Plaidcast 386: Karl Cook by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 385 Karl Cook


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Piper speaks with Olympic short listed show jumping rider Karl Cook, who is currently ranked # 2 in the US, about his most recent success at the CSIO 5* shows in Europe, training and his new jumper bit venture. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


  • Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Guest: Karl Cook started riding at the age of 8 with his mother and sister, quickly developing a lifelong passion for horses. He had a successful junior and young rider career, competing in the 2007, 2008, and 2009 FEI North American Youth Championships and winning double gold in 2007 and team gold and individual silver in 2008. Karl has scored numerous top results throughout his professional career. He has competed in three FEI World Cup Finals: 2013, 2015, and 2017. In 2016, Karl made his senior Nations Cup debut at Langley (Canada) with Tembla. In 2022, Karl was again on the NetJets® U.S. Jumping Team at Langley, riding Coachella 4. In 2023, Karl was on the winning U.S. team at the Nations Cup in San Juan Capistrano, California and helped secure third-place finishes in Langley and Falsterbo, Sweden. Karl trains out of his Pomponio Ranch in San Gregorio, California., where the business breeds, raises, trains, and sells world-class jumping horses.
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Photo Credit: Andrew Ryback Photography
  • Notes:
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: American StallsPurina Animal NutritionWorld Equestrian CenterCheval Press, America CryoBoneKareShow Strides Book SeriesWith Purpose: The Balmoral StandardGood Boy, EddieHITS Horse Shows and Great American Insurance Group

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm: This is The Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine, and coming up today on episode 386, I talk with US Olympic short listed show jumping rider Karl Cook, who is currently ranked number two in the US, about his most recent success at CSIO 5 * shows in Europe. And then we discuss horse training and his new jumper bit. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. 

Piper Klemm: Karl Cook started riding at the age of eight with his mother and sister, quickly developing a lifelong passion for horses. Karl had a successful junior and young rider career, competing in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the FEI North American Youth Championships, winning double gold in 2007, team gold and individual silver in 2008. Karl has scored numerous top results through his professional career. He has competed at three FEI World Cup finals in 2013, 2015 and 2017. In 2016, Karl made his senior Nations Cup debut at Langley, British Columbia, Canada with Tembla. In 2022, Karl was again on the NetJets US jumping team at Langley riding Coachella 4. In 2023, Karl was on the winning US team at the Nations Cup in San Juan, Cabezano, California and helped secure third place finishes in Langley and Falsterville, Sweden. Karl trains out of his Pomponio Ranch in San Gregorio, California, where the business breeds, raises, trains and sells world-class jumping horses. Welcome to The Plaidcast, Karl.

Karl Cook: Oh, it’s great to be here. 

Piper Klemm: You just came back from a tour of some really big competitions in Europe that have huge fan base, huge crowd. Can you talk to us a little bit about the electricity of riding for that number of people and that excitement and that pressure?

Karl Cook: It’s really fun because it’s not just, you know, the number of people. It’s that the people actually understand what they’re watching. They’re reacting on time to things. They understand when something is, you know, when you rub a fence, you know, they go, oh, you know, they understand the pressure of certain rounds. They understand the sport and that makes the environment so much more, I don’t know, real. You know, it’s just, it’s so much more exciting and I think for me inspiring.

Piper Klemm: I think it’s hard to imagine how much harder it is to do the same level of technicality and skill and in a pressure-filled situation and in front of a crowd like that and with everyone watching you.

Karl Cook: I think, you know, it’s more of anticipation. You know, once the bell rings and you start riding, you know, the rest kind of, all that stuff kind of melts away. But you know, before the bell rings, you know, you’re, you know, obviously we all get nerves, but I think of nerves not as a bad thing, but as a good thing that actually help and don’t hurt.

Piper Klemm: Tell us about your mare. You’re really known online for getting to know your horse’s individual personalities and letting the public kind of get to know them a bit. And she’s always interesting, it seems, but really game. So can you talk to us about building that trust and relationship with her?

Karl Cook: Yeah, we took a lot of time with her because she’s very, she’s a very unique ride. And so we took a lot of time so that I could understand her and she could understand me. She’s so reactive that by the time you realize what you’ve done, you’re already three strides past the action that led to where you are. And so you can’t ride her in a reactive state where you think something, you do something and go forward. Where a lot of horses, the vast majority of horses are that way. You know, their reactions are slower. The speed at which they travel is slower. And, you know, if you twitch your left eye, they don’t react. Where she’s so reactive and so fast that you have to ride without thinking, which takes time to develop with any horse.

