Excerpt from the March issue of Heels Down Magazine.
“Sit up and kick. That’s the best you can do with difficult horses – and everything else,” said Cooper Dean in his thick southern accent when asked about the best advice he’s ever received. Cooper has titles like 2016 HITS Equitation Champion and Zone 4 representative at NAJYRC already on his resume. He’s also a working student for American grand prix rider Aaron Vale. This junior jumper is one to keep an eye on both in the ring and on the stands for one of his signature drag break singalongs.
Heels Down Magazine met with the 17-year-old Alabama native in his natural habitat – at a horse show, with a lemonade in hand, after helping his boss into the competition arena.
Working His Way Up
“I’ve learned a lot about working hard. Being a working student, not everything is handed to you,” he said. “In order to climb the ladder, you have to work as hard as you can and let them see it. You don’t want to tell everybody, ‘Hey I’m working hard’. You want to work so hard that other people notice it for themselves, and that’s probably the biggest difference.”
Cooper sees many young riders pay their way to the top, and believes that the lack of fundamentals is to the detriment of rider development in the U.S. Between the Junior Equitation system, Hunter foundations, and full-board barns, it’s hard to tell how much the next generations of professionals are really learning about the sport – and their horses.