Jul 25, 2018

Introducing the 2018 AEC Cross-Country Course Designer: Tremaine Cooper

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

One of the most successful cross-country course designers in the country, Tremaine Cooper will be designing every cross-country course for the United States Eventing Association (USEA) 2018 American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC). Cooper is well known for providing top quality cross-country tracks and can be put in the same category with some of the best, most elite designers in the world including Derek Di Grazia, Mike Etherington-Smith, and Capt. Mark Phillips. His courses can be seen at popular events scattered across the country including The Fork CIC in N.C., Poplar Place Horse Trials in Ga., Aspen Farms Horse Trials in Wash., Morven Park Horse Trials in Va., and Millbrook Advanced Horse Trials in N.Y. The USEA had the opportunity to discuss details, visions, and hopes with Cooper for this year’s AEC which will be held on Aug. 30–Sept. 2 at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colo.

“The terrain will be very different than the last two years,” said Cooper. Terrain is one change among many for this year’s AEC. “The Intro and Beginner Novice horses will still have to be fit,” Cooper emphasized.


Colorado Horse Park’s rolling terrain. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Comparing the championship course to the new ‘festival’ or non-championship courses, Cooper explained that “there will be differences, not huge but little differences” between the two courses. For example, “The championship course might have an A-B combination where the non-championship will be numbered separately so riders have the option to circle.”

To maintain pristine footing for cross-country day, Cooper explained that “[The Colorado Horse Park] has tons of water trucks and they will be frequently watering the cross-country course. We all are going to be working hard to have as good footing as possible.”

“Don’t forget about the Intro!” Cooper highlighted. “I’ve never designed an Intro course before so it’s very exciting. It will be small, but competitors will have a ditch option, a water option, and will have to go up and down hills too.”


Course builder Travers Schick at The Fork Horse Trials and CIC. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.

Along with course designers, the course builders can have an effect on the course and Cooper is grateful that Travers Schick, also known as Trav, agreed to help build the course in Colorado. “It’s nice to work with someone who you’ve worked forever with, trust completely, and they understand what you’re trying to accomplish.”

For each course designer, their name is on their product, therefore Cooper will be fully present in Colorado during the AEC. “I will make sure every bit of shrubbery is exactly the way it should be, make sure heights are perfect, and I want [the courses] to be as good as they can possibly be.”


Individual Bronze Olympians, Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice confidently tackling Tremaine Cooper’s cross-country course at The Fork CIC3* leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.

The brains behind the success of each course, the USEA asked Cooper several questions regarding his personal philosophy on course design. “In the perfect world at any level, [a competitor] will come off course knowing more and have a horse that has learned something and is more confident than when they left the start box.”

In cross-country, it’s inevitable that penalties or problems will occur. However, Cooper indicated that, “A course designer never wants one fence to be [considered] the problem fence.”

“It’s the balance of not scaring the riders but getting the riders to pay attention and thinking they have to ride well, but also making the course as friendly to the horse as possible. I would say that’s my main goal,” said Cooper.

With over 26 years of experience, Cooper explained his passion for course design. “I love the job because there isn’t one set way. A course designer should think like a horse and [understand] what a horse will see. It should be about what the horse can do rather than what the horse can’t do.”

As for the number of courses he designs each year, “I can’t put a number on it but it’s more than I can count on my two hands.”


“As a course designer, you never want to trick the horse,” said Cooper. An inviting first fence on Cooper’s Advanced cross-country course at the 2017 Millbrook Horse Trials. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

In his spare time, he enjoys riding and competing himself, or “I try to” Cooper modestly responded. Although his record shows more than just trying, the renowned course designer has competed through the Advanced level of eventing on multiple horses.

Cross-country course designers are artists in their own form with each having a unique style. Meet Cooper and his art at the Colorado Horse Park at the 2018 AEC.

About USEA American Eventing Championships

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of horses and riders from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. This year, the USEA American Eventing Championships will be held August 30-September 2, 2018 at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colorado. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

The USEA would like to thank the generous AEC sponsors for making the 2018 AEC possible.

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