Piper Klemm: What does that mean to you ride without, is that ride all on intuition? Or you have enough of a, you know, intuition built that you’re riding completely off feel? Or are you anticipating things?Or what does that mean to you?

Karl Cook: I think it’s just riding on your feel. Now, sure, I would say you might be anticipating some things, but in the moment, you’re not, you know, the best way I could say is you’re not waiting for something to happen and then you’re reacting to that. Or you’re thinking, you wait for something to happen, you think about what just happened and then you react. You know, that middle step is, is gone. You know, you just do, you just play. Or as, you know, people at sportsbooks like to say, you just flow.

Piper Klemm: Tell us a little bit about the European system, which a lot of our American listeners aren’t familiar with about qualifying for and even getting to do these Grand Prix’s and kind of what a big deal that is. I think most, many fans in the US are used to kind of, if you enter, you do it, or you might have a qualifier during the week. But, you know, this tour that you just did in Europe had a lot bigger classes where that’s not the norm.

Karl Cook: More shows than the US on the jumper side, where you do have at least a qualification class before the Grand Prix, because of the numbers entered. But in Europe, it’s a step before if you even need to qualify for the show. And in these cases, the two five stars I’ve done, the qualification was competing as part of the US team there. So, you know, you have to get enough results as a US elected for that team. And there’s, you know, obviously more than four people or five people that apply for each of these. So you have to be selected by the US team to even get to the show. And then once you’re at the show, you still have to qualify for the Grand Prix team or whatever your national team is. And so there’s a lot of extra levels that, you know, the first step is built up over years of riding to get to a level where the US team would be interested in choosing you. And then once you get to the show, you have to perform to have a chance to jump the Grand Prix.

Piper Klemm: Our sport’s getting a lot more into statistics and stuff, which I think is great from a fan side and people understand what they’re watching. And again, I think the Europeans are ahead of us and part of that educated fan base that you said watching the class, I think they are a lot more knowledgeable about and invested in knowing win percentages and what types of classes people are doing, how many rails are down. Are you thinking about any of that stuff as a rider? Is that just your focus on your horse and doing the best you can every class? Or how does this more money ball approach that people are starting to take to our sport translate to you and riding and training and how you think about things?

Karl Cook: I think it’s great that there’s a bigger push towards statistics. And I know a lot of more traditional people would say, well, the sport is not purely objective, meaning statistical. And I agree with that. However, it is a lot more statistically interesting than people give it credit for. For me personally, I think the statistics now make it really interesting on a commentary side, on a spectator side, on a fan engagement side, on just a regular sporting side, modern sport that’s not some man or woman and their horse, as arguably it was in the past. And again, nothing wrong with the past, but I think it’s so much more engaging for fans to look at those statistics, to compare statistics and to compare one rider to the other in classes like these recently over the past 12 months, over the past six months. I think that’s much more engaging and interesting. And I believe that will yield growth in our sport and a bigger following. And I think that is a good thing. For me personally, you know, I’m very grateful that I have two really top horses, international horses. But since I ride them each time, I know when I’ve had rails. And I can, you know, months later, I can tell you, yeah, I had the vertical after the triple combination in, you know, the first week of thermal, the five star, that was a steady five after the second double, you know. And I could tell you it was a front rail or a hind rail. You know, I can tell you just out of memory. And so for me, I don’t look too much at the statistics because, you know, if I go to a show and I have a rail in the Grand Prix and the rail was because I wasn’t able to collect properly in a tight five, or the rail was because I didn’t get the right approach to the end of a line.  And so the line got too long. And so the second jump was too flat. Well, I know then that because of what I just jumped last week, I know what I needed to work on for whatever the next show is. And, you know, I think more that way. It is still interesting to look, you know, if you compare, do I have more rails with front legs with this horse or the back legs? Do I have more front rails of oxers or the back rail of oxers? Do I have more A of triples or doubles or B or C? That’s more interesting than just faults per round. And I think our sport will get there to where it’s not just, you know, Karl and Caracol have an average faults at 160 of whatever, you know, 2.6 or whatever it is. I don’t know what it actually is. I’m just making it up. You know, that is interesting, but it would be even more interesting if they said, and 90% of the rails come from front legs on a vertical. You know, that’s a further step, but it also requires the public that watched to understand what that means. And right now, I think, at least in the US, just, you know, faults per round is a really great place to be, to be articulating. 

