Coco Fath Is Looking for an Edge — and With the Help of Rodrigo Pessoa, She's Found It

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ind back the clock and imagine yourself asking your parents if you could take a horseback riding lesson. Raise your hand if they gave you that look and said, “No, sweetie. What about soccer?”

Coco Fath’s story began in a similar fashion, although her pleading for a lesson succeeded on her sixth birthday. Fast forward, and the now 19-year-old’s major equestrian accomplishments include winning the 2018 George H. Morris Excellence in Equitation Championships, a second place finish at the 2018 Washington International Horse Show Equitation Finals, and a third place finish at the 2018 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals.

Today Coco is using her impressive equitation career and translating it into the jumper ring under the tutelage of Olympic gold medalist and current Chef d’Equipe for Team Ireland, Rodrigo Pessoa. Before she heads to Cornell University this fall, she’s kicking her career up a notch.

Headspace
Coco is quick to acknowledge that she suffers from nerves before heading into the ring. But instead of letting them affect her riding, Coco is proactive in tackling those unwanted thoughts head on.

“It’s funny, I only get nervous right before I go in. I remember one time I was really not focused, and I was on course and thinking ‘Wow, I’m on course and I’m not thinking about the next jump,’” Coco recalls. “That was a turning point because I fell off. Then I saw a psychologist at home and that helped. I see her now still.

“I have to remember that — and Rodrigo reminds me of this a lot — for these horses, this is nothing. It’s a minute of your life. You’re going to be okay. Whatever happens, it’s fine — because I’d always kind of think about the worst possible thing.”

Follow Laura Kraut’s three tips on maintaining your mental edge in the saddle.

In addition to strengthening her mindset, Coco makes sure to take time for herself when she gets ready for a class. “I listen to music a lot before I ride. Before I go in the ring, I give myself a moment where I’m trying to focus on the course and go over it a million times in my head, just telling myself ‘you got this.’”

Fitness
It's not just about keeping your horse fit, or your mind fit. Riding is a sport (of course!) so Coco values her work in the gym as a way to gain an edge in the saddle. 

I work out four times a week. The day before I show I like to do a lot of cardio because it gets me energized,” she says. At home, Coco loves a good boutique fitness class that works on her core and strength. “I really like Barre classes, especially for riding since it’s good for your legs. I have a trainer at home and she used to ride, which is awesome, so she knows exactly what to work on.”

Goals
With University looming later this year, Coco has no plans to hang up her irons anytime soon. In fact, she’s chomping at the bit to don the coveted pinque coat and represent Team USA in Nations Cups.

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“I would love to be on a team one day. I mean the Olympics, I feel like that’s everyone’s dream. I don’t like to think too much into the future because I don’t want to psych myself out. I’m very good at that,” Coco says. “But I’d love to be on a Nations Cup team, at least a developing team, in the next one or two years — it would be amazing. Really just jumping some of the three-[star], four-[star] events, maybe a five-star would be incredible, and now I think I have that team of horses that can really do that.”

Fast Facts: Coco’s Top 5 Lessons Learned from Rodrigo

5. Emphasize the flatwork: “We work a lot on my flatting, which has improved.”
4. Get out of your comfort zone: “Rodrigo is really about pushing me into the bigger classes. I’m a little bit of a timid rider and that’s a big thing I’m working on with him.”
3. Pay attention to details: “We’re working on a lot of the little things. Like I never knew spurs were as important as they are. Now I’m buying different types of spurs for each horse and using them correctly.”
2. Switch things up: “One of the big things we’ve done is change the bits every time I flat, which I think is helpful, because Rodrigo talks about how horses get bored and they need to go on trail rides and do different things to change it up.”
1. Learn from your rounds: “[It’s not about] just trying to go in and win all the time, but using classes to train your horse. [So we enter] classes set to train your horse, and classes to go in and try to win.”

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Photography by Sportfot.