Debbie Cooper

How did you get started into riding horses and then what drew you to your specific discipline?

I was simply a horse crazed girl. It was just in me. We didn’t have horses. I loved watching cowboy movies. I was born in 1956 so at that point in time it was Roy Rodgers, it was John Wayne. Western movies were huge, it was “My Friend Flika”, it was “Fury”. You had all these horse shows on TV and western movies and I just wanted to be a cowboy. I really didn’t think the girls had very much fun, (the cowboys) got to have all the fun out there riding around, flailing around on horses. I just drove my parents crazy until they figured out a way to get me a horse. I had Breyer horses before there were Breyer horses. I made arenas with pencils and bridles and saddles. I don’t know, it was just in me.

I started showing when I was about 10 or 11 and I have never stopped. When you showed back then, there were no specialties. Nobody specialized in anything until about the late 80’s, early 90’s. The mid nineties is when people were kind of forced to specialize. So when I started showing as a child and my early years as a horse trainer in this industry, you did everything and you were competitive in everything. I showed English horses, cutting horses, I showed cow horses, I showed pleasure horses, I showed trail horses, I showed western riding horses. Its what you did and its what your clients did as well. That was just very, very common at that point in time.

You have to realize, at that point you have the Quarter Horse Association and that was pretty much it. Now you have the NRHA, now you have the National Reined Cow Horse Association, well the NCHA existed but you have all of these offshoots and the horse shows are specifically for that discipline and you just couldn’t be at four places at once. There might be a quarter horse show going on here but you have to be at the reining at the NRHA here or the snaffle bit futurities were going on there. I don’t think any of us necessarily quite because we didn’t enjoy other disciplines. I think a good horseman appreciates any great horse in whatever discipline it is but we just couldn’t be in multiple places. Even take a horse show like the Sun Circuit, well there are 7 arenas running simultaneously. How really can I, in my customers best interest, get from arena to arena to arena and do a good job for them. I’ve always loved the reining and it just sort of worked its way in. I still keep an all-arounder or two around but by and large I have the reiners. Now this new class ranch riding is coming along and I sort of see that as a specialty for me as well because it really does dovetail in with the reining and the cow horse and those types of riders and those types of horses.      

Have you always lived in Arizona?

Born and raised. Usually everybody is from someplace else. We are sort of rare, the natives.

What has been your most memorable win or experience in the show pen?

I think for me that would have to be when I won the ladies’ reining at the Congress in 1977. The ladies’ reining now is not a big deal in the NRHA but at that point in time it was a very big deal. It was my first trip to the Congress and I had just recently had a baby. I had a one year old. So it was my first big win after being a new mom so that was big for me. Thats always very special to me because I thought ‘am I going to get to ride again, am I going to get to show again?’ I had a really, really good ride and a very high score so it was a big deal.

What do you wish you'd known before you entered this field as a trainer?

I don’t think there is anything I can think of because this is an industry like any other industry where you learn by living it. I don’t think anything can really prepare you for this industry other than just living it. It’s really just living it.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

Well the biggest challenge was probably just trying to find a good balance between home life and being home for your kids and still be traveling when my kids were young. Just being there for your family.

How many kids do you have?

Two. They are grown now. I’m going back in time.

What is your favorite thing about being a trainer?

Being able to get paid to do something I love to do and all of the relationships and friendships that you make along the way. They will more than likely last a lifetime. 

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