Ohio Equestrian Directory 2019

Page 14


Photo by Andrew Ryback

Overcoming Tragedy with Grace

At sixteen years old and just a week before Christmas, Phoenix Cooke lost her mother. Shortly after, her young hunter mare passed away in the pasture from what turned out to be an undetected genetic heart defect. We all know that during times of any overwhelming emotion, we naturally go to a parent or our horses for comfort. Losing both was like taking away the colors from a sunset, leaving Phoenix’s world dull and lonely. Phoenix had grown up riding with professional trainer, Stefanie Portman. Not only was she her trainer and coach in the arena, but Stefanie continued to be a close friend to Phoenix through what proved to be the most difficult period of her life. A year later, Stefanie received a neglected 4-year old Appendix Quarter Horse mare. She was skin and bones, unhandled, and unbroke. After six months of rehabbing her, getting weight on, and slowly starting the breaking process, Stefanie suggested that maybe Phoenix take a chance on the little white mare. Registered as Sky’s Burnin Blue and nicknamed



“Gracie”, she was very well bred, but bred to be a pleasure horse. Gracie was anything but slow. Phoenix, having grown up in the hunter ring, wasn’t sure what this horse was going to do for her. She was skittish and quirky, often resembling a sports car versus something that would take you on a leisurely stroll. They decided to give it a try and just look at it as a fun project to get Phoenix back in the saddle. Little did either of them know the direction they were headed. “The beginning was a struggle for me. She was green and unlike anything I had ever ridden. We had to learn together. Stefanie had us start out in the hunter ring so that we could teach Gracie

how to jump in straight lines, get her lead changes, and put together a course,” said Phoenix. “We quickly realized that she was sparky and talented, and needed to go to the jumpers, but she had to learn the basics first. I had never done the jumpers so I was a little intimidated by her speed, but once we did our first few shows I was hooked! She loved her job so much we just kept going higher and higher, the turns got tighter, and next thing I knew we were winning show after show.” As the saying goes, the rest was history. Over the past seven years, the list of accomplishments is so impressive that even Phoenix is still in awe of their accolades. Phoenix

and Gracie have been: • Five-time USEF Horse of the Year • Three-time AQHA World Champion • Eight-time AQHA All American Congress Champion • Four-time Ohio OPHA Year-End Adult Jumper Champion • Champion of the NAL Adult Jumper Classic at The Devon Horse Show • 2nd Place at both the Washington International Horse Show and Harrisburg National Horse Show -Adult Jumper Championship Finals • Bronze Medalists at the USHJA Team Adult Jumper Championships. And, in the fall of 2018, they received the Gold Medal for the USHJA Zone Team Championships in Chicago for the Individual Adult Jumper Championships, along with Phoenix earning the coveted Gold Star Emerging Rider Award. “I am grateful for the privilege to own a horse and to be able to pursue my passion. I am grateful every day for the opportunities this sport has presented to me both in and outside of the ring. Gracie has not only taught me valuable

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