By Ruby Tevis
Portraits by Melissa Fuller
Hope Cooper has a passion for learning—in the dressage arena, in academics—it’s in her DNA. Her father is a lawyer and her mother, Dr. Jane Karol, is both a Grand Prix dressage trainer and psychotherapist. Growing up at her family’s Bear Spot Farm in Concord, Massachusetts, proved to be the perfect way to develop Hope’s love of learning.
“Bear Spot Farm is where all of those passions are combined,” Hope said. “We have 25 horses; my mom and I train dressage horses and clients all day, every day. Then we also have the Bear Spot Farm Foundation that she created to practice equine facilitated psychotherapy. It’s a clinical form of therapy, but instead of going to an office, patients come to the farm.”
Though Hope spent much of her early childhood at the farm by her mother’s side, she originally was a bit afraid of the horses and didn’t overcome that fear until she was 7 years old and Orion, her first pony, arrived. “Once I started to get into it, my mom let me help her lead the horses around and get them ready with the people working at the barn. It slowly turned into a barn rat situation as I grew up and did more work, and got to know Orion.”
At age 11, Hope started competing in the FEI Pony division and the Children tests at the local and regional levels. “We weren’t that great, but we did it!” Hope laughed.
After working her way up the levels and proving her commitment to the sport, Hope acquired Don Diamond, a talented Oldenburg gelding and hopeful partner for the Junior Team at the 2013 FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in Lexington, Kentucky.
Junior & Young Rider Success
Representing Region 8, Hope achieved her NAYC goal in just her first season competing with Don Diamond. “He was only 8, so we were both learning together,” Hope said. “It was an unbelievably fun experience. We are a smaller region, but I loved all of the girls that were on the team. Dressage is mostly an individual sport, and it’s about the relationship with your horse. When you have a team, especially when you’re younger, it’s a powerful feeling to be ‘in it together’—and the coaches were so helpful.”
The following year, Hope and Don Diamond returned to the NAYC, this time in the Young Riders division. “Whenever you step up to a new level, you have to learn how to ride the test even if you think you have the movements down,” Hope said. “My mom was so helpful with this because she’s an amazing trainer. She knew me and Diamond so well, and helped us make the big jump to Young Riders in such a short period of time. It’s almost impossible at such a young age to learn with your horse unless you have a fantastic trainer and system where your horse can have training rides and you can sit on schoolmasters as well.”
Though it took some time to get confident in her first season competing at the Young Riders level, Hope and Don Diamond still managed to defend their place on the team, albeit in the last available spot. “We barely made the team,” Hope said, “but after we made the list we had some major training breakthroughs in the month leading up to NAYC.”
Hope’s hard work paid off, and she was rewarded with the individual bronze medal. Coming down from this huge achievement, Hope felt inspired to strive for the next level—the U25 Grand Prix.
Balancing College and Wellington
Coming from a family where education was always heavily emphasized, going to college was never a question for Hope. For her first two years at Connecticut College, Hope would drive back and forth from school to her farm four or five days a week to ride. During the summers she competed, and while Don Diamond worked toward the U25 Grand Prix, Hope hit the ring with a new mount: Mary Mansfield’s Hanoverian gelding Hot Chocolate. They also started together not knowing much, but had help every step of the way and found their way to the U25 ring as well.
“When my junior year of college came, I decided I was ready to start being seriously competitive in the U25. I stayed home for my fall semester, and went to Florida with Don Diamond and Hot Chocolate during the spring semester,” Hope explained. “I took as many classes as I could during the summer. It pushed my graduation back by one semester, but it worked out. The time in Florida also made it possible for me to take an extra semester to write my honors theses, Implicit Bias and EEG.”
While in Wellington, Hope balanced her days between riding, competing and writing her thesis. “Everything I do, I do it intensely. I triple majored,” Hope said. Studying modern dance, behavioral neuroscience and Africana studies, Hope finds that the three very different majors relate quite well to riding dressage. “Understanding relationships between people, how we relate to horses and how the brain works has been fascinating.”