Piper Klemm: I’m glad you said that because I think our sport gets a little like loss that we’re kind of all doing the same thing. And there are very different levels of the sport and, you know, different pressures and different things are riding on your round. But, you know, at the end of the day, I try to relate with people, and I hope more people do that, you know, the things you’re working on with your horse is that adjustability, that track, that pace, the reactivity to going forward and coming back. Like these are very basic concepts that every single person listening is working on every single ride, and we all have that in common.

Karl Cook: Yeah, and I think it’s important, you know, for me, I really, you know, now I don’t have to try too hard at it because I’ve been doing it for a while. You know, let’s say you have a rail or you have a stop or your round doesn’t go the way you want, whatever, you know, that issue is. For me, I try not to wallow in what happened as much as what do I need to do tomorrow back at home to make what just happened less likely. And then I focus on that thing because that’s the only way to get better, not to focus on the past. Sure, it’s easy to say, you know, jumping a 1.60m Grand Prix at a CSIO 5* while you’re also wearing the, you know, US pinque coat is more pressure than jumping, I don’t know, a one meter 1.0m adult amateur classic on Sunday. Well, honestly, that’s all perception. My level of pressure at what I feel jumping that could be less or more than, you know, an amateur jumping 1.10m. Just because the height is different doesn’t mean there’s more pressure or more felt pressure. And felt pressure is the only thing that matters. At the end of the day, it’s the pressure you feel, not whether you should feel it or not.

Piper Klemm: Thinking about kind of your rounds and faults and statistics and how we improve what our audience knows, what besides statistics, what things do you hope that they could learn? What things do you, what knowledge do you hope you could impart on them to be more engaged fans?

Karl Cook: I think statistics is a great entry point. I really do. And I think going further down the statistics road, which we’ve already spoken about a bit, is a great place to go. I think the next stage is to look at what little things that you do, that you could do, that could make small deviations in improvement. You know, there’s such a feeling that, you know, it’s not helpful to spend hours and hours to get 1% better because I could just have a dumb mistake and have a rail. Like, yes, you could have a dumb mistake and have a rail, but if you do a lot of work, a lot of various things that each help a half percent or 1%, you stack enough of those up, you’re 10%, 20% points better than either you were or the people you’re competing against. And I think too much in the past, we’ve thought, oh, this rider’s just better, or this horse is just better than I’m competing against, or that combination is just better. So it’s not worth chasing these little percentage point differences. You could think of other sports like golf, like Formula One, baseball, or other stuff that little differences in how you swing your bat could have wildly different results to how you’d hit the ball, or the tiny differences in how you swing your club or what club angle you use, what club choice you use, what ball you use, whether you cleaned your golf ball before you hit it or not. You know, all these tiny details, and I could list a whole bunch for our sport, those tiny details matter. We just have to start paying attention to them. And people need to be aware that these tiny details do exist and do matter instead of just everyone assuming that they can’t possibly matter. It’s just, you know, that other horse is just better than mine, or whatever way we thought in the past where these details were less important. Every detail is important.

Piper Klemm: What are some details that you’ve seen over the years, maybe other people overlook?

Karl Cook: I think a great one I can explain is most people don’t think about the reins that they hold very much. They think, am I able to hold on to it? You know, they don’t think that thinner rain compared to a thicker rain affects how you interact with the bit, which affects how you interact with your horse. If you’re riding in two reins, if you have one thicker rain and one thinner rain, that affects how you use the thicker, the bit that’s connected to the thicker rain and the part of the bit that’s connected to the thinner rain. Or if one of those two reins is more grippy than the other, that affects the interplay between each of those reins. Again, with two reins, if you have one rein on, you know, on your ring finger and one rein around your pinky, and then you swap it, those will have different feels. So the bit will start acting on the horse differently just by adjusting how sticky your reins are, how thick the reins are, whether one rein is inside or outside, and how that, so instead of changing the bit, as many people do, just change your reins. And that’s a much subtler difference. That can yield really powerful results because there’s less net change, so there’s less unknown in making the change. Another one would be the flaps of your saddle. You know, people think about the seat and they think about if they’re comfortable, but you also then see their leg movement in the air or their disbalance on landing or, you know, the relationship between their feet, their seat and their shoulders. And you can adjust a lot of that by the panels, you know, whether you have more padding or less padding in your knee, more or less block behind your calf. And then you can also change that per horse. You know, one horse might jump a certain way, so you need a saddle to be subtly different. Same seat in your saddle, but a subtly different panel. And, you know, there’s, I could keep going, but there’s so many little things. And talking about that, realizing that, trying it, makes the sport more interesting. 

