She exited the arena nearly in tears because on September 5, 2021, Kate nearly lost her life in a terrifying accident.
“She had just left the arena after winning a saddle at (Garwood Arena’s National Pole Bending Association pole bending show in Columbiana, Ohio,)” Cooper recounted. “Her saddle was loose and managed to slide under her stomach—then she took off. She ran through the construction site near the arena, down the [busy highway] and got both her left legs stuck in the fence across the road.
“Then, she got loose and took off again through the woods. When she came out of the woods, she accidentally ran into the lake on the other side. My saddle was still hung up underneath her, and my stirrup got stuck when she jumped in. She couldn’t stand up and was stuck underwater—thank God for my friends. When we got to her, one held her head above water and one started cutting the saddle loose. It was the worst day of my life; I thought she was gone.”
Once they got Kate out of the water, it was all hands on deck to arrange expert veterinary care for Kate back in Cooper’s home state of Indiana. Her injuries appeared minimal on the surface—the gashes were nothing compared to the horror of what bystanders had helplessly witnessed.
“I called my vet, Dr. Jessica Gould immediately,” Cooper said. “It was Labor Day weekend, but she answered on the second ring. The McWilliams’s helped me with her through everything, and Brock Bawel and his mom, Kathy, helped me get home.
Cooper took the mare to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, where the mare would live for the next two months.
“She had tendon tears in both back legs and muscle tears in both front legs,” Cooper said. “She recovered great. Miraculously, she didn’t have any damage to her lungs. She got cleared in four months to start back to work, but I made the decision to wait.”
During her downtime, Kate’s previous owners managed to flush an embryo by RR Mistakelly, and Cooper hopes to have more in the upcoming years.
Kate came back to the arena in July and immediately started posting times in the low 20-second range. Cooper became emotional after her run, overwhelmed with gratitude at having the mare back in running shape.
“I needed a run like that today, I missed having her on the trailer,” Cooper said. “She’s seriously a miracle. She’s little but mighty, and her heart is so big.”
Although Kate is a serious athlete inside the arena, with a no-frills personality, she has one non-traditional obsession.
“She loves fruit loops,” Cooper said, laughing. “Sometimes she quits eating her grain, and if I put fruit loops in it, she eats it. How’d it start? Well, one day I had a bag of fruit loops at the barn and she nudged me, so I gave her some, that’s how I found out she liked them. Now I just sprinkle a few on her grain, twice a day.”
Now 18 years old, Cooper got into barrel racing at the age of 8. A series of mentors, and the extensive support from dad, Ryan, and mom, Jill, helped her get to the top. Cooper noted that she has been fortunate to not only ride great horses of her own, but also ride some of her friends’ equine athletes.
Cooper is attending her fifth Best of the Best competition. She started barrel racing at a young age, and has continued to level up on horses until purchasing Kate three years ago. Kate helped her win an AQHA Congress Championship and two NPBA saddles in her time with Cooper, plus countless other placings. Looking ahead, Cooper is eager to continue to grow with Kate and in her career as both a pole bender and barrel racer.
For now, Cooper is grateful to her family in the pole bending community for riding out the highs and lows of the past year with her.
“Today, everybody was coming up to me after my run,” Cooper said. “They were hugging, congratulating and tearing up with me out there,” Cooper said. “The pole bending community is different than the barrel racing community. Everybody is so supportive and genuinely cares so much about each other—they want you to do good.”
NPBA Pole Bending Placings, August 19
1D-1 Jaelyn Cooper on Dan Good Copy, 20.42 worth $315
1D-2 Denise Evans on Lightningrollinstone, 20.503 worth $250
1D-3 Alexa McWilliams on TTA Redneck Covergirl, 20.782 worth $195
1D-4 Travis Smith on Jewels Casanova, 20.901 worth $165
2D-1 Mike Hulsinger on Otis, 21.499 worth $230
2D-2 Kelly Riley on Crewzer Dan, 21.578 worth $185
2D-3 Jared Mull on Zans Dukes, 21.584 worth $140
2D-4 Jori Presutti on Jager, 21.627 worth $125