sackville, and she rides him about, but when the grass comes through in the spring, he comes back to me for the summer,” explains Fox-Pitt. “He’s as supple and moves as well as he did when he was eight; he still floats.

“He’s a great schoolmaster, and it is very useful to have him to teach my working pupils things like half-pass and flying changes. He still jumps - not very big these days, but he still enjoys it.”

Neither of Fox-Pitt’s sons, Oliver and Thomas, were particularly enthusiastic about riding, but a couple of years ago, Oliver (now 15) took to riding Cool Mountain.

USEA Archives Photo

“He got quite into riding him and thought the idea of hunting him was fun because he felt so safe on him, but in the end, Teresa and I decided that hunting might be a step too far,” says Fox-Pitt. “He [Oliver] has been busy with exams, but he’ll probably ride him again over the summer.”

During Britain’s first Covid-induced “lockdown” in the spring of 2020, a “virtual Badminton” was organized online around the time of the canceled event. Fox-Pitt donned his top hat and tails and did the CCI5* dressage test on Cool Mountain - “I hadn’t ridden him since his last event in 2016,” he says.

Stopford-Sackville bought Cool Mountain - who is a half-brother to Ann Taylor’s top-level ride Cracker Barrel - as a yearling, and British rider Antoinette McKeown originally produced him. Fox-Pitt took over when Cool Mountain was six, and the results quickly piled up. They won the British Novice Championship at Gatcombe Park in 2007, and Cool Mountain finished second and third in his two CCI3*-Ls the following year as an eight-year-old. At nine, he won Blair Castle CCI4*-L and finished seventh at Bramham and, the following spring, they made that first trip to Kentucky.

“That year was the peak of his career; he went to Kentucky twice and nailed in,” says Fox-Pitt. “At the World Games, he was only beaten by La Biosthetique-Sam FBW [Michael Jung’s dual Olympic individual gold medallist], which was no disgrace!

“He had a real ability to rise to the occasion. He never let me down and always did his best. He was straightforward and methodical, with a tendency to be lazy. In the start box, if you didn’t give him a kick, he wouldn’t move. That was just the way he’s always been.”

Post-2010, Cool Mountain picked up several other placings at the top level, including third in the CCI5* at Pau, France, and team bronze at the 2011 Europeans, and was one of Fox-Pitt’s top choices for the 2012 London Olympics before picking up a tendon injury. Perhaps the greatest help he gave Fox-Pitt after that was in helping him recover from the very serious head injury he sustained in a fall at Le Lion d’Angers, France, in the autumn of 2015. Cool Mountain was one of the first horses he rode afterward and the first horse he competed the following spring.

USEA Archives Photo

He continues: “Cool Mountain has got an amazing temperament for life, but he’s a funny old thing - he takes everything in his stride when you're in the saddle; you can hack him alone, gallop him alone, but once you are off him, he absolutely cannot be on his own for ten seconds without another horse. He can’t be in the stables or the field without a horse next to him; he must have company.

“At Badminton, he was stabled where he could only see one other horse, and if that neighbor was taken away to do something, he could hardly breathe, let alone eat or drink, and we had to move him somewhere else. In that way, he’s a stress-head, continually worried about where his mates are.

“Some Primitive Risings are like that; quite insecure, so you can’t just treat him like he’s part of the furniture. Yet he took the traveling to Kentucky so well - because he was always with other horses.”

We often describe horses as “part of the family”, and here’s one who truly is.

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