PICTURED ABOVE: Leap of Faith: On April 1, 2017 senior Jane Cook placed rst in the junior preliminary division of the competition she competed in at Rose Horse Park with her horse Xavier. Photo provided by Tom Cook.
Up down, up down, up down. Senior Jane Cook has become accustomed to this familiar, bouncing motion over the years. More often than not, she can be found on a horse, galloping at high speeds through open fields or performing graceful leaps as she and her horse fly through the air.
The lulling motion of a moving horse is one that has always been an essential part of Cook’s life, a worn saddle being like her second home.
“I started riding when I was six years old. I feel like a lot of people when they are little have a crazy horse phase. That was kind of what got me into it,” Cook said. “It was very casual when I first started riding, I just took a couple of lessons a month or so. And then, kind of the rest is history.”
From that point on, Cook continued pursuing her riding career with serious intent, eventually going on to competitions in 2011.
Cook practices eventing, an equestrian event that includes three different parts: dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. Properly known as three-day eventing, this particular type of competition is one of three Olympic equestrian disciplines.
In dressage, riders and their horses are judged based off of their harmony and execution of certain predetermined movements. Cross-country is meant to test the physical endurance of the rider and horse, as it involves galloping across massive fields and performing a series of jumps over man-made obstacles. Show-jumping comprises a series of colored, lightweight poles that are easily knocked down which the rider and horse must jump over.
Each of these three events take place on separate days, hence the name “three-day eventing.” As one could imagine, setting aside three or more days from the rider’s schedule to attend an out-of-state horseback riding competition would pose some challenges.
In fact, during the months of January and February, Cook attended riding competitions three consecutive weekends. Her first competition of the year was held in Ocala, Florida, on Jan. 26. The “eventing hub of the United States during the winter months,” as Cook put it.
“My horse will be there for a month, and I will fly down every single week on Wednesday nights and come back Sunday nights. I am doing three competitions out of the four weekends,” Cook said.
Generally, Cook attends eight competitions a year. The majority of these competitions take place out-of-state, so she often travels all throughout the country to attend these events. In the past, she has competed in Kentucky, Colorado, Montana, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.
When she is not flying out of state to attend high-level competitions, six of the seven days of the week Cook can be found at Buck Branch Farm, a barn in Wilmer, Texas, which is located about 15 minutes south of Dallas. Cook has been training there for the past 10 years. When she was still new to the riding game, Cook trained with Becky Brown at Buck Branch Farm. It was while training with Brown that Cook started to advance her skill.
“I trained with Becky, trained with Becky, trained with Becky, and finally it was like, ‘Okay do you want to get your own horse and maybe take the next step?’ I didn’t even know what eventing was. I had no idea what it entailed,” Cook said, reminiscing on the earlier years of her riding career.
As it turned out, “taking the next step” entailed training with Brown’s daughter, Rebecca Brown, whom Cook still trains with to this day. Under Brown’s guidance, Cook has advanced her skill to a very competitive level.
“Jane has always been talented. In our sport talent is important, but it’s not as important as your work ethic. So because of the schedule, you have to have a certain level of dedication in order to be successful. Jane is so smart—it was never a question of if, it was a question of when,” Brown said.
As she gained more experience over the years, Cook began competing at higher levels and cycled through different horses. Currently, she has an Irish Sport Horse named Xavier, who Cook purchased from Ireland in 2015.
And Cook’s success does not go unnoticed. Over the past few years, she has placed extremely high in several national competitions and received many offers to join elite programs. She was selected to join the United States Equestrian Federation, an organization whose main purpose is to scout young, ambitious riders who have not yet made it to the Olympics but have the potential to do so.
In Nov. 2016, Cook competed in an international horseback riding event in which she placed 12th out of a total of 71 competitors. Even more impressive was the fact that her challengers were riders of all ages and expertise levels, some of whom had even competed in the Olympics. In July 2017, Jane participated in the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, or the Junior Olympics. She hopes to attend again this upcoming year. These accomplishments are only few of the many which Cook has claimed over the past years.
Due to the amount of time and dedication that she puts into the sport, her riding schedule makes it difficult to complete her schoolwork. However, she does not let her busy schedule
interfere with her academic performance. “Getting right down to it, [Jane] is just incredible at time management. Definitely this year has been the hardest year for her, with her applying to college and what not, but it just takes a lot of time management,” Brown said. “She often wakes up early before school to work out, then she is at Hockaday till about 4 [in the afternoon] each day, and then she is usually at the barn riding until 5:30 [in the evening].”
Whenever she does have to miss school for an extended period of time, Cook makes sure to stay on top of her school work.
“The amount of class I miss and finding the time to make that up is the hardest part,” Cook said. “But all my teachers have been really great about working with me. I tell them before I leave, ‘I’m going to be gone for X number of days,’ and I get as much of the work I can ahead of time.”
Upper School math teacher Karen Sanchez, who taught Cook during both her freshman and junior years, worked with Cook to keep her up to date with classwork.
“Jane always took a very proactive approach to missing school,” Sanchez said. “She would always get the assignment before she would leave so that when she came back she wasn’t behind. She didn’t let horseback riding take over or interfere [with her academics].”
At the same time, outside of the classroom, Cook dedicates herself completely to her riding. Brown, who has trained her for many years now, has helped guide her to success and has watched Cook become the rider that she is today.
“Jane is so positive, she has the mental game for [riding], which I would say is what ultimately sets you apart at this level. The two most important things are probably your work ethic and the strength of your mental game, and Jane has both, and that is really what has taken her to this level so successfully,” Brown said.
But despite the time commitment which the sport demands, Cook continues to ride. It is an integral part of both her life and character.
“I really like who [riding] has shaped me into. I feel like riding is one of the most humbling sports you can be in,” Cook said. “It is the most rewarding experience [when you do something right] because you put in so much hard work all the time all year, and when it pays off it’s the best feeling.”
Story by Charlotte Dross, Assistant A+L Editor