The making of a Legend

<Susu riding Midnight on her first hunt

The making of a Legend!
A weekend of horsing around at Cooper’s Hill

Skype: James Tonery +353833168366

For the past few years we have entertained many guests from the trail rider to the cowboy. To say it has been memorable is an understatement. Legends have been made, and one particular legend we are proud of is Susu of Susu’s Bakery Boutique, Wellsley, Boston, USA. Susu had rarely jumped, never hunted her whole life in fact, only a little over a year previous she suffered a bad fall and injured her hand. To be fair we told her we would take good care of her and matched her to the perfect mount, a nice steady Irish cob called Midnight. He would be her noble steed for the weekend.
What can be said about Midnight that has not already been said…….Nothing really. He is a champ in every sense of the word, with his foamy mouth, intelligent face, dark good looks and standing 16 hands high he is guided from one joyous jump to the next in a snaffle bit. He measures every fence to a “T” and takes it all in his stride. While he may not be the fastest with his feather brushing the floor, he often leaves the faster ones in his wake at the following obstacle. You see Midnight is magic and he makes magic happen every time he is out hunting or jumping. He safely and honestly carries his charge from point to point picking his spot carefully so as not to give too much for the rider or himself to do. What they call in the business – a push button ride.

Susu was out of practice and had never jumped much in America. There never seemed to be enough time for her to devote to jumping, or the right horse, the right trainer to push her out of her comfort zone, instead she was a happy hacker. She had always wanted to hunt, but didn’t know the best way to get started. Susu was made aware of Cooper’s Hill through another foxhunting client. It was suggested that if she was going to hunt, she should start by learning with the best there is, the Irish.
Susu got in contact and asked us what she would have to do to prepare for hunting. We bandied around ideas such as glueing her butt to a saddle, tying her feet under the horses’ belly, getting handle bars for the saddle. Man we exhausted lots of options and laughed doing so.
I advised her to take the HUNTING BOOTCAMP. The boot camp is designed for riders that have some know how, the will to learn and succeed, but need a “royal” kick in the ass from a drill sergeant type, such as myself. I duly obliged Susu, often using some colourful language in the process. Not for the faint hearted but I must admit, I take questions, I give praise when it is due and I am fair. I push you to succeed to find your limits, I don’t know what you are capable of but it doesn’t take me long to find out. When you take it to those limits, nothing will beat that feeling of pride in your achievement.
As an instructor I had no idea of Susu’s abilities, and because of this I always take newcomers to the beach to see how they navigate the city traffic en route. It gives me a better idea of what each rider can cope with.
Bear in mind this ladies dream was to go fox hunting and Coopers Hill was planning to make that dream a reality. But hunting is a risky sport you can meet all sorts of obstacles on the road with traffic passing, big trucks full of horses and often hounds too parking at the start of the meet. You can also come across some unruly horses that are next to you as you commence your hunt.

Susu riding Midnight. This was her first time riding at the beach
Susu riding Midnight. This was her first time riding at the beach

So the ride to the beach offers me an opportunity to gauge how the rider reacts and copes with a horse they have never ridden before in a stressful environment. The roads to the beach are busy, full of heavy, noisy traffic. There are many obstacles to pass before we arrive at the beach. Road works, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, trains and even an army firing range all have to be dealt with. Most people we have visiting us have only ever ridden in the safe, controlled environment of a barn, trails on a private property or show arenas. While our horses are immune to all the distractions en route to the beach, it is useful for me to observe the riders to see how they react. How they assess and deal with a situation they, more than likely, have never been in before.
The route to the beach has dogs coming out of driveways akin to a hound running from a hedge, a bicycle passing by at speed similar to the speed at which the hunts man makes his move and you the rider need to be orderly. You need to be ready for anything and the beach ride tests you reactions.
The next morning Susu came for a jumping lesson in our arena. To say it started out ugly was an understatement. I should underscore this. Wait guys the story has an almost Hollywood ending but definitely a happy ending. We practiced, she grimaced, I cursed, I explained, I demonstrated and always Susu said “I’ll do better next time”. Alas it was coming together. It’s Saturday morning and she graduated jumping class 101. Time for a celebration! Indeed not… it was straight onto the next class, Cross Country! But we did pause for lunch.