Piper Klemm: Tell us about how you think about your career in the sport. You’re 33 years old. You have people on the team with you who are twice your age. I would say give or take you’ve been doing this for a decade or a few years longer, intensely as an adult. How do you view your career going forward and the longevity? How has that changed as you’ve gotten older and are more years into it? How do you kind of see that trajectory? Because I think our sport is so unique in the longevity of athletes who are able to. 

Karl Cook: Yeah, I mean, I think in the early years, it was just about riding, having fun, more about just feel and not about subtleties or nuances or technicalities. It was just like just raw riding. And there’s a lot of benefit to that. A lot of evolution for me happened once I started to realize or I was shown that A, the subtleties exist, B, they matter, and C, I could care about them. And then it felt like the whole world opened up. Everything got so much more interesting. It wasn’t just, I’m trotting a bit to the left and then I trot a bit to the right. I do a circle every now and then, do like 10 minutes of trot maybe and walk for a minute. And then I canter, canter a bit to the left, bit to the right, make sure the lead changes work. And then you’re good to go. You know, that’s the way it was. And then once I realized how you could work the horse different ways to get different things out, how you can build musculature in different ways, depending on your horse, you know, what your horse is like, you know, equipment and how that affects things as well. That then just got so much more interesting and was, you know, allowed me to get way more accurate in everything. You know, people just focused on, oh, my eye’s not accurate enough. It’s like, no, you can’t, you’re not able to turn. It’s not your horse’s fault, it’s your fault. And your turn was screwed. And so it wasn’t your eye’s fault. It was all the flatwork that led to the fact that you can’t turn and your horse is also, doesn’t have a strong enough top line to be able to do a good turn if you were able to ask them. You know, that is continuing to be interesting. And you know, for me, that’s what continues to be interesting.  How can I get, how can I learn more and have my hand on more variables and control over more variables so that the output is smoother, more predictable and better? 

Piper Klemm: Tell us about riding when you were growing up. Did you do a lot of the care yourself and your kind of investment in this curiosity? Did this come in your 20s? And tell us a little bit more about raw riding, because I feel a lot of people try to start tweaking things or having more of that perfectionism mindset, which you need at the highest levels. But if you put that before that raw riding and confidence and feel, that doesn’t work either.

Karl Cook: ​​Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of that non-raw riding started in my 20s, once I started to be shown that there was another way. I remember when I was taught to jump, my trainer said, okay, jump that X. And that was everything that was told to me. They didn’t say canter, didn’t say trot, didn’t say bend over when you get there, didn’t say count one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, didn’t say, you want the front legs of the horse to take off at this point, you want it like, just nothing. It was just jump that fence. And, you know, I think it’s really important for people to develop or have the opportunity to not think too much about it and just ride and say, okay, this didn’t work, so I’m gonna try this. You might not know if it’s gonna work. And if it does work, you might not know why, but at least you know that it was better. And just trying and failing, trying and failing, again, you don’t know why, and that doesn’t matter at this point, I feel. If you get too technical ever, and especially if you get too technical early on, what will happen is you think you can think your way out of everything. And trust me, I’ve tried it, you’re gonna fail. You’re not gonna be able to think your way out of it. You’re not gonna be able to say, okay, I feel this, I have this coming, I’ve tried this in the past, it didn’t work, and I have been working on this exercise in the past, so that told me to do this next motion. You don’t have that much time. You can’t think your way through riding, especially if you’re jumping a course. You can think pieces, you can think, if you have a steady line, just one fence to another, and you have a big distance coming in, you can think, oh, big distance coming in, short line, land pull. That’s not a lot. You know, you could run through that really easily in the air before you land from the first fence, but you can’t think through the exercise. You can’t think about previous exercises you’ve done. You know, that mechanicalness is impossible. So I think it is important to have, get to a point where you can just ride and have no idea what you’re doing, but you know what you’re getting.  And then you can, and then selectively with the right coaching, you can start tweaking it. You could start adding color to your black and white image.

