Cooper Beisel, 12, and his pony Coconut have had a bit of an unconventional preparation for their first USEF Pony Finals. In between navigating pony hunter courses, they go swimming, follow the hounds out foxhunting, and trail ride a lot.
“We call my pony Coco, Coconut and sometimes Coco-bomb—that’s all of her names,” Beisel said. “She is a gray pony, and she’s fun to ride, easy, and basically she loves to go swimming.”
The young rider and his trusty 15-year-old Welsh pony are ready to take on their first USEF Pony Finals competition in Lexington, Ky.
In preparation for the small green pony hunter division, Beisel has been keeping Coconut on a strict weekly regimen to stay in top-notch shape.
“If we’ve done a lot of showing the past few weekends, I won’t ride her at all on the weekdays—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” he explained. “Then on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I’ll do a light workout. Maybe we’ll do a little jumping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We just jump some verticals and crossrails before going into the arena. That’s all we need to do.
“She’s pretty perfect,” he announced.
Beisel can summarize what it’s like to ride Coconut in four sentences:
“Basically Coconut is fun to ride, easy and is a very determined jumper. She tries very hard for me. I don’t have to give her a lot of corrections when she’s going, because she knows where to go and does most of it for me. I’m just along for the ride.”
When the freckled gray pony—whose name is representative of her body shape—and her messy haired, blond pilot aren’t showing, they have fun around the family’s 64-acre farm in Goshen, Ohio. Cooper lives with his sister Izzy, 10, his mother Paige and his dad David, who is the owner and trainer of David Beisel Stables. The family lives at the farm, which has ample grass fields, a man-made pond and trails—all of which combine to set the stage for Cooper and Coconut’s adventures.
“I’ve taken her swimming a lot of times, and she likes to go out in the fields,” said Cooper. “I kind of give her a little nudge, and she walks into the water and goes swimming with me on her back. It’s pretty deep—she can’t touch her feet.”
Cooper also brings Coconut up to Kansas City for adventures when he goes to visit his grandfather, Jim Beisel, the huntsman of the Mission Valley Hunt Club, to foxhunt.
For the most part, Coconut is pretty unflappable. “She only got spooked two times—once when we were cantering in the field [on a foxhunt], and a doe darted out of the woods. It scared her. It scared me too, so I don’t blame her for that,” said Cooper. “And one time a trash bag hit her in the face at Ocala, and I don’t blame her for that either.”
The shenanigans don’t end there—Cooper also likes to trail ride and jump bareback and stand on top of his pony. At the end of the day, their partnership is more of a friendship than anything else.
“We have a lot of similarities,” he said. “We also love hanging out with each other. Sometimes I take a nap on her and just lay on top of her and chill out while she’s eating and chewing up her food. And we’re both very laid back, and that’s what makes us a great team.”
David, who is a professional hunter/jumper trainer and grand prix rider, agrees that his son and Coconut’s relationship is special.
“Now that [Coconut] is mature and growing up, she’s quite a laid back pony,” he said. “They both like naptime or lazing around and taking it easy. They both like exploring and have the same expression on their face when they go up to the gate to show.
“Coconut is just a character, and my son is a ham for sure,” David continued. “It’s a unique pair. I think they have a special bond from all the stuff they do together. That’s definitely helped them in the arena. They trust each other, and Coconut thinks he’s pretty cool and would do whatever for Cooper.”
Clients and friends of the family notice Cooper and Coconut’s relationship as well and find it entertaining and adorable to say the least.
“We often joke that instead of being a ‘one-trick pony,’ that Coconut is a ‘one-kid pony,’ and Cooper is definitely her chosen kid. Being a pony and a mare means she is both smart and opinionated, but Cooper’s personality is just as big as hers, so they end up balancing each other out, and it just kind of works,” said Emily Kowalchik.
Kowalchik continued that she thinks what makes their partnership unique is that it hasn’t always been about horse showing. “The majority of their time together has been spent just being a kid and a pony having fun,” she said. “They spent years building a bond out of the show ring, which makes the amount of success they’ve been able to have this year that much more special.”
But the pair’s partnership wasn’t always so seamless.
David got the pony in St. Louis, Mo., when she was “probably too green for the kids,” he said. Coconut had a few show miles in the short-stirrup division in 2009 when David bought her. The mare began showing in the walk-trot with Izzy in 2011, and by 2013 the two moved up to short-stirrup. They spent 2014 through 2016 in the children’s pony division. Cooper took over the reins at the end of 2016 and by January he debuted Coconut in the small green pony classes.
“[Cooper and Izzy] both grew up with Coconut and got bucked off her a lot at first,” David added.
“Coconut didn’t like Izzy and was being naughty by bucking her off,” Cooper said. “Then there was a two-year stretch where Coconut was in her stall and in the paddocks and didn’t get ridden much. I grew out of my pony [Willy] and stopped showing him in short stirrup. Mom told me to try Coconut, and I was kind of scared of her at first since I saw my sister get bucked off so many times.”
Both children have come a long way since their initial rite of passage—being bucked off of Coconut—to competing on their respective gray ponies in different classes this summer at Pony Finals.
Izzy qualified in October at the World Equestrian Center Invitational (Ohio) on Weebiscuit, a Welsh gelding, in the small regular hunter pony class.
The Beisel Method
Cooper originally started showing in walk-trot on a small chestnut pony, Dare Me Little Willy, or “Willy,” while his sister rode Coconut.
The way that David taught the kids how to ride was a five-step process. Take the kids into the arena. Lock the gate. Duct-tape the reins to the saddle so the reins wouldn’t slip down. Turn the stereo on with mostly country music. Leave the kids in the arena, but keep an eye on them with routine “head checks.”
“We would walk around, and we’d try to figure out the controls like, stop, turn right, turn left, pull backwards—figuring out the basics,” said Cooper.
“I taught myself how to canter. One time I accidentally kicked too hard. I was a little shocked, because I didn’t know what [Willy] was going to do, because I’d never cantered before off the longe line. It turned out to be really fun. Everyone came out to watch and after about five minutes of cantering, they all walked back in the stable to continue what they were doing,” he said.
After the borderline trauma of his first canter, Cooper was ready to move up to Coconut.
“I tried Coconut, and she really seemed to like me,” he said. “I had had so many bad ponies and thought she might be another rotten egg, but she turned out to be a good pony who is very good for me.”
Although Cooper is friendly kid who can strike up a conversation with anyone, when it’s showtime, his game face is on. “At shows he’s not goofing around,” said David.
“Coconut knows when she needs to buckle down and also knows when we’re just enjoying each other and enjoying life,” said Cooper. “Basically for the showing part she just loves to work, and when I get her out early in the morning and give her a bath she knows she’s showing. If I just tack her up and stretch her legs, then she knows it’ll be a fun day.”
This season, the pair has shown at Tryon (N.C.), the World Equestrian Summer Series, the Kentucky Spring shows, the Wilmington Spring Shows (Ohio) and the Country Heir Horse Shows (Ky.). They qualified for Pony Finals at the Country Heir Horse Show in February at the World Equestrian Center.
It’s a first for both Cooper and Coconut as they both embark upon their Pony Finals competition debut. Last year Cooper watched the competition from ringside. “I’m hoping to come in the top 30. I’m not hoping for huge awards. I just hope I have a good chance, but I think everyone else is going have a good chance too,” said Cooper.
They’ve had a good summer show season and a personal best score of 83 in a small green pony hunter classic recently at Tryon.
“They’re [going into Pony Finals] very confident. Cooper’s really galloping and doing the pony steps—he’s learning to just ‘get his gallop on’ and do it,” said David. “I think they’re going to have fun, and if they win it’ll be icing on the cake. They’ll have a blast no matter what.”