The cross country course is a daunting 50 fence mix of stiff and easy fences. Some fences are manmade, some natural features including; up turned boats, drops, multi-colored coops, roll tops, water features, bull finch, you get the idea. She had never jumped like this EVER in her life. Thoughts of her demise must have been passing through Susu’s mind at this stage as we rolled up to the complex and especially once she saw the massive water feature as we rounded the bend on our way into the parking lot. “Oh my God” was uttered several times, as only a good Boston Catholic girl can utter. I didn’t give her time to think. Right lets get the horses out and mount up and get our warm up done. In between all the hustle and bustle of getting warmed up I did encourage this dare devil and reassured her that if anything did go wrong we would give her a fine Irish send off.

Please watch the attached video to see her effort, not always pretty but she got it done and she was keen. She showed determination and guts over some impressive obstacles. Susu applied what she had learned that morning to these intimidating jumps, she was thrown in the deep end and she swam!! She made it! SUPER, she had made it. Susu got there in the end and received her certificate of completion. Afterwards a group hug was the order of the day and a strong drink. Not sure which was stronger the drink or her clasp around us all, the clasp a living person can only give after a mighty feat! So far the woman’s efforts were remarkable.
Now that Friday is done and Saturday is over you are all assuming a rest day follows for the brave lady. No chance! I am a monster! At least, that’s what I have heard said, tongue in cheek, for asking Susu to do a hunt after all that went before. But this was Susu’s dream she had set a goal for herself and was keen to grasp it with both hands. My philosophy is that if the rider stops to think what they have done, or are about to do, they would never do it. She had achieved so much in such a short time, I had to keep the momentum going.

Susu’s first hunt was scheduled for Sunday morning which commenced at 11 am. We arrived at the yard early, and I kept her busy getting her mount ready barking orders here and there more of a distraction tactic than anything else. There was no time to pause or think, only time to act. With a few careful words I prepared her for what lay ahead, and gave her a good confidence boost. Having confidence in yourself out hunting is a necessity. I gave her an extra boost and told her I would never leave her side. We loaded up our horses and were ready for the meet. Boy the walls were challenging that day. Like really tough. Aboard the trusty Midnight, Susu rode valiantly, took a fall or two but got up and kept riding. She set the bar really high for all Americans. She was so brave and committed to doing her first hunt. I did exclaim as she was about to stop and quit, at one point that there was no way out of the place she was in unless she jumped out either alone or with me. Out came the stiff upper lip and Catholic school tenacity and onward she went. That evening in the pub every rider was calling her The Legend. The hunt we rode with that day had never seen such hardiness, grit and determination from anyone especially when they were told of the ladies history. She had proved her worth with the hardest of them all, the Irish hunters.

Susu and her hunt bootcamp trainer, James
Susu and her hunt bootcamp trainer, James

She is now known as the legend and her picture from that day out hunting resides on the wall of Dover Saddlery, Wellsley, Boston, MA.
It took a long weekend to make that lady become a legend with lifelong memories and a renewed love for horses and their abilities. Since hunting with us she has competed in hunter jumper shows and has done so successfully. I saw the rosettes, they can’t be denied.
We would like to help book your weekend at Cooper’s Hill and do the same for you. Renew your interest in horses and riding or to make a dream come true for you. We book everything for you, all you need to do is just show up with your riding apparel. We organize shuttles from Dublin Airport, Meet you at the terminal in Galway and might even have a stiff drink to get your “braveometer” up and running. We organize your hotel and book your beach trek, jumping lesson, Cross country and make requests to the Grallagh Harriers Masters to allow visitors hunt with them. Call or email, our pigeon carrier service is out of order at the moment so you’ll have to do the electronic thing.


The art of matching rider to a horse!

Midnight 16hh experienced hireling

Phone: James +353833168366

How do you match a rider you have never met with a horse that will take care of them out hunting?

The only way to answer that question is to go back to the start and how the animal was gentled into riding and jumping. That’s the key.

It takes a number of years to get a horse hunting right. Anyone who hunts knows that you can get pullers, stoppers and downright cranky horses. You know the ones, the ones that kick bite and buck. An odd buck of joy is fine, but the buck that is directed towards the riders dismount is coming from a horse that wasn’t respected and won’t give respect.
So how do we at Coopers Hill know all this about horses and their varying attitude?
Well I, James Tonery, am the son of a lifelong horseman who himself comes from a horsey family. Our family’s horse knowledge goes back centuries with working horses, carting, ploughing and training the odd local derby race horse or point to pointer. NO we never had the money to compete with the group one winners but we could compete locally. To that end we held our own and from that notoriety we were known as good people to manage and turn out a horse. We have been given awards from the Prevention of cruelty to animals and have won many rosettes at shows with ponies and horses in hand.