Piper Klemm: Your family breeds horses. And so you’ve been involved, I’m guessing basically your whole life with different aspects of the breeding, raising, training. How has that helped you out in choosing horses and seeing how different horses developed and maybe what confirmation laws end up being an issue as they grow up or which you can muscle your way out of or train your way out of? I mean, I think that that experience must really influence how you’re able to select which horses you can ride and wanna ride and are excited to work with. 

Karl Cook: Yeah, I think your question was interesting because people, they think, oh, I have a very careful mare. And so, with not that much scope, so I should breed it to a very scopie stallion to give it scope. But the stallion might not be the most careful, but that’s fine because my mare is careful. Well, what if you then get an uncareful horse with no scope? I think people focus on confirmation and they focus on how a horse does something compared to what would be ideal. And I don’t think that’s the right way to do it. For me, what I care about most is that the horse is smart and the horse has a desire to work. So smart meaning if the horse makes a mistake, they try something new the next time. Or if you try to explain it to them, they learn. I don’t care what confirmation issue they have, as long as they’re sound, they’ll overcome the confirmation issue if they’re smart. You know, one of my two best young rider horses basically didn’t canter. He had this washing machine canter that was not even really a canter. It was a shuffle. Yet he was smart and knew exactly where his legs were, and he jumped clear. If you looked at his canter and just looked at his canter, you’d say, no way, nope, nope, never gonna buy it. But if you looked at the results, the results were there. So I think it’s important. And then for me, I need a horse that has the desire to do it because I don’t want to have to spur them to death and rip them in the teeth just to get them to do a normal amount of flatwork. That’s not fun for me. It’s not fun for them. And it’s not right. I could tell you confirmation issues with Kalinka or Caracol, but why they jump what they jump is because they’re smart and they have desire. And all the rest I can work with, as long as they have those two. If they don’t have one or either of those, I don’t have any desire to work with them.

Piper Klemm: Are you able to tell that? How young do you think, at the breeding farm, are you able to tell that? I know this is all nebulous, but is that something you can determine with a three-year-old horse, a five-year-old horse? You kind of not know how much heart or scope or desire they have till they’re really challenged when they’re maybe eight or nine.

Karl Cook: I mean, I think you could see if they have enough… I mean, you could see if they’re really playful or really interested in things when they’re young, but you don’t know if they’re going to like show jumping. They might hate it or be bored by it, or they might be smart and they might have desire for something. But if that desire, heart is another great term, but I could lump heart into desire or desire into heart either way, it doesn’t matter because we’re trying to show jump with them. So I think you can tell some things when they’re young, but you can’t tell until you start jumping them and you really start challenging them, to see what they do with those challenges, whether they take their gifts and use them, or they say, you know what, it’s not for me.

Piper Klemm: Talk to us about developing your new bit line and what’s gone into this and what kind of research and how you got started on wanting to create something new.

Karl Cook: Well, I had a need for it. So it’s not a bit line. I had and have no desire to have a bit line. For me, I had a need for a bit that operated differently to anything that I could find. And so I drew up a couple thoughts for what I guessed the bit would look like to maybe have the function I wanted. And then we had it made and it worked. And I’ve been using it for at least three years now. And there was a long track to get there. There were other bits that are completely not really associated with it, but I learned something from those bits that I had designed. And when this bit really worked, I thought this could be something because the other bits were more specific. They’re for a very unique job where this bit has a wide range of use cases and it does things that no other bits do.

Piper Klemm: What were you looking for that bits didn’t do? And what does this bit do?

