Brief Biography of Sue Cook

I started Horse Amour during the summer of 1991, when on summer vacation from substitute teaching, and while I was working on my masters degree in Education. I decided to justify my spontaneous rescue of a horse from a slaughterhouse auction by offering beginner riding lessons. I still had my first horse Jade, who was my competitive trail horse from my gradeschool years, and had recently been given another (that seems to happen to me). I had given lessons off and on while in high school and college, but had never really considered it as a career, though I suppose if you had asked me at any time, even as a little girl, I would have chosen "Riding Instructor" as one of my dream jobs. The name "Horse Amour" means, of course, horse love-- a name I thought also that would not be duplicated or tied to a particular geographic region, and with me not being sure where I was going with it, it stuck. After one little ad in the Rutland Shopper offering beginner lessons, I never went back to substitute teaching.
My parents raised Arabian horses when I was a child.  My father was a professor at Castleton State College, and he was quite involved with breeding the pedigreed horses, trying to create the perfect bloodline, when not chasing Sasquatch, Ancient Vermont inscriptions or UFOs. My mother was a Phys. Ed instructor and women’s basketball coach at CSC, which is where I get my love of sports. Because a money making future in the horse business is unlikely, my parents tried to steer me towards a more lucrative career when I went to college, so I became an art major-- yes, that's true (what were my parents thinking...)! But that changed... and now I satify my artistic desires by painting jumps and designing Bit Wipe canisters…I really want to learn how to silkscreen so that I can make beautiful camp shirts, but as yet have not found a local course in that!


I was given a very naughty pony when I was about 5, and learned to stay on. He regularly would scrape me off his back by going under a low tree limb... he taught me to appreciate the privilege a horse gives a person when the horse allows the person to ride, and what sort of respect that person must treat the horse with to be allowed to ride. That sort of scenario seems to be a thing of the past nowadays, and I treasure my well behaved lesson horses, but every child that really wants to learn should experience a pony like mine. When I outgrew him we gave him to another family, and I believe he went on to teach them to take up sports other than riding. My children started on ponies; and learned that a pony demands a standard of respect and kind treatment that only that sort of a determined animal can teach a child.

I began taking riding lessons with Doris Eddy, at Eddy Farm in Middlebury in the early 1970’s, at the age of 8 and then off and on until her passing in 1998. At age 9, I aquired my first "real" horse, and childhood love, "Jade". He was a wonderful horse, I used him for competitive trailriding, very successfully, although my dream was always to be an event rider. 

Eddy Farm lent itself to great equestrian fantasies, and I think now Horse Amour does the same for my students. Doris gave all of her students a love, appreciation and true feel for horses. Eddy Farm was timeless-- immune to change, on its own timezone outside of the stresses and hustle of childhood and then teenager-dom. As an adult returning there it still is the same-- and I hope Horse Amour is for my alumni the way Eddy Farm was for me. For more about this experience, see my article "A Tribute To Doris Eddy", Vermont Horseman's Guide, January 1999. She taught me to have quiet hands, what she called "a good seat" and a great passion for horses. Jade stayed with me all through High School and College, I free leased him, boarded him and for a time even kept him in my father's backyard in the village while I juggled jobs enough to support a horse while in school. He was my first lesson horse, and passed on in 2003 in the green pastures of one of my own lesson students, at the age of 34. I have never been without a horse, and hopefully never will be, no matter how difficult it can be to keep one, although I might advise my teenage/college age students otherwise. I have a great appreciation for how hard someone might have worked to keep a horse through good times and bad. I have often been given "hard luck" horses. I definitely got that some of that tendency from Doris, though not nearly so extreme. I try hard not to become a crazy old horse lady...

After graduating from C.S.C. with a B.A. in Psychology, I moved "away" to New Hampshire, where I worked in a psychiatric day hospital-- what I then thought was my calling, and although it was not to be in the longterm, it was fascinating. I also continued service for the Battered Women's Shelter, a job I'd had my whole tenure as an undergraduate in the Rutland area, continued as a volunteer in NH. My horse went with me, and I bought a TB off the track to play with after work. 
When my father passed away in 1989, I moved back here to Castleton. I had begun to pursue an M.A., my goal to continue helping people in the mental health system. At that time I felt it was a terrific career, but I have been interested in many things during my life, and probably would have enjoyed a number of different occupations if only time allowed. I wrote my masters thesis on the Therapeutic Effect of Animals in the Classroom, and with Special Needs Populations,with every intention to publish a book at some point, or at least an article. I spent years trying to convince human services of the benefits of animals, and now a few decades later that is a widely accepted fact! For several years I volunteered at the local Humane Society, bringing homeless pets to visit elderly nursing home residents-- animals have always been the best therapy for me, and I love to share them. Now I advise my adult students that horse ownership is cheaper than therapy, and just as effective.

