About James Cooler
James Cooler grew up around horses: first at the trail riding facility his parents managed in South Carolina, then in Colorado and Montana. His father Don, an emergency room doctor with a passion for horses, served as inspiration, teacher, and mentor.
Out west, James, his parents, and his two brothers helped neighboring ranchers and quickly learned they needed to up their horse skills. “When your cow goes that way and your horse goes the other way, you learn pretty quick there’s something wrong here,” James says. Meanwhile, as an ER doctor, Don saw a high incidence of horse-related injuries and decided there must be a safer, better way to ride.
James, his mother Chris, and Don started studying the techniques of natural horsemanship trainers Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, John Lyons, and Pat Parelli, picking the approaches that fit best and merging them with their own strategies. They developed an approach called the ATRUM method, representing five elements needed for a true partnership between horse and human: Attention, Trust, Respect, Understanding, and Motivation. Pretty soon those neighboring ranchers were asking for help with their horses.
James and his parents formed Cooler Horsemanship; they traveled throughout the west, holding clinics and working with hundreds of horses and owners. When James went to college in 1998, Cooler Horsemanship went on hiatus. Neither Don nor James knew that the doors to their father-son partnership would soon permanently close.
In 2002 Don Cooler was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and James moved back home to be with him and the family. James had stopped riding horses completely—there seemed to be no future in it; he was studying business finance instead, even though his heart wasn’t truly in it. On June 4, 2004, James rode a horse for the first time in three years. Later that day he learned his father had passed away. It was as if Don had waited for James to get back on a horse before letting go of the last threads of his life.
A year and a half after his father’s death, James met Kate Finnerty, who loved horses with the same intensity as he. She helped him realize the obvious: his passion and purpose lay with horses.
In 2006 James signed on as manager of an equine facility in South Carolina. He and Kate restarted Cooler Horsemanship, adding refinements and further developing its principles. In April 2008 James proposed to Kate on horseback during one of their musical horsemanship shows. They then moved to Montana, setting off cross-country with three horses, a dog, a cat, and all their belongings. After spending a year in James' hometown reconnecting with the area Cooler Horsemanship formed it's roots, James took a job as equestrian director at a farm in Summerfield, North Carolina.
Since coming to North Carolina, James and Kate have gotten married and become an inseparable team. Now based out of Flintrock Farm in Reidsville, NC they teach individual and group sessions, train horses, hold clinics and demonstrations, and film segments for the Cooler Horsemanship Online Video Library.
“We’ve stayed true to our original vision of providing a quality horsemanship experience, whether that’s through a clinic, lesson, training, or our online videos. We keep chipping away at growing our little company,” says James. “It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience that we wouldn’t trade for anything.”
The spirit of Don Cooler continues to infuse James’ work, particularly Don’s straight-on, can-do philosophy. “Everything we do and teach at Cooler Horsemanship is what my father was all about: embracing challenges and overcoming them. If you can do that, you can get to the point where you won’t have any regrets—whether it’s what you’ve done with your horse or with your life.”