By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kristin Lee Photography
For recently engaged couple Karl Cook and Kaley Cuoco, there are more important things than winning, blue ribbons, fame and stardom — like relationships, caring for animals and finding joy in life — but that doesn’t mean they don’t have it all. While Kaley’s well-recognized for her starring role as an actress on “The Big Bang Theory,” Karl’s making a big bang in the West Coast equestrian world. Together, they’re an equestrian power couple not just changing each other’s lives but changing the lives of the horses and animals around them.
Karl was just 8 when he started riding, an interest he inherited from his mother. Even now, she plays a role in his equestrian pursuits: Signe Ostby founded Pomponio Ranch and began breeding horses in 2011, while Karl and Olympic medalist Eric Navet operate the performance side of Pomponio. After success as a junior and amateur, Karl’s budding career already lists wins in FEI World Cup qualifiers and hosts of top placings at major shows across North America — predominantly on the West Coast, where he hopes to help elevate the sport.
Kaley also started riding because of her mother. “I owe my love of horses to my mom,” she said. “I played tennis as a kid and junior, and when I got my first TV series at 15, I needed to find another hobby. My mom said, ‘Take a riding lesson, you will love it!’ And the rest is history!”
Bonding on Horseback
All through becoming famous as an actress and some challenging real-life trials, horses have been Kaley’s constant. As most of her 3 million-plus followers on Instagram could tell you, she would rather be known as a good rider than for her career. She currently rides six horses, and has always managed to find time to show them even on a busy Hollywood schedule — which is how she and Karl met.
“We met at Thermal in 2016, and the day we met I actually ended up asking her out to dinner,” Karl shared. “We went to dinner that night and we’ve been together ever since.” At the time, he didn’t really know who Kaley was. He had seen her at horse shows, not on TV, so to him she was just a beautiful, good rider who was passionate about horses — still a strong foundation in their relationship.
“We met each other because of horses. Horses are a big part of our lives individually, and together it’s amplified because it’s something we share, and we can do it together,” Karl said.
For Kaley, having such a strong common interest has been life-changing. “I never thought it truly mattered ’til I met Karl,” she shared. “To have such a wonderful bond over something that means so much to both of us is truly unique and magical. We both understand the sport and what it takes day to day to succeed. We have this deep support for each other that I’ve never had with anyone before.”
“Supportive” describes Karl and Kaley’s relationship accurately, from cheering each other on in the show ring to being flexible with one another’s busy careers. Kaley currently lives in Los Angeles, and Karl near San Diego — anywhere from an hour and a half to three or four hours apart, depending on infamous L.A. traffic.
Of course, whether they get to spend time together in San Diego or L.A., Karl and Kaley are all about the horses. “We kind of always ride,” Karl shared. “We’re either riding or getting ready to ride. When we’re at home down here, she’ll get on a couple of horses, and vice versa when I go up to her barn. When we’re at shows, a lot of the time we’ll be in the same ring riding, and we go on trail rides together, that sort of thing.”
When they’re together and not riding, Karl and Kaley enjoy cooking together and have recently developed an affinity for bourbons, putting on their own private tastings. And then, aside from the horses, there are their other four-legged family members — Kaley has three rescue dogs: Norman, Shirley and Ruby, and Karl has a 75-pound English bulldog named Tank.
Kaley’s popular Instagram account, @normancook, is even named after one of her beloved rescues. “She named hers after her dog,” shared Karl, whose Instagram is @mrtankcook, “and then I was creating my Instagram and thought I should follow suit.”
The couple’s third Instagram account, @lifewithshmooshy, belongs to another rescued family member: Shmooshy, a dwarf miniature horse. Karl and Kaley adopted Shmooshy with the help of The Peeps Foundation while they were showing in Kentucky. Though Shmooshy lives in L.A. with the rest of Kaley’s horses, she and Kaley’s other “babies” generally enjoy life out of the pop-culture limelight.
“My dogs would much rather lounge by the pool in our backyard than come with me to work,” Kaley said. “They are quite spoiled! The same goes for Shmoosh.” Of course, Shmooshy is too cute not to share, and appeared with Kaley on television last fall. “She has become quite the diva since her TV debut on ‘The Talk’!”
Supporting animal rescue is something Kaley is passionate about, from her three dogs and Shmooshy to her recent acquisition of three rescue rabbits. “Animal rescue is super important to me because we give a voice to the voiceless,” she said. “It has become more and more of a passion over time and I will literally spend my life saving as many animals as possible and speaking on adoption, volunteering and spay and neuter whenever I possibly can.”
Animal welfare is also something Karl is passionate about — especially of sporthorses. At Pomponio, he has a vet on contract that cares for the 15 horses in work there full time instead of just when issues arise. “We don’t do anything just because it’s routine,” he explained about some industry practices such as joint injections. “We try to be in tune with our horses so before there’s actually a problem, we find it. It’s hard — it takes a good farrier, a good vet, good riders and good trainers that see the horse as a true athlete.”
Working with Eric Navet, Karl strives to improve the horses and results coming out of the West Coast by bringing along young horses, including a few his mother has bred. He’s very passionate about improving horses’ care, and hopes to host clinics and seminars that will open the door for more farm-to-farm communication.
When it comes to goals, Karl hasn’t got his sights set on any particular achievements. “The horses kind of tell you when they’re ready for what, and I have to take it as they come a bit more than most people,” he said, since he works mostly with young horses. “It makes it more enjoyable for me because I don’t get disappointed that some nebulous goal that I set for myself didn’t get accomplished. Just being out there doing it and seeing progress is what makes me happy.”
Currently in season 11 and renewed for season 12, “The Big Bang Theory” has been a large part of Kaley’s life for over a decade. “I’m unsure what my future holds after ‘Big Bang,’” she said. “I think about it all the time, and all I can say is it will include a lot of horses, dogs and free time with Karl. I will never be done working, since it’s what I do, but I look forward to a change of pace!”
Of course, wedding planning will be another change of pace for the couple. Karl proposed to Kaley on her birthday, November 30. The post-engagement video had over 5 million views within 12 hours of the exciting announcement. “We have been each other’s true other half since day one and we can’t wait to spend forever together,” the couple shared. “Dogs, horses and all!”
Horses are the one thing that won’t change for Karl and Kaley anytime soon. “It’s a huge thing in our relationship that we share, and not every relationship has that,” said Karl, who also said that he hasn’t felt the heat of the paparazzi as much as he might have expected — due once again to horses. “People recognize her and want pictures with her, but with horse shows and where we ride, we’re pretty excluded from everything else.”
For Kaley, things are pretty simple. “I have said it before and I will say it again: I want to be known as a good and respectful rider who adores her horses and adores the sport. And if then they realize, ‘Oh, she’s on that TV show,’ that’s cool, too.”