Cross-country course designer and builder Jeff Kibbie was on the road to the Pine Top Horse Trials in Thomson, Georgia when he received a phone call that his friend and mentor Tremaine Cooper had been killed in an accident with a tree while working outdoors near his home in Virginia. It was the week before the Morven Park Horse Trials in Leesburg, Virginia, which Cooper had been designing and building for more than 30 years. Kibbie took care of business at Pine Top, and once the Intermediate and Preliminary divisions had run cross-country, he headed to Virginia and rallied a group of course builders to finish Cooper’s final project in time for the competition.
Cooper was an FEI “I” licensed designer whose work included Millbrook, The Fork, Aspen Farms, Poplar Place, and the USEA American Eventing Championships among other events. He was active on a number of committees and worked to promote Frangible Fences. He got his start building courses at Morven Park when he was just 20 years old and Olympic eventer Bruce Davidson recommended him for the job.
Kibbie, who is both a builder and designer and whose work includes Plantation Field International, Loudon Hunt Pony Club, and Radnor, also got his start at Morven Park, working alongside Cooper. Kibbie continued working with Cooper for the next 11 or 12 years and worked with him at other events as well. He said he still often consulted with Cooper on projects he was working on.
“When the organizers at Morven Park called and asked me to help, to me it was about honoring Tremaine,” said Kibbie. “All his life he loved the sport and the property at Morven Park. He really loved that property – that was his place. The biggest thing to me was to honor him by making it happen.”
Putting the course together was not an easy task, but with all hands on deck, the group of builders made it happen. Over the course of the week, that group included Jeff Kibbie, Jamie Gornall, John Williams, Morgan Rowsell, Trav Schick, Graham Schick, Tyson Rementer, Levi Ryckewaert, James Atkinson, Joe Stylos, Noll Smith, and Dave Taylor. Riders Paul Ebersole and Mark Combs also pitched in to help.
“Basically we found that Tremaine had some maps on which he’d laid out the tracks, but he didn’t plug in any jumps or what he was going to do at the combinations,” explained Kibbie. He and a few other builders collaborated to figure out and execute a plan.
“The portables were stored up in the parking area, so we had to figure out what the courses would be and get everything placed. We also built five new basic log jumps – we didn’t have time to build anything more complicated. Once the portables are placed you have to block them into place and stake them, add the brush, and all that kind of prep work, so it was a lot of work. It absolutely was a good thing so many guys showed up and it was special, some of these guys had known him for a long time and some a shorter time, and we got to spend a lot of time while we working sharing stories about Tremaine, funny things that had happened and that sort of stuff.”
Noll Smith, who is working on his ‘r’ course design license, is based out of Massachusetts and winters in Aiken and works for Eric Bull’s ETB Equine Construction. He reflected, “Tremaine was always happy to get other people involved – he really got me started and encouraged me to do some design. Unfortunately, we hadn’t worked together in the past few years but we worked together a bunch in the early 90s and I could always bounce ideas off him, he was always a good friend. He was such an inspiration and always encouraging.”
He continued, “I hadn’t been at Morven in 10 years or so. It was weird to be back there without Tremaine, but amazingly fitting that we were all there putting it together in his absence. You kept waiting for him to come around the corner. That whole course, the whole property has his mark on it.”
A memorial was held for Cooper at Morven Park on Monday, March 22, a few days before the horse trials, and many of the builders were in attendance.
Smith said, “It was all pretty emotional, especially with the memorial on Monday, which was very well attended. It was held at the Advanced Leaf Pit, just a simple thing, mostly people walking up and just talking about remembering Tremaine. The biggest impression was his brother just talking about his life and all the things he had done. It was great; his father was there and spoke too. The weather was gorgeous, it was at the site that he loved and had made better over the past 20 years. It was very appropriate: a simple, organic memorial. It was totally Tremaine.”
"Tremaine was a friend and a driving force in the sport and he will be missed,” added Morgan Rowsell, a member of the USEA Board of Governors and licensed cross-country course designer and builder. “It's nice that everyone came together; pretty much everyone gave some portion of their time, and nobody cared what job they were doing, whether it was staking portables or building fences, they all pitched in to get it done."
Cooper’s family is establishing a fund in his honor within the USEA Foundation. Donations may be sent to the USEA Foundation, 525 Old Waterford Road NW, Leesburg, VA 20176 or by visiting www.useafoundation.org/donate and by using the drop-down menu titled “Use my donations to support:” indicate that the donation is “In Honor of Tremaine Cooper.”
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