Despite the compromises Hope had to manage to pursue her dreams academically and competitively, the rewards were worth it. She was hooked on Wellington, and returned for her senior year and every year after her graduation. “I’ve been able to train with some of the best people including Juan Matute, Gerrit-Claes Bierendbroodspot, Christoph Koschel, Isabell Werth and, of course, my mom, Jane Karol,” Hope said. “The opportunities have been amazing and I have absolutely loved training with all of them.”
Europe and the Senior Ranks
As Hope gained more experience at the U25, she found her footing at the top of the ranks with not one horse, but two. Both Don Diamond and Hot Chocolate proved to be top competitors, and each qualified for the Brentina Cup Championship at the 2019 Festival Of Champions in Wayne, Illinois.
“Don Diamond was coming back from a minor injury that year,” Hope said. “When we got to the competition, he didn’t feel quite like himself. I ended up scratching him, but I still had Hot Chocolate.” Over the three days of competition, Hope and Hot Chocolate finished with third place overall.
Hope would have been named to the Nations Cup team in Aachen in both 2020 and 2021, especially after winning individual gold at the Wellington CDIO-U25 Grand Prix on Hot Chocolate. But her European competition dreams were met with roadblocks each year. “The first year it was cancelled due to COVID, and the second year the U25 class was cancelled because it was too close to the European Championships,” Hope explained. “It was unfortunate, but in 2021 I had the opportunity to train with Isabell Werth and Christoph Koschel for three months in Germany. I have so many people to thank for making this possible for me, including Mary Mansfield, who owns Hot Chocolate, and Betsy Dangel, who owns another horse I took, Destar, and Viola Abrahams. I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me find my fantastic horses/dancing partners and also opening many doors for me.”
After training with Isabell, Hope stayed for another two months to train with Christoph Koschel at Hof Kasselmann in Hagen, Germany. “It was an incredible experience unlike anything before.”
While in Europe, Hope took her first centerline in the senior Grand Prix with Hot Chocolate. “It wasn’t something I had completely planned on. I wanted to take my time with both of my horses since they are a bit older,” Hope said. “The athleticism required for the horses in the Grand Prix versus the U25 is a step up, but Hot Chocolate was ready.”
A Future to Dream About
After returning to the United States, Hope prepared herself for her first CDI in the senior Grand Prix with Hot Chocolate. “We rode conservatively for our first start, we had some mistakes, but it was incredible to win a CDI3* in just the first year of international Grand Prix,” Hope said. Hope decided to retire Don Diamond from competition at 17 and shift her focus to developing her young horses and her new Grand Prix stallion, Flynn PCH.
“I plan to go back to Germany to train with Christoph, and get Flynn going in a few CDIs,” Hope said. “I’m very excited about for the future with my two up-and-coming young horses, Tripple X and Destar, owned by Betsy Dangel.”
Hope remains grateful for the people in her life who have made her success possible. “I literally and figuratively couldn’t do this without the support of my parents,” she said. “I owe a huge thank you to Christoph, because he saw something in me and my horses that took us to the next level.”
Hope is excited to return to Europe next summer with a new group of horses and a new super-groom, Paul Harmon. While her dressage dreams grow broader, her academic plans don’t trail far behind. Hope plans to continue training professionally, and would like to represent the United States on a team. “In the back of my mind is the science side of my brain, and I’ve thought about going back for my PhD in behavioral neuroscience, but training every day is so addicting,” she said.
“The amazing thing about having a relationship with a horse is that they really bring the best out of you, or they’re a mirror for the things you need to work on,” Hope said. “Once you know what it’s like to be so close to a horse, you never want to spend a day any other way. Never mind the competing or even the riding, but just having the chance to have your horse whinny when you call their name or rest their head on your shoulder for a minute is basically the best thing that exists on the planet.”
Follow Hope on Instagram @hope.j.cooper
Photos by Melissa Fuller, msfullerphotography.com