Down through the years the locals have brought very difficult animals to out yard for BREAKING. But we like to turn that philosophy on its head. We like to say we gentle and respect the animal and allow them the time to come to the conclusion that it is ok to accept the bit, its ok to be brushed, its no problem to have your feet lifted up to be saddled and eventually mounted. Some animals accept sooner than others simply because some trust sooner than others. The manner in which this is done determines the product or the horse you are going to mount for your days hunting.
No we are not sprout eating, peace pipe smoking tree huggers. We are as hardy as the next hunts man. But to get a horse right requires time, patients a gentle hand and respect. That’s how to get a horse on your side a horse that will give you his last effort and to even reach further down and give you what’s not there to give but will give it anyway. You all know what I mean that extra effort when it’s needed.
So a rider comes to the yard and doesn’t know any horse from Adam. They would have no confidence in the horses’ abilities. They may fear the prospect of hiring an animal that they are not used to, one that they have never laid eyes on before. How can you get the rider to overcome the fear? Well education, simply education. When a rider comes to Coopers Hill to hunt the first thing they do is go on a hack. The first hack is traversing Galway city to the beach to give the rider an idea of how well mannered and schooled the horses are in traffic. It also gives the rider time to get used to the animals nuances. It offers me an opportunity to also gauge how the rider reacts and copes with a horse they have never ridden before. The roads to the beach are busy, full of heavy, noisy traffic. There are many obstacles to pass before we arrive at the beach. Road works, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, trains and even an army firing range all have to be dealt with. Most people we have visiting us have only ever ridden in the safe, controlled environment of a barn, trails on a private property or show arenas. While our horses are immune to all these distractions, it is useful for me to observe the riders, & to assess how they deal with a situation they, more than likely, have never been placed into.
The next scheduled event is popping some poles in the arena. This gives me, the person hiring out the horse, the opportunity to see how the rider approaches a fence and how they cope with the jump on that particular horse. It is at this stage you make your mind up about the suitability of horse to rider. You just get a feel for it. I guess this is the art of knowing which horse suits and in your head if it does not, selecting one that will suit that particular rider. A mount of different abilities more suited to that rider may be selected, perhaps an animal with a slower movement and steadier jump. One not so poppy may suit one rider but not another. Now the riders will know they can jump on the selected animal and how the horse will behave in stressful environments.
Finally to get the rider to see what the animal can really do they are taken on a cross country course prior to their days’ hunting with over fifty fences. None of the fences are the same, from manmade to natural features, drops, water jumps, up turned boats.

By the end of this, the confidence should be through the roof for the rider. They will have successfully navigated a challenging cross country course with their hired mount. Hopefully by now the rider has bonded with the horse, trusts in its abilities and feels safe with that horse.
Next, it’s time to hunt.
So to answer your question how do we fit the hireling to the rider, by educating the rider and having the patience to have the horse right before they come. Simple really!!
All you need for the recipe to be a success is time, patience and lots of hard work.

Vacations at Coopers Hill

    Vacations at Coopers Hill



Cooper’s Hill Livery horse riding options.

1. Horse trails and beach rides:
A short video to get you in the mood.

This is for the casual rider that wants to do a few rides in the country side and enjoy the seaside and beach while on vacation. There is an added bonus, breakfast on an island at low tide. The tide times vary monthly and this is often weather dependant. This is simply for the rider that wants minimal stress and lots of nice views.

2. Horse riding boot camp:

This is five days of intense boot camp style tuition. . There are 3 jumping lessons, one hour per day on three consecutive days with independent practice required on that same day. A boot camp schooling day on a professional level cross country course is expected to be attempted. Those that are able to complete the cross country boot camp receive a top grade will be invited to hunt. We can cater for any level rider. It will improve your riding but not everyone may get to hunting standard. After the boot camp one should be more competent to participate in a hunt. Hunting is by invitation only. If the rider is capable of hunting and wishes to do so, there is an additional fee.

3. Hunting and cross country: Two days hunting, Sunday and Wednesday, and a cross country day included. This is more for the brave at heart. This caters to the person that has hunted and would like to try Ireland as a place to hunt. There will be three riding lessons included in the package, namely, a hunting lesson on a cross country course and two arena jumping lessons. Horses and riders will be schooled and ridden on an OPEN/ professional level with novice options cross country course.

There is a bus shuttle service from Dublin airport to Galway. Citylink ( takes approximately two and three-quarter hours to get to Galway city. Riders will be met off the bus by a staff member who will accompany them to their accommodation and make arrangements for riding times. Flights from all over UK also land in Shannon airport and Knock airport, with good bus service to Galway city. These rates will vary during holiday times and festivals.