Rider Connect: Dana Cooke

Dana Cooke and FE Ophelia competing in the Intermediate at 5 Points HT. Photo credit to High Time Photography.

Eastern Hay 770x170-March

In today’s spotlight is Dana Cooke (CAN), a talented rider with a string of horses that all show the potential to represent Canada at major games. Find out how Dana got her start in the Eventing world and her future plans…

If you would like to be featured in Rider Connect, email me.


Get to know Dana
I am 28-years-old and the “Director of Equestrian Activities” aka rider, trainer, coach, barn manager and anything else horse related at Kingfisher Park Equestrian (KFP) in Mooresville, North Carolina. I also live at KFP. I am originally from Merritt, British Columbia, Canada and I have been riding my entire life. We had a couple of cheap trail horses and my brother joined the newly formed local Pony Club down the road, so of course I wanted join as well! I did pony club and little britches rodeo as a kid and then around the age of ten I just stuck with Pony Club and Eventing. I am an “A” level Pony Club Graduate I have competed through Intermediate I have two horses that I plan to compete at the two-star level this year and hoping to get them going Advanced next year and to be a member of the 2018 Canadian World Equestrian Games team. I also have a couple of very talented prospects coming along.

Dana’s horse power
All my horses are currently owned by Kingfisher Park Equestrian.

FE Ophelia (aka Ophelia) is a 9-year-old, bay, Zweibrucker (fancy german warmblood name), who was purchased from Clayton Fredericks in April 2015 for me to campaign.  She is a fabulous mover and a great jumper and the princess of the barn.  We had a short season last fall as we took a bit of a tumble and I broke my pelvis in several places.  However we have come back strong this year, recently winning our Open Preliminary division at Pine Top Advanced HT with a dressage score of 23.3.  We plan to run the CIC1* at Carolina International and move up to Intermediate at The Fork. We are still building our partnership, but she is probably the easiest horse I have ever ridden on cross-country. She is super bold and honest.

Forever Young (aka Bismarck), is an 11-year-old dark bay, Westphalian Gelding.  He was bought from Doug Payne several years ago as a jumper for my boss, however I managed to convince him to let me take over the ride on this little Maserati in 2013.  He is a very careful, freak of a jumper and when he allows you to channel his energy in the dressage he scores well on the flat too!  Bismarck is a bit like riding a “Tasmanian Devil”…. He is a total goof in the barn and is full of personality!  He thinks that everyone is always there just to watch him and he knows that he is very handsome!  He is also referred to as “Lord Bismarck.” Bismarck will also run the CIC1* at Carolina International and plan to move up to Intermediate at The Fork.

Dana and Forever Young schooling at KFP.

Dana and Forever Young schooling at KFP.

FE Mississippi (aka Missi) is a 6-year-old Wurttemberger mare (also fancy German Warmblood name), imported from Germany by Clayton Fredericks in April 2015.  KFP bought her almost immediately.  She is a beautiful grey with grey and white patches (technically a pinto, but everyone thinks that she has some American Paint Horse in her when we say that…) She is the sweetest and easiest young horse that I have ever brought along.  She is a quick learner with an amazing work ethic.  She is like the straight A student that tries so hard and is good at everything! Missi is about to make her Preliminary debut at Southern Pines HT, after winning her Training division at the Rocking Horse Winter 2 HT on her dressage score of 23.4!

Dana and FE Mississippi in a jumping lesson with Clayton Fredericks.

Dana and FE Mississippi in a jumping lesson with Clayton Fredericks.

FE Storm Trooper (aka Stuey) is another German import from Clayton Fredericks. He is a 7-year-old bay Hanovarian gelding.  Stuey is very new to me, KFP bought him in February 2016.  In Germany he competed in the jumpers.  He has tons of scope, is brave and a fabulous mover, which I think will make him into a great event horse.

Dana and FE Stormtrooper schooling at KFP.

Dana and FE Stormtrooper schooling at KFP.

I have a couple of people that I train with right now.  I work with Clayton Fredericks who is the current Canadian team coach as much as possible and in between I get jump lessons and competition coaching from Robert Costello in Southern Pines, NC.

I am lucky, as my training is part of my job, so I get to train all day every day.  However I am a slight “workaholic,” so I struggle taking a day off each week because I not only work at KFP, I live there as well.  It is really easy to just be say “I am just going to go into the barn for a moment” or “I will just teach one lesson today.”  This usually turns into several hours of work… Ask my husband!

I do try to take a day off per week, but like I said that doesn’t always happen, so my husband and I try to go away once in a while on a weekend when I happen to be at home.  I also try to take a few weeks off for vacation throughout the year and go do something that is “non-horsey.”  I think it is very important for people who have careers in the equine world to make sure to take time for themselves and their families outside of horses.  As much as horses are our lives (we literally eat, sleep and breath them) it is a hard, unpredictable life and we need to step out of our bubbles every once in a while and give ourselves a mental, physical and emotional break.  That being said, I wouldn’t change my life for anything in the world, I am a very lucky small town girl, with a ridiculous work ethic that is getting to live her childhood dreams.

I think that it is equally as important to give our horses a break from the day to day work and training as well.  My horses all get a day off each week (even if I don’t) and I try to give them a vacation or 2 each year.  I usually give them a short week-10 days at the end of the spring season and then three to four weeks at the end of the fall season.  I know I feel so much better after a little break and I think my horses come back stronger too.

Support team and inspiration
Well I had a couple of great coaches early on in life starting with Anita Orton, who was my first Pony Club instructor.  She gave me a solid knowledge and riding foundation.  I then started working with Lynn Larsen, who is a phenomenal lady.  She has been one of my biggest believers and supporters throughout my entire life, she gave me opportunities to learn and ride while I was still at home in Merritt that gave me the skills and knowledge to be able to move and be successful on the East Coast.

Then there is Rebecca Howard, who I began to work for here North Carolina almost eight years ago.  I traveled around with her to some of the biggest competitions in the world.  She not only gave me the experience of training and caring for high performance horses, she taught me that no matter what happens keep your head down and keep working and it will happen for you.  I have never met another person with as much drive and work ethic and who wants “IT” as much as Rebecca.

Dana and Rebecca.

Dana and Rebecca after cross-country at the 2011 Pan Ams.

Most embarrassing Eventing moment
Well as much fun as it was, probably helping to create Meg Kep’s Creepy Dance Party 2… There may have been a few adult beverages involved in the making…. But the embarrassment and ridiculousness was totally worth it!

Most triumphant Eventing moment
As a groom, being a part of the Silver Medal team at the 2011 Pan Ams.  It was a bit of an emotional and stressful journey that had a very rewarding outcome. I also groomed on the 2012 Canadian Olympic team.

As a rider, galloping through the finish flags at Pine Top Intermediate HT in February on FE Ophelia.  It was my first event back and the first time going cross-country again on FE Ophelia after we had a serious fall last September that left me in a hospital for three weeks with a broken pelvis.

2016 milestones
Coming back from a major injury and winning on FE Ophelia in the Open Preliminary division at Pine Top Advanced HT.

Best of luck this season Dana!


If you would like to be featured in Rider Connect, email me

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect