By Doris Degner-Foster
Portraits by Kristin Lee
Archibald Cox III’s grandfather was a law professor who was also a special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, and his father is an international financial and management expert. If he’d followed in his forerunners’ footsteps, Archie would be in politics, law or international business — but he chose a very different career.
Archie Cox has excelled in the horse world as a rider and trainer. As a junior rider, he placed in the AHSA Medal and ASPCA Maclay finals before riding for the equestrian team at New Jersey’s Drew University, where he won numerous awards in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. As a trainer, Archie has coached over 40 students to national championships and has sat on the board of directors of several different national shows.
His grandmother, Phyllis Ames Cox, may have had something to do with his choice of a career with horses. “Some of my earliest memories involving horses are at my grandparents’ farm in Wayland, Massachusetts, and also in Brooksville, Maine. My grandmother was an avid horsewoman and was very involved in the horse industry in New England,” Archie said. “She had Morgans and saddle horses and I remember how important the manes and tails were, and that she would use an old method that is still around today to keep them in good condition — applying Listerine to horses’ manes and tails to keep them from rubbing. I remember distinctly thinking, I don’t know what it is but it smells terrible.”
Location, Location, Location
Another reason that made it inevitable horses would be a part of Archie’s life was where his family lived on Long Island. “People asked me how I became so involved with horses and I’d tell them, ‘Well, I lived across the street from Susie Humes, who’s a judge, a professional and well-respected horsewoman, and I lived up the street from Tracy Topping, who was an avid equestrian, and I lived down the street from Bunny French,’” Archie said. When asked if the choice of that neighborhood was made intentionally to be among the horse community, he answered, “No, that was just where we lived in Locust Valley, New York, on Long Island. We kept our horses for a long time at the Humes’ barn and, of course, horses were in my blood.”
When Archie began riding, his family encouraged his interest in horses as he worked to improve his skills, attending clinics with top trainers. He spoke fondly of starting his show career with a Quarter Horse named Mr. Hippo and how the small horse’s naturally shorter stride taught him to ride forward to make the striding on courses.
Lessons with John Strump and Robert Hoskins, who were both based nearby on Long Island, gave Archie a solid base to his riding, and something more. “John and Robert taught me a real passion for teaching,” Archie said. “It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve come to really appreciate the hours that Robert spent explaining things and doing things correctly. He rode very correctly and that’s a good visual for me still to this day.”
Much of Archie’s equestrian education as a junior came from doing. “My mother and I would frequently go to shows by ourselves when I was 15 and 16 and I would get input from various trainers such as Gary Cunsman, Jack Trainor and John French,” Archie remembered. “I was very lucky and we had great times going to horse shows on Long Island and in New Jersey at the indoor facilities in the winters. My mother is without a doubt my number one support, and my father is extremely proud of me in what I’ve accomplished, as was my grandmother.”
As a junior rider, Archie focused on equitation and placed in the Medal and Maclay competitions. He was the first male in 10 years to win what was then the USET Gold Medal — now the U.S. Equestrian Federation Talent Search Medal — but he chose to step back from riding as he began classes at Drew University in New Jersey.
Broadening His Horizons
Although Drew University is located in the New Jersey area that’s very much in the horse world, Archie chose to focus on college as he began his freshman year. “I stopped riding for maybe a year and did school and other things, and I lived in London for five months doing a semester abroad,” Archie remembered. “I’m a strong advocate for higher education. When you’re doing business in the horse world with intelligent, successful people, I think a college education puts you on a better footing.”
Archie later joined the college’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team and won several individual and team championships, and in 1989 he won the IHSA Hunt Seat Equitation National Championship. After becoming a successful trainer, Archie was inducted into the Drew University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.
Archie had considered being a teacher or lobbyist, but after he graduated in 1991 with a degree in political science, he began working for trainer Emil Spadone. Archie is known for being able to assess a horse’s abilities and match a certain rider with the right horse, and he credits Emil with helping him gain the insight needed to spot those abilities in a horse.
In eight months of working with Emil, Archie gained valuable experience and was ready to branch out. After years of the winters in the Northeast, he decided that California would be a good place to work and sent out some letters of inquiry with his resume.
Starting His Career
Karen Healey, the iconic judge and trainer whose riders have won over 100 medal finals, was among those to whom Archie sent an inquiry about employment. The timing was right since she had someone leaving her barn, and she responded to Archie’s letter. He had known Karen as a junior rider and must have made a good impression because she offered him a job. “Most often, the harder you work, the luckier you get,” Archie said. “I didn’t coin that phrase but it’s very true. I got in my car on Memorial Day 1992 and I started the drive to California.”
Working for Karen for a limited time was part of Archie’s initial plan before going out on his own, but the time with her stretched out to over eight years. Karen had injured her back and Archie was able to help her by riding more horses for her as she recovered. She said on several occasions that Archie cared more than one would expect of someone who was not the business owner, and the arrangement worked out well for them. “We had a great business; it was a super time for both of us, great successes all along,” Archie remembered.
As his time working with Karen extended, Archie felt like he needed to continue with his original plan to open his own business, and he decided that it was to the point of “now or never.” “I thought I had to bite the bullet and do this or I’d remain there for a lifetime,” he said.
But with all his experience, he was ready. “Probably the most important thing I learned was that I was lucky to work for the people that I worked with,” Archie said. “That’s something that should be remembered by everyone — your mentors are your most important people. Emil was awesome to work for and so was Karen. Probably the best thing I can say is that I would do it again in a heartbeat, and that’s the highest compliment.”
Rewards of Teaching
In December 2000, Archie opened his own business, Brookway Stables — which he named as a tribute to his grandparents’ farm — at Middle Ranch in Lake View Terrace in the Los Angeles area. With two assistant trainers, Jenny Ross and Karlie Postel, Archie now runs a stable of 40 horses with 15 clients ranging from pony riders to older amateur adults.
Archie said, “The best thing about teaching is the reward of seeing people understand and learn, and the horse learning the communication between horse and rider — and being successful, that can be at any level.”
Known for stepping up to get things done around the barn and braiding a horse himself when necessary, Archie said, “Nothing is above you, nothing is below you.” He credits his parents for his down-to-earth personality. “I had fantastic parents: They taught me things that are so taken for granted. They taught me manners and to respect the people around me and the animals that I’m working with, and to have a joy for life.”
The pride in his family connection was apparent in Archie’s voice as he said, “I was appointed to the board of directors of the USEF in 2007. I sat on the board for one term and what was unique about that was that in 1977, my grandmother had been on the board, and 30 years later I was on it. We had a 30-year gap of Coxes on the Board.”
Archie’s back-to-basics style of teaching that he adapts to the individual horse and rider has resulted in dozens of national champion wins, but he never brags. The phrase, “I’m very fortunate” is one he says often. An example is when he attributes success to “great customers who have confidence in the choices I make.”
Outlining his life philosophy in a few words, Archie summed up the following points: Try harder; a prepared man can do the work of two; and, the more skilled a man is, the less reliant he is on others. “I get up every day just excited for the day to start,” he said. “Whether it’s just going to the gym or planning my day, I’m always planning toward the future.”
Photos by Kristin Lee Photography, www.kristinleephotography.com