Karl Cook: I personally never have a good feeling with a Pelham. A Pelham is great at making the shoulders, neck, and head of the horse stable. But in doing so, it kind of makes it numb and unreactive.  And that can be really helpful for people. But for me, I can’t turn in a Pelham. The horse is not dynamic. But the bit does make the horse stable in front, and stability is a good thing. A bit I very much prefer is a swale. It’s way less common than a Pelham. In the show jumping ring, Pelhams are the most common bits you see in the ring. But a swale acts differently than a Pelham. The way the shanks move are just different than a Pelham. And a swale, you’re able to get the horse completely light. Where in a Pelham, they never will get completely light. They will always sit on the bit, you know, a bit. Where a swale, you can get them completely light. The problem I had with swale is that for me, in the last two to three strides before takeoff of a fence, the vast majority of horses that I would ride on a swale would kind of pop off the bit and kind of pop away from that contact and they wouldn’t really sit on it. Because again, the bit makes the horses very light. And so, while the swale was good on the flats, doing poles, maybe doing cavalettis, with the majority of horses, I didn’t have a great feeling in the ring at the jump. In between the jumps, it was great, just at the jump was bad, which is not a great condition if you’re trying to jump a course. But if I put a pellum in the mouth, they just felt dull and uneventful and not dynamic, and they would just like tow you around.  You could use your hands, but they were so unreactive, and it was like steering a barge. But a pellum, they’re stable. So I wanted the stability of a pellum, but I wanted the dynamics of a swale. So the bit is unique, not because of the mouthpiece, where most people, they start a bit line, and they, you know, here’s your rubber snaffle, here’s your rubber pellum, here, you know, it’s just a different maker of the same mechanics. You know, the base function is the same. Where my bit, the mouthpiece, you know, you can pick, but it’s the way the shank works is different by combining the two actions.  And you get the stability of a pellum, but you also get the dynamics of a swale. So it’s right in the middle. It really works great. It’s one of the first bits I put on a horse when I get a new horse. Because for me, it just tells me exactly where I need to go. The bit might be perfect, so I keep using it, or it tells me exactly where I personally need to go with the next bit. Where most bits, you know that they do or don’t work, but they don’t always tell you where to go. Where this bit for me, if it’s not the right bit, it still tells me exactly where I need to go. And I get way more accurate.  I’m really excited for this bit. I’ve had a couple of custom bits that I’ve made for very specific uses, like I said, that there’s no real use in releasing them because they’re so specific that I think they would just distract. Where this, it’s the first new shank since the Mikmar. I think it’s going to do things that people didn’t know that could happen. And I’m excited for it. 

Piper Klemm: This is a fascinating conversation, and I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation like this with many people who are very interested in the sport. It’s almost like everyone gets stuck on talking about interpersonal drama or even horse training, but then that getting into the mechanics, it’s very hard to initiate and have a conversation like this with another person. And we should all be interested in this stuff. We’re all at the horse show. And I guess I’m not sure what the question is, but it kind of segways into like what, you know, with your walking and talking series, you bring up a lot of points, you share a lot of things. We’re not the most open community. We’re not the most sharing community. I would say people are worried about their secrets and stuff. You are very open with the public. You’re very open about your horses. I think that’s great for having a fan base for our sport to having interest in our sport, having people know what’s going on. How do we be a little more open so that we can have better conversations and have better discussions for our horses? Where do you think that openness comes from and how can other people embrace that a little bit with their own horses? 

