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Graduate Spotlight: Cooper Sawyer

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Graduate Spotlight: Cooper Sawyer

By: Sarah Coleman

Featured image provided by: Keeneland/Photos by Z

 

A Rising Trajectory

Though Cooper Sawyer was born in the Bluegrass, he moved from Lexington at 13 before making his way back Northern Kentucky to finish his high school career at Beechwood High School. With a passion for racing and his heart set on the horses, Cooper studied Equine Business Management at Lexington Community College so he didn’t have to leave the Bluegrass again. Once he had completed the equine courses at LCC (now Bluegrass Community and Technical College) Cooper transferred to the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Communications, Education and Leadership in 2005. (UK did not offer their Ag Equine Program at the time Cooper attended college, he notes.)

Growing up, Cooper’s immediate family was not involved in the Thoroughbred industry, but they did have close family friends who were entrenched in multiple facets of the industry, so he was exposed to both racing and breeding from a young age. The family friends had horses that ran at both Keeneland and Churchill, so Cooper spent quite a bit of time at the tracks with his family and theirs. “My dad would get us out of school early one Friday during the spring and the fall meets when Keeneland was running,” Cooper reminisces. “Racing gives me such good memories of family.”

“I feel like I have always loved the racetrack and wanted to pursue a career within the Thoroughbred industry,” Cooper explains. “I always enjoyed talking horse racing with my dad and his friends, particularly during the Derby prep races in the Spring. It was definitely in my blood from an early age!”

Cooper worked on the track during the summers while he was in high school and originally thought he wanted to return to the track post-graduation. His way of thinking was changed, however, when he decided to expand his industry experience and get a job on a farm to better understand both the breeding aspect and working with foals and yearlings. Lexington was the obvious choice for this industry exploration.

However, though Cooper moved to the heart of horse country, he had a hard time finding farm work on a part-time basis. “I spoke with Garrett O’Rourke’s brother Brian during my search and he mentioned KEMI to me,” Cooper says of learning about the program. “After learning more about it, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

 

 

 

 

The Start of Something Great

“I was very anxious to start the program,” Cooper said. “I would finally get a job on a farm, in an industry I wanted to pursue AND I was able to take a semester off school to do it! It was all very exciting.” Similar to other KEMI grads, one of Cooper’s favorite take-aways from the program was the relationships he built and cultivated while a student in the KEMI program. “I was very fortunate in my placement [at Wimbledon Farm] and I was able to learn from the best team of horseman under the management of Brian O’Rourke. The divisional managers, foreman, and Drs. Brown and Rathgeber were second-to-none, and provided me with an education and experience that was invaluable.” Wimbledon Farm, where Cooper was placed, encompasses over 1,000 acres on the south side of Lexington. The farm boards mares and preps sales horses. Once Cooper’s semester with KEMI ended, he returned to school, but his connection with Wimbledon remained; he worked at the farm during breeding seasons. After graduation from UK, Cooper was focused on gaining more experience with yearlings. He secured a job with Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, prepping yearlings under Donnie Snellings. Nearly 300 acres, Mill Ridge Farm boards mares, stands stallions, sells horses and offers bloodstock consulting through Nicoma Bloodstock. Mill Ridge is renowned in the Thoroughbred industry for putting the horse’s welfare at the forefront of every decision.

“The leadership at Mill Ridge taught me so much. Mrs. Chandler’s respect for the horse and her philosophy, ‘take care of the horse and the horse will take care of you,’ was ingrained in me at Mill Ridge,” Cooper explains. “For someone who was seeking to gain knowledge working with yearlings, I couldn’t have landed in a better place. I have so much respect for Donnie Snellings and his methods; I was able to learn so much from him and I am forever grateful.”

After spending nearly 5 years at Mill Ridge, Cooper was presented with an opportunity to move to Lane’s End Farm. There, he spent 4 years as the yearling manager, “where I was able to gain a better understanding and insight into the commercial aspect of the industry.” Established in 1979, Will Farish is the owner and founder of Lane’s End Farm, which comprises more than 2,300 acres in both Woodford and Fayette counties. Farish has raced more than 165 stakes winners and bred more than 300 stakes winners, and has won Horse of the Year accolades multiple times.

Lane’s End sells at every major sale, breeds and boards mares. “And I had a front-row seat at one of the best-run organizations in the world,” Cooper explains. “It was a great experience and important step for my career. The Farish’s, Mike Cline and the rest of the Lane’s End team are first class.”

From Lane’s End, Cooper went on to manage St. George Farm for Ian Banwell, a client of Lane’s End and a highly respected proponent of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. St. George was a medium-sized, private commercial breeding operation, which also had a sizable racing stable. “This was the first time in my career that I was able to put all my experiences together and apply it on a daily basis to run a farm. I spent 3 years managing St. George Farm before coming to Mt. Brilliant and I am proud of the accomplishments the farm made under my management,” says Cooper.

Cooper is now the Farm Manager of Mt. Brilliant Farm in Fayette County, Ky. The farm, which is over 1,200 acres, offers boarding and sales prep, and owns horses in training and actively racing, as well. In addition, the farm hosts polo matches and boasts phenomenal gardens, which include a taxus maze, kitchen garden, flower garden and vineyard.

