By Lauren R. Giannini
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
At just 17, Coco Fath is fiercely competitive, loves the anticipation of going in the ring and doesn’t suffer from performance anxiety the way riders often do. “I’ve never been much of a nervous rider until this year. Maybe that comes from being older and having higher expectations, but when I go in the ring with the outlook that it is what it is, the nerves fade very quickly,” Coco said.
“I also don’t get nervous in the jumpers, which I think has something to do with the adrenaline from the speed and the height. The ice in my veins comes from my mother, Elizabeth Fath, who competed as a Grade 1 gymnast in college and has always been too determined to get nervous.”
While Coco has a competitive side after years in the saddle, her sentimental side is filled with great memories of life as a barn kid. “When I was younger my old barn did a gymkhana every year,” she said. “It included a costume class, sit-a-buck, a Pepsi challenge and even a Bloody Mary challenge for the parents. Those were some of my favorite moments riding as a child.”
Coco’s riding, although different now, still makes her smile. She finished last year with two top-10 finishes in the Big Eq and multiple championships and wins in the Junior Jumpers, including Devon, Hampton Classic and Washington International Horse Show. WIHS added to her accolades as she was named Show Jumping Hall of Fame Rider of the Month for October 2017 for her competitive performance in the East Conference, Junior Division of the SJHOF Classic Series. She earned that award by besting a field of 23 junior riders in the very competitive $15,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame class.
Most important to Coco were her top placings in 2017 in the CSIO 2* grand prix in Europe where she made the jump-off in three out of four shows. She ended the tour in Dinard, France, where she placed third in a very competitive field of 42 international riders.
Family Sporting Traditions
Coco and her two older sisters were born and raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, the historic home of the Fairfield County Hunt Club. “I was bitten by the horse bug when I was 3 watching my older sisters ride with the legendary Emerson Burr,” Coco recalled. “My parents assumed I wouldn’t ride because I’m allergic to horses, but that didn’t stop me. Nothing that Zyrtec and a few allergy shots couldn’t fix! I began riding at Fairfield County Hunt Club, which is steeped in tradition, further fueling my desire.
I started my career with Jenny Martin-Rudaz, head trainer at Fairfield County Hunt Club, who brought me from short stirrup to pony hunters and created a great basis for my riding,” Coco said.
Horses keep her busy all year round. When she isn’t at home in Fairfield or on the circuit up and down the East Coast, she’s wintering in Wellington, Florida. “When I’m home I try to spend as much time as I can with my family, dogs, and school friends,” Coco said. “Riding does take up a lot of my time but I’m also involved in multiple charities, one being the Equus Foundation.”
Coco is co-head of a club at her school that fundraises solely for the Equus Foundation. “I’m also part of a social impact board at my tutoring service in Florida which deals with a number of different charities and organizations,” she said. “Recently we helped run an event for Equus benefiting the organization as well as the Peeps Foundation.”
“I had been riding for years but got serious when I was 8 and began training with Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffin at Heritage who really taught me how to ride like an A-circuit rider,” Coco said. “Patricia brought me through the pony hunters while Andre got me into the equitation and jumpers — I earned my first equitation final ribbon in 2014.”
About two years ago Coco began riding with Molly Ashe and her husband Chris Cawley at Molly Ashe, Inc. At that time jumpers weren’t her strong suit, but that soon changed. “Molly has me competitive at the FEI 2* grand prix level,” Coco said. “With Molly and Chris’s help I was able to move up from the low juniors to the Under 25 division in one year. Molly and Chris are amazing horsemen who taught me a lot about what it takes to get a horse to the ring and keep them sound.”
About a year ago, Coco started doing equitation with Stacia. “I’m beginning to enjoy the eq rather than looking at it as a necessary evil,” Coco said. “Stacia has made tremendous improvements in my position, style and thought processes as I enter the ring.”
“It really is a dream team,” Coco said, referring to her string of horses. Two, however, merit special mention: Huckleberry, her 12-year-old High Junior Jumper, Under-25, CSI2* horse, and Class Action, 19, one of her two equitation horses.
“I have to say Huckleberry is definitely my horse of a lifetime and has brought so much joy and success to me in the jumpers,” Coco said. “Huck has done wonders for me and he’s a horse I really connect with and care for as a partner. His barn manners might not show it, but he has a heart of gold and tries, no matter what the circumstances are, to come out a champion. Huck’s snarky personality is my favorite part about him, as well as his size, because he really is, in essence, the little horse that could!”
Class Action runs a close second as a horse of a lifetime. “He has been a huge part of my junior career, but I’ve only had him a year,” Coco said. “He’s very similar to Huck in that he knows his job well and he’s a horse that really wants to win.”
Coco speaks enthusiastically about each of her horses, but it’s clear that, as much as she loves the hunters, she’s gravitating more and more toward the jumpers. “Bart C was my first real grand prix horse and showed me the ropes when it came to jumping 1.45m and higher,” she said. “He has incredible scope, but requires a meticulous ride to go clear. Cohbanta is my 9-year-old speed horse who is a blast, literally and figuratively. She’s a hot black mare that taught me to go fast in the jumper ring. Farrero is my new 8-year-old. His scope is freakish and he’s definitely one to watch out for. His quirkiness in and outside the ring has been a great learning experience for me, because I have never developed a horse before. I’m hopeful he will be my next great horse.”
While Coco is aware of the ups and downs of the show world, she’s also wise beyond her years. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be grateful when the show days go well, but when they don’t, lose like a winner,” Coco said. “This sport is incredibly humbling, which we all learn the hard way. It has really taught me that hard work pays off and that you should never give up on a goal, no matter how far out of reach it may seem. I love the sport and the horses. I’d like to keep riding in my life forever.”
Photos by Isabel J. Kurek