Feb 20, 2023

Miller is Having a Blast With 2022 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year Coud’Poker

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Donna Miller and Coud'Poker Tartifume made their Intermediate debut at Rocking Horse Winter II in February. Xpress Foto photo

After Donna Miller lost her beloved Connemara stallion Ardceltic Art in 2013, she took her time to find her next stallion and potential upper level eventing partner.

With strict criteria in place, Miller scoured the internet and finally came across Coud’Poker in 2019.

“Cooper” (Westide Mirah II x Unedamdepik Tartifume) was 7 years old and never backed, living in a field in France. Miller had made a connection to him through Nicholas Hervé, who owned the stallion’s sire.

Miller agreed to buy Cooper off a video but asked that Hervé test him on a phantom mare first.

“He actually exceeded all my expectations,” she said. “It was pretty cool. I’ve pretty much bought everything I have except the ones that I bred from video. It is a lot to trust somebody that you meet on Facebook, but I did the best I could in terms of due diligence. I had Nicholas take him for a month, and I asked him to have [Cooper] taught to the phantom and see what his temperament was afterwards. That’s my criteria; they have to be able to do that and work and figure it all out. All was good. His 9-year-old daughter took him in and out of the pasture every day. I was like, ‘OK, that looks good to me!’ And sure enough, he turned out to be pretty magnificent.”

Shannon Brinkman Photography photo

In just three short years, Cooper started his life under saddle and moved up the levels in eventing, culminating in a strong finish at the Dutta Corp. Tryon International CCI2*-L (Mill Spring, North Carolina) in November 2022.

With several other strong finishes at Preliminary, Cooper and Miller earned the 2022 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year award.

While Miller, 65, was thrilled to win, the leaderboard wasn’t her goal in 2022; she wanted to improve herself.

“He’s so trainable,” she said of Cooper. “The Connemaras are trainable, but if you think about what he’s done in three years; he’s a great student. The first two years we just kept going, and this last year I said, ‘I need to be a better rider and be better in the dressage and show jumping.’ He’s taught me a lot. I just really worked at it. I knew he could be up in the ribbons more than he was if I was better. I did a lot of show jumping and dressage schooling shows, and sure enough, that paid off, and we were in the money quite a bit after that.”

Miller got her start in eventing after a summer camp where Andrew Popiel was teaching. She’d always loved Connemaras but didn’t get her first one until further into her eventing career.

She was inspired by former USEA President Carol Kozlowski’s Advanced level Connemara Hideaway’s Erin Go Bragh and found Ardceltic Art, who she competed to the CCI3*-L level. She also bred him, some years to more than 20 mares.

“I saw what [Kozlowski] did with [Hideaway’s Erin Go Bragh,] and I just said to myself, ‘You could do something that.’ That became a vision way back in the early 2000s when I went over and found ‘Art,’” she said. “They’re so trainable and so good natured. I saw a gap in the market. Most Connemara stallions were basically backyard stallions. After Erin Go Bragh retired, there really wasn’t anybody out there competing a stallion. I said to myself, ‘You can do that, and it could be lucrative.’”

Donna Miller was thrilled to finish the Mars Tryon International CCI2*-L with Coud'Poker in 2022. Shannon Brinkman Photography photo

Cooper worked in the corporate world for 34 years, and she and her husband Roger Brown bought a 6-acre farm in Alpharetta, Georgia, in the 1990s so she could start a small Connemara breeding operation.

She and her daughter, Devon Brown, competed one of Ardceltic Art’s offspring, HC Celtic Mark, to the CCI3*-S level, and she’s hoping to bring him back this year after an injury and get to advanced.

Cooper bred about 30 mares in his first year in the United States, and those foals are coming 2 this year.

“He really stamps his get,” she said. “You could breed a Thoroughbred or warmblood to him, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get.”

Once she closes his book for the season, Miller is hoping to work towards her goal of a CCI3*-L with Cooper this fall, one step at a time. They recently finished their first intermediate at Rocking Horse Winter II (Altoona, Florida).

“He’s just a blast,” she said. “He’s really a fun pony. It’s been a great journey.”

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