 

 

 

KEMI: Laying the Foundation for Success

Cooper is adamant that KEMI was instrumental in helping him create such a successful career path. “KEMI serves as a launching pad for students wishing to pursue careers in the Thoroughbred industry. The model, comprised of networking, hands-on experience and coursework, has proven to be successful for almost 20 years. KEMI provided the foundation I needed as I was starting to build my career,” he explains. “If you have an interest in the Thoroughbred business, regardless of career path, this experience is a must,” Cooper says. “KEMI provides a built-in system for networking and building a knowledge base within the industry you can’t find on your own.”

KEMI students have to have some stick-to-itiveness, Cooper says with a laugh. “Everyone on the [Wimbledon] farm was trying to make me quit!” Even with the good-natured ribbing, Cooper knew he was meant for the Thoroughbred industry. “During orientation week [at KEMI], we went to a bunch of big farms and saw the stallions, like Giant’s Causeway. It’s an experience I will never forget … I really felt like I was a part of something bigger.”

Like every KEMI grad, Cooper acknowledged that there was a steep learning curve when he was placed on the farm. “I found working on a Thoroughbred farm initially was quite challenging because I was trying to learn as much as I could while still trying to do the best work possible,” he explains.
What he learned on Wimbledon Farm has translated to each of his subsequent career moves, where he garnered additional information and tactics he added to his management toolbox.
But one thing permeates every position he has had, on every farm: “No matter what your position is, take advantage of it, work as hard as you can and learn as much as you can, so you can apply that knowledge base as you progress in your career. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!” Cooper says.

Now married with three children, Cooper acknowledges that working on a farm is much more than a full-time job. Racing has taken a backseat to breeding (and kids); “to stay up with it all is still another full-time job!” he says.

Though he may not get to the races as often as he would like, Cooper is making his mark on the Thoroughbred industry in his own way, working toward the same goal that was instilled in him from his days at KEMI: the betterment of the farm.

 

 

 

Fall 2017 KEMI Graduates

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Congratulations to our Fall of 2017 Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) graduates!

Rebecca Bannan – Michigan State University – Ashford Stud
Kristen Berg – North Carolina State University – Pin Oak Stud
Shannel Cacho – Middle Tennessee State University – Dixiana Farm
Paige Gilster – Iowa State University – Shawnee Farm
Alana Hamann – University of Maryland – Indian Creek Farm
Rachel Miller – Oregon State University – Denali Stud
Katie Ott – University of California, Davis – Trackside Farm
Autumn Petreszyn – University of Maine – Adena Springs
Sarah Prentice – University of Findlay – Lane’s End Farm/Oak Tree Division
Erika Rodriguez Martinez – University of Arizona – Monticule Farm
Jennie Sites – Oregon State University – Crestwood Farm
Kayci Sperry – Kansas State University – Darby Dan Farm
Brianna Wolfe – Delaware Valley University – Silver Springs Stud

Best of luck to our Fall of 2017 graduates!

KEMI Announces New Fall 2017 Interns

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Please join us in welcoming our new class of interns for Fall 2017!

Rebecca Bannan – Michigan State University

Kristen Berg – North Carolina State University

Shannel Cacho – Middle Tennessee State University

Paige Gilster – Iowa State University

Alexis Golub – Virginia Tech University

Alana Hamann – University of Maryland

Rachel Miller – Oregon State University

Katherine Ott – University of California, Davis

Autumn Petresyn – University of Maine

Carli Pisano – Sul Ross State University

Sarah Prentice – University of Findlay

Erika Rodriguez Martinez – University of Arizona

Jennie Sites – Oregon State University

Kayci Sperry – Kansas State University

Brianna Wolfe – Delaware Valley Univesrity

Welcome interns!

Spring 2017 KEMI Graduates

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Congratulations to our Spring of 2017 Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) graduates!

Rebecca Bannan – Michigan State University – Shadwell Farm
Marisa Beanland – University of Vermont – WinStar Farm
Lauren Bedell – Post University – Shawnee Farm
Katheryn Bowser – Auburn University – WinStar Farm
Kaitlin Bruce – University of Tennessee, Martin – Mallory Farm
Lauren Brunn – University of Findlay – Taylor Made Farm
Allison Cropper – Morehead State University – Denali Stud
Morgan Gustin – University of Maine – Trackside Farm
Alisa Gutierrez – Colorado State University – Shawnee Farm
Holly Hersey – University of Maine – Valkyre Stud
Sara Holtz – University of Idaho – Lane’s End Farm/Oak Tree Division
Katie Kingsley – Texas A&M University – Adena Springs
Kaylee Layton – Utah State University – Lane’s End Farm/Oak Tree Division
Catherine Messerly – Virginia Tech University – Margaux Farm
Stevie Mirrop – Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College – Dixiana Farm
Mackayla Nelson – Texas A&M University, Commerce – Castleton Lyons
Katherine Ott – University of California, Davis – Crestwood Farm
Kendra Relyea – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo – Pin Oak Stud
Hannah Rolle – Oklahoma State University – Monticule Farm
Daniel Schmidt – Southern Illinois University, Carbondale – Mill Ridge Farm
Megan Sullivan – Colorado State University – Indian Creed Farm
Katie Tyndall – North Carolina State University – Timber Town Stables
Jessica Woods – Morehead State University – Shawhan Place

Best of luck to our Spring of 2017 graduates!

 

Congratulations, Spring 2017 KTFMC Scholarship Winner, Holly Hersey!

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The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club (KTFMC) awards one Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) intern a Management Award each session.  This award recognizes an intern for their hard work, professionalism, and dedication to the industry.  The award includes a cash prize as well as an opportunity to shadow an industry professional of the intern’s choosing for the week following their internship.  Holly Hersey was recently announced as the KTFMC scholarship winner for the