Karl Cook: That’s a big question. One of the reasons I don’t think our sport is very open is because I don’t feel the majority of people think operationally about what they’re doing. They just do things. Or, you know, let’s say I’m struggling with a horse. I show the video to someone else and they say, oh, I had a horse that was like that. I used this bit. And then I go use that bit. Hey, it works. Great. And then you ask me why I used that bit. And I’d say, I don’t know. It works. And that was me being as open as I am for most people because they don’t understand, you know, they can’t speak about the mechanics of what is the bit doing? Where is it applying pressure and how? And where is it not applying pressure compared to other bits? And how can that parlay into how you use your hands? What reins you choose? Whether you put the bit high or low in the horse’s mouth, whether you combine it with this noseband or that noseband or no noseband. Most people can’t have that conversation because they haven’t thought about it. They don’t know. And so that open conversation can’t happen because there’s nothing to talk about. They just say, oh, I put it in because someone said to try it and it worked. And that’s it. And then I think there’s a second group that might understand things more and could speak more openly. But, you know, that feeling that if they divulge it, then they won’t be able to, you know, people won’t want to train with them or they’ll give up the secret, then it’ll work for that other person and then that’ll hurt them in the ring competing against that person because they used the secret that you just gave them. I think that’s the way children think. Have you ever heard people talk about, you know, cooking barbecue or something? They always have the secret rub. Give them the secret rub and they say, go make it the same as me. You know, if McLain Ward were to tell me every single detail about why he made certain decisions, he made equipment rise, training wise, flatwork rise, shoeing wise, feeding, supplementation, vet work wise for a certain horse, I’m never going to be McLain. I can’t ride like McLain. No one can ride like McLain. Then that’s, you know, that’s the same with everyone. You know, no one can ride like me. Everyone rides uniquely them. And so I don’t believe it would, I think it’s childish personally.  Like people still want to train with you if you are very open with what you say, because not everyone thinks the same as McLean. No one thinks the same as McLean. No one thinks the same as me or as Laura, or as, you know, fill in the blank of the trainer. You know, no one thinks identically. So, you know, your true secret is your thought process, and there’s no way to articulate your thought process in every scenario. You know, the way I thought through one thing is going to be identical to the next one.  And so for me, it’s just childish. I could tell you everything for one situation, but that one situation can’t be perfectly cut and pasted into any other scenario. Some things might resonate, but you can’t cut and paste perfectly. So the final part of your question, how do we get to more open conversation? I don’t know. I’m trying to be open because I think it’s the right thing to do. I think the more things are hidden behind a paywall, that you have to pay a trainer, I think that only hurts our sport. And I think the more people know, the more interesting ideas they’ll come up with that I didn’t think about, that I might then benefit. So me being more open would then spin around and then help me in the future, by helping them, or I hope, instead of holding things like Mr. Scrooge and thinking that that’s the right way to do it.

Piper Klemm: I think that we’re raising kids with this dichotomy, and for sure in the amateur ranks, this dichotomy is huge of if you want to be a student of the sport and really learn, or if you want to be a client and be treated like a customer, and that’s fine, but it’s a very different goal and a very different kind of way to approach the sport and a very different thought process. Was that a conscious decision for you? Were you a student of the sport when you were younger? Did this really develop in your 20’s? 

Karl Cook: It developed from the sport, that’s more interesting. But I think a lot of trainers, even for someone that just wants to be a client, can’t run their own horse program, has a job or kids or whatever it is, a trainer can still inspire them. And by inspiring them, the trainer doesn’t supplant their use. We all think back to your favorite teacher in school who inspired you. They didn’t inspire you, and then you become a teacher and you take their job. No, they just inspired you by resonating with you a certain way, by getting you excited, not by just blindly doing a numb job at, oh, you’re an amateur, and so I’ll just do everything for you, and that’s it. You can still inspire people while giving them little tidbits of information or a different way of thinking about things. I think there’s a fear, which again, I think is hilarious. I think the fear just shows, is an acceptance that the trainers are not good. And the fear is that if a trainer does too good of a job, that they’ll train themselves out of a job. And that’s a real fear that I would say over 90% of trainers in the US have. And they do that, and they also make the client feel like without them, the trainer, their horse would go completely different and way worse than it’s going now. But I think that’s hilarious because if you’re going to train someone out of a job, that means you believe it is possible in the short time you have with any one client, teach them everything that you know and every way that you think and every way that you execute in the past and by giving it them now, they will be able to do it your way forever in the future. And that’s just hilariously stupid and illogical and wrong, but it’s built off of fear that you’ll teach yourself out of a job. And fear is a potent force.

Piper Klemm: I just read this writing book with our summer interns, and it’s called The Essays Only You Can Write. And it’s a book about cultivating your own experience, because what you’re writing are literally the essays only you can write. And for you saying this too, these are the horses and the experiences that only you can train, because only you have your own experiences, only you have your own style and your memories and your curiosity. And that’s so empowering.

Karl Cook: And I wish more people operated that way. And that does absolutely doesn’t mean that I am always going to do the best job with any horse. Absolutely not. You know, there are plenty of people who would do way better with, you know, I’ll ride a horse. I will, you know, it just won’t, we won’t have the right feel. Let’s say keep riding, I’ll do the best I can, but it’s just not the right relationship. Where someone else will do way better than me. So I definitely don’t have all the answers. And that’s not the point. You know, the point is that I have my way of working and I want to learn from people who also have their way of working and are willing to interact, be active participants in horsemanship.

Piper Klemm: Karl Cook, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast.

Karl Cook: Thank you so much for having me.

Piper Klemm: To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of The Plaid Horse Magazine at Please write and review The Plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring.