By: Kim F. Miller

Early Passion and Focused Dedication Pay Off

Thumbnail for Young Guns: Rebecca Cohen

Susan Stickle photo

There comes a time in every parent’s life when their child surpasses them in something. For the Cohens, that something is dressage and that time came a while ago when daughter Rebecca, now 16, overtook her mom Carol on the path to national prominence. But Carol, an accomplished amateur rider and breeder, can’t complain. She and her late husband Alan were accomplices in the coup, exposing Rebecca to the sport early on and providing the level of support and guidance that enables young talent to flourish to the fullest.

USEF National Junior Reserve Champion is the latest entry on the Wellington resident’s resume. Earned during last summer’s Festival of Champions, the title doesn’t tell the full story. Rebecca’s main mount, Downtown, was hospitalized with a leg infection just a few weeks before the Festival. The 17.2 Westphalian recovered from that, then coliced on arrival in Gladstone.

Rebecca is a girl with goals and doing well at the Festival was a big one. Downtown’s setback was a heartbreaker that triggered a few barn-aisle breakdowns, she admits. But once his well-being was established, she refused to freak out over the late-in-the-game schooling interruptions. “I kept telling myself that it was going to be fine and that, if he was well enough to ride, then we’d still show, even though we hadn’t had much time to school. We had worked really hard and I didn’t want to let that go.”

That quality of determination will likely see Rebecca fulfill future goals. These include making the most of the honor of riding on the first dressage team to compete at the Maccabiah Games in Israel this July. She’s also targeting a third appearance at the North American Junior Young Riders Championships, Young Rider and Brentina Cup runs and competing in Europe. However, she does have a life and plans outside the horse world.

She was born in New York City and aspires to attend either New York University or Columbia, with eventual plans to become a lawyer. Her much-missed father Alan, who passed away in 2004, was a lawyer who left behind an impressive sports-oriented legacy that included co-ownership of the Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets basketball teams. Understandably for a 16-year-old, Rebecca says she hasn’t thought about trying to do for dressage what her father helped do for basketball, but you get the feeling she could accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

For the immediate future, that’s continued dressage success. She eschews a crazy competition schedule and places a high value on her own evaluation of her performances. “Yes, I am competitive, but I like to do well for myself and to have performances that I am proud of, even if I don’t win.”

Frustrated in the past by schools that didn’t understand her commitment to riding, Rebecca opted for home schooling and studies along with young equestrians from various disciplines at the Palm Beach International Academy. She loves mixing it up with polo players and show jumpers and the fact that boots and breeches fit the dress code.

Rebecca and Carol lived with their horses at Two Swans Farm in Wellington for much of Rebecca’s life, but they recently sold the beautiful property in order to simplify their life. Their show mounts are boarded with Hannah Michaels now and Rebecca still spends most afternoons with them in a routine that includes both intense instruction and downtime for grooming, grazing and just hanging out with Downtown, aka “Daddy,” and his stablemates.

Her coaches deserve much credit, Rebecca says. She is currently working with Heather Blitz and Heather’s student and former barn manager Hannah Michaels. Isle Schwartz, Robert Dover, John Zopatti, Michael Barisone and Steffen Peters have also lent their expertise over the years. “Everyone has their different way and I try to take away something from everybody, then apply it to my kind of riding,” Having Steffen and Ravel base themselves at Two Swans on several occasions has been a highlight of many opportunities that Rebecca has taken full advantage of.

In addition to excellent coaches, Rebecca enjoys access to wonderful horses. Downtown has been her steadfast partner since 2010, when he helped Rebecca qualify for her first USEF’s National Junior Championships. Carol co-owns the Danish stallion Come Back II and has a keen eye for horses that might be a good fit for Rebecca. A Come Back II/Lobster mare, Curlie V, is currently in training with Steffen and could become a future ride.

Great horses and coaching are advantages, no doubt, but there is also no substitute for passion discovered early and pursued with focused dedication. Rebecca recalls being smitten by dressage as a four-year-old. She was riding at Lendon Gray’s barn in Connecticut and got a glimpse of Lendon’s prot