My father influenced me to "go not where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail". Afflicted with polio at age 2, and probably a ton of mental baggage from that, my father had a supreme determination to pursue incredible academic feats, he had two doctorate degrees, one in History(Yale) and one in Anthropology(University of San Marcos, Lima, Peru), and he was locally well known for not following the charted path, both in life and in his classroom. I think he needed to prove to himself that he could be successful against all odds, and no matter who told him otherwise. He loved being known as one of the only PhDs in the country who openly pursued Sasquatch sitings. He instilled in me a desire to use my mind and not to do what would necessarily be expected by others. This would eventually give me the determination to pursue the Bit Wipes endeavor despite the ridicule of 80% of the horse world. I enrolled back at CSC in '90 and got my Masters in Education while I was deciding what to do -- Castleton only offered a graduate degree in Education, not psychology, so I changed my plans at the time and then discovered that that also completely agreed with me. I substitute taught, started "Horse Amour", graduated and then never went back to a "real" job. Teaching riding has all of the positive aspects of any teaching position, without most of the negatives, except maybe the time off. I never encounter a student who does not want to be in my class. My students are all interested, most enamoured with, the subject. They come because they want to, and horses are also my true love. It is so wonderful to teach a subject you completely understand, feel comfortable with, and are passionate about! I have followed in my father's footsteps by being willing to chart new territory for my students in terms of everything equestrian. Only at Horse Amour will you find such wonderful events going on that are doable by entry level riders, like our nearly famous Musical Freestyles, Pas De Deux and Quadrille competitions, and our entry level Horse Trials & Combined Training Event series and Fall Fun Day Halloween Party. My father is also probably the inspiration for why I would always pick an oddball horse (with the right "eye & mind") over one that would be "expected" for my sport.

A couple of years into my instructorship I went away for Riding Instructor Certification-- mostly for my own self confidence. I value the Certification by C.H.A., but it's my education background and social service experience, which has been so valuable to me over the years, in planning lessons, working with various populations and ages, that has made me successful. I have hosted a number of special needs riders as well; autistic, ADHD, downs syndrome, spina bifida, organic brain syndrome; it facinates me to watch the sensitivity of my horses to these special riders, and to witness the joy and freedom of movement of the rider.
I purchased the farm where Horse Amour is now in 1994. I loved it at first sight! To me, this hill is heaven on earth. It is beautiful, quiet, serene, private... everything anyone could ever want is right here. I lived on boxed macaroni & cheese for a long time to make this place work for me. I moved here with 10 horses, and have since grown to a school of 15 horses, and about a dozen boarders. Things have changed since Horse Amour began, the 3 legged skinny old rescue horses I used to use have all been retired and the $400 ponies seem to no longer exist. However it was beginning the business with no cash, and my willingness to work with animals that others won't that has made it such a success. Also at any time you can come here and find a "rescue"! Now that I can identify "fancier" show horses, I still pick from out of the ordinary, and prefer to "make my own" show horses, and my horses have a fabulous reputation locally.

This farm is too wonderful not to have children growing up here. They were destined by biological clock rather than true love, but I think that doubled my love and desire for them both. Stephanie was born in 1994 two days before Christmas, and Betsy was born on the farm July 4, 1999 between the 4th of July Parade in Poultney, attended with lots of 4-Hers and horses and Event Camp the next day. Nobody believed I'd have her at home, but it just was not a convenient time for me to get stuck in a hospital, I did not have health insurance, and I did not have the support of a caring spouse. (One drawback of farming is that there are no vacation or sick days, and no health insurance.) They are both farm girls, happy and healthy. It is very exciting to have two daughters growing up in this wonderful place.  Thanks to the patience and outstanding generosity of my instructors, my lesson students, and their parents, Stephanie & Betsy have had the influence of many kind, loving and positive people in their lives at all times. And, of course, HORSES! Preschool was the barn aisle, full of learning experiences! Despite the many years of being a single parent, and sole supporter of my children, I think they are incredibly happy and well adjusted, thanks to the lifestyle and the animal family we share.

The lovely horses pictured on this page, have been my partners for Eventing, Flat Shows, Jumper Shows and even Team Penning. I like having a horse that can do whatever activity it is that I want to do, I waited many years for a versatile horse (until well into adulthood!) and I look for that type of horse for my students to use. There are many great horses just waiting to be discovered, and connected with the right person. 

At Horse Amour you'll find all breeds, with the same common thread-- the right mind. A horse that wants to participate, and wants to please is so much more important to me than looks, size or conformation. Sometimes the horse you need changes as the rider evolves(physically grows, advances in ability or changes their mind on what equestrian sports to pursue). It is very difficult for my students to select and purchase horses for themselves, emotionally and financially stressful, particularly if that horse does not suit them forever. If the barn itself can take that burden off the students, that will be a huge change for all involved. Leasing to buy removes the stress of commitment-- it can continue as long as wanted, and removes the stress of outgrowing, changing styles, aging, and going away to college. I am hoping that our leasing program becomes the norm rather than the exception for prepurchase trial. Everyone knows that Horse Amour horses often stay here for life, so there is never the painful decision of having to sell to the unknown buyer, the horse just returns to his former occupation of schoolhorse.

I hope to continue serving my students, my former students and students to be for many years to come. I fantasize about doing more riding in my future, but the years of physical work and arthritis have caught up, and I often find riding just too painful, or I’m too tired after the work is done, but I will probably still be giving  lessons here at Horse Amour when I am old and grey, at least to the beginners I love, and hopefully Horse Amour will continue on after I am gone, with my daughters. I have the priviledge of several wonderful instructors here in addition to myself, who also believe in the basic things that I believe. My life has involved enough hardship and hard work to leave me with a very strong appreciation for where I am now; despite the difficulties I truly love the lifestyle, and what this place offers to my students, friends and children. In October 2010 I was fortunate enough to meet a good, honest, and kind man. Billy has made life for the girls and I much easier and happier; being the loving, supportive man, that every successful woman needs behind them. And he is an awesome cook!               

Through our contact with our students, I and my fellow instructors here at Horse Amour, hope to continue to foster a love of animals, an appreciation of the beauty, power, gentleness and generosity of this fantastic creature the horse, and a feeling of how lucky we are to be able to connect so completely with this animal, that it becomes our partner. The results of our program here are evidenced in the successes of our students, not only in their love and appreciation of horses and horsemanship, but in their confidence and self esteem, and in their sensitivity and enjoyment of all of nature.

I am very committed to Horse Amour, it seems all I do revolves around this business, perhaps at the sacrifice of my personal life and of other things that I am not able to do. Most of my time is devoted to furthering its success. I feel that to stay on the pioneering front of any business you must be completely devoted to it, and Horse Amour will never be found to be behind the times! Our events, shows, fun days, and camps are never repeats-- always there is something creative, and that is what keeps our students excited. Their learning and experiencing is always expanding here. We are always seeking new challenges.

I am a horse lover and reluctantly a business woman. I would like to be able to say at some time in my life I’ve been a serious rider, but I have so many activities and things that demand my time and interests, that I really have been only a hobby rider. I like to think of myself as having some talent as a rider, and as a teacher, and as somewhat of an artist, somewhat of a writer, somewhat of an inventor, and somewhat of a horsewhisperer. I have so many interests, it has always been hard for me to choose where I want to go the most, so I indulge in all of the above, as much as time allows. I could probably be really good at one of the above, if I could choose only one. I have arrived where I am thanks to my wonderful experiences along the way, and a desire always to take each thing I love a little farther than a less passionate person might.

What I hope is said in my obituary: She succeeded despite the odds. She was a full time mom to 2 incredibly beautiful, smart and successful daughters. She saved and made many good horses. She left school at age 16, but ended up with a Masters degree in Education. She adopted and successfully gentled a BLM mustang. She positively influenced many incredible young people who went on to be "someone". She carried babies on her back in extreme weather, and somehow raised toddlers in the barn, that became sensible teenagers and then responsible, hard working young women. She made knowledge champions out of many 4-H members. She gave confidence to young women through the love of horses. She enabled handicapped clients to feel the power of legs underneath them. She fostered a baby woodchuck and successfully returned it to the wild. She copywrited the artwork and tradename Horse Amour. She successfully invented and produced a unique product; while under duress and at the risk of being ridiculed by the equestrian community. She learned to harvest water, and make a dry, impossible farm work for the many animals and humans that depended upon it. She always managed to put food on the table. She loved animals and people, and spent her life trying to bring them together. She did whatever she could to support her children, farm and animals, and had a wonderful time doing it!



Po© Sue Cook 2015