Cottonwood Farms trainer Rebecca Cook doesn’t care what breed of horses her students ride or what discipline they want to pursue. Prospective clients are screened for other traits the East Coast native considers more important: “a desire to learn, to do better by their horses and to move forward with their horsemanship,” says Cook, who moved to California two years ago. “We welcome students who fit into our mentality.”
The importance of communication is a big part of the Cottonwood Farms mentality. Known for her honesty and clarity with clients, Cook teaches students to develop the same traits in communicating with their horses.
At her 30-horse program in East Temecula’s Aguanga, Cook is open minded toward horses, too. She specializes in rehabbing “special needs” performance horses with behavioral and/or physical problems. In addition to bringing her own diverse horsemanship experience to each issue, Cook enlists the help of her equine chiropractor and dentist, farrier and other veterinary practioners to uncover the root of the problem. Very often, she notes, solving the physical problem goes a long way toward solving the behavioral problem.
Cook’s equestrian resume begins with having grown up on the intensely competitive hunter/jumper circuit on the East Coast. Although successful as a junior, she found it stressful to the point of getting ulcers as a teenager. The good that resulted from that was a lifelong path of working in other disciplines and with various breeds, along the way picking up a breadth of skills, knowledge and experience rarely attained when focused on one riding style or breed.
Reining and cutting and Paso Finos and Quarter Horses expanded Cook’s horizons considerably and she found the Halter Horse world particularly enlightening. “You can’t have a good Halter horse if you don’t feed it right,” she notes. “I learned a huge amount about nutrition and conditioning during that time.”
Rafael, Reserve Champion Young Horse at the Oldenburg inspections,
held on Sept. 16th at Pollyrich Farm. She is owned by Andrea Duncan
and trained by Rebecca Cook.
Photo: Tass Jones Photography.
Broad Horsemanship Horizon
Throughout these years, Cook was the one who’d ride and work with horses others had given up on. Her subsequent affinity for special needs equines gave her the opportunity to research nutrition and dietary concerns with the professionals at both Nutrena and Purina’s development labs, as well as various nutricuetical laboratories across the country. She is quick to call those most knowledgeable, including vets, scientists, farriers, chiropractors and other trainers, for help determining the most appropriate plan of action for each of her charges.
A pinto Warmblood named Ace is one of Cook’s favorite success stories since settling in California. He arrived with a pinched nerve in his neck and “significant behavioral problems,” she recounts. After others determined that the only course was putting the cantankerous horse out to pasture for good, Cook sought the help of her farrier and chiropractor to begin a remarkable turnaround. Within two months, Ace was sound and began jumping low fences. Today he’s a lesson mount for intermediate riding students and a favorite among clients who indulge his friendly demands for attention. He’s back on track with training for the jumper ring, too, and Cook is optimistic he’ll fulfill original high expectations for success in that division.
Classical dressage principles and an emphasis on relaxation are the training basis for horses and riders at Cottonwood Farms. Long and low and lots of stretching and cross training keep students and their horses fresh and fit. She doesn’t believe in drilling horses and finds that the most relaxed horses offer the best performances.
Cook emphasizes riding with the seat and legs, rather than the hands. “This is a hard concept for many,” she observes. Her best instructor for this lesson is a Western Pleasure trained gelding. “If you try to use your hands on him, he looks at you like you’re dumb,” she laughs. “But if you use your legs and seat properly, he’ll do anything you ask.”
Cook is big on explaining the theory behind correct riding techniques. “I will always tell you why I am asking you to do something,” she says. “It’s never a ‘because I said so!’ answer.”
Cook enjoys developing her students toward show ring success. Cottonwood Farms’ itinerary is dictated purely by clients’ needs and preferences and can vary from an unrated dressage competition to the Pinto World Championships, where one of Cook’s horses finished fifth last year in the Halter division.
Cook is careful to advance riders only when their skills warrant it. “Many people rush to get to the highest levels, and I see both the horse and rider become stressed,” she says. “We have the skills and the desire to take riders to the national level when they are ready for it. I believe riders need to be comfortable and confident at each level before they go onto the next.”
Wherever they head off to compete, Cottonwood Farms is a lovely place to come home to, for horses and humans alike. Set near a water source and graced with 60’ cottonwood trees, the property is an oasis conveniently located at the intersection of the 371 and the 79 freeways in Riverside County. Lighted arenas, a dressage court, a jumping field and lots of trails are among Cottonwood’s amenities. After their horse work, students can go for a pool swim or get ready for the next part of their day in a “real” bathroom with showers, Cook enthuses.
For more information on Rebecca Cook and Cottonwood Farms, call 951-767-0860 or visit www.cottonwood-farms.com.