Jacob Pope was in awe as he watched Peter Pletcher guide Unbelievable around the ring in the winter of 2019. The warmblood mare was new to the hunter scene, but her talent was obvious, with her back-cracking jump and easy way across the ground. As Pope watched her live up to her name, he turned to compliment her trainer, Stefanie Mazer.
Not long after, Mazer reached out and asked Pope if he was interested in taking the reins on “Luna.” Pletcher was heading back to his native Texas to compete at Pin Oak, and he had suggested Pope as the mare’s next rider.
“[Pletcher] rides soft and nice and doesn’t really get involved with their mouth too much, and that’s what Luna likes,” Pope said. “And I think that’s why he suggested me too, because I think he knew she needed a soft rider.”
Pope, 27, who made his name in the equitation ranks as a junior, has been a rider and trainer under Ivan Rakowsky since 2017.
When he got the ride on Luna in 2019, he spent several months cultivating a relationship with her. That summer, they finished 13th in the 2019 Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Section B Championship (Kentucky). But their momentum ground to a halt when Luna suffered an injury. Out of an abundance of caution, her owners at Forget Me Not Farm gave her extra time to recover.
“They’re good people and care about their animals, and they understand that injuries happen, and we just do the best we can to make sure they’re happy and healthy and coming back stronger than before,” Pope said.
They tried breeding Luna, but she didn’t take. She returned to the show ring in December 2021, and she now shows sparingly, primarily in hunter derbies, with an occasional performance class or division if she needs to knock the rust off.
“She is pretty much the same every time you ride her, which is really nice. She’s never spooky. Pretty easy in the mouth,” Pope said. “The hardest thing is probably how hard she jumps, but you can trail ride her. She jumps great; she’s got an easy lead change. The handies are the best part, and you feel like you can just land and look, and she follows, which is really cool. You barely have to touch the reins. You don’t have to kick her super hard, and you don’t have to pull her super hard. She’s like a perfect middle ground. I can’t say enough nice things about her.”
The 12-year-old mare lives with Mazer at Forget Me Not Farm in Wellington, Florida, but because of its proximity to Team Rakowsky Equestrian, where Pope works—plus the fact that both operations attend many of the same shows—Pope gets to ride the mare on a semi-regular basis.
“She’s pretty special,” he said. “Having a connection with a mare is pretty important.”
Pope and Mazer carefully planned out Luna’s summer, with the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby held July 30, during the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival IV in Williamsburg, Michigan, featuring heavily. The pair won the class on a two-round score of 392, more than 17 points ahead of second-placed Stella Wasserman and Skyhawk (374.5).
“It made me feel good as a trainer for sure, same with Stefanie, to kind of have our sights set on something and being able to achieve our goals,” he said. “That’s obviously something we all hope for as trainers and riders.”
Watch Jacob Pope discuss Luna and commentate their winning round at Traverse City:
Next up, the pair will contest the Platinum Performance USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship, Aug. 18-20 in Lexington, Kentucky, where Pope hopes to improve upon their 2019 performance.
In his job at Team Rakowsky, Pope works with students from the short stirrup up to two-and three-star jumper classes.
“I think the idea of being a well-rounded person in my career as well is definitely something that I’m proud of and want to keep achieving, in both trying to be the best I can be in hunters as well as jumpers,” he said. “And I also do a fair amount of training as well.”
Because most of Pope’s rides in the hunter ring are young and green, he appreciates having a reliable partner in Unbelievable.
“I never have to worry about her swapping or jumping in bad style or not changing leads or something like that,” he said. “I know that she’s going to go in and put her best foot forward. If I give her a good ride I know we’re going to have a good result, because she tries to win every time. So it’s nice to have that, especially when I have sometimes some greener horses or horses that I don’t know as well. I know her like the back of my hand. She tries so hard, so it’s nice to have such a seasoned partner.”
Pope also won the $30,000 Traverse City National Grand Prix on July 16 with Highway FBH, a horse he recently purchased in partnership with Rakowsky and Sherri Crawford. That victory marked his first grand prix win, and he hopes having the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Plot Blue—Belona, Cornet Obolensky) will allow him to step back into the Fédération Equestre Internationale ring.
“I’ve always really loved jumpers,” he said. “I do a lot of catch-ride hunters, but the majority of our business I would say is jumper clientele. So kind of to be able to be in that ring competing a horse that I own, at that level, and to achieve my dream of winning a grand prix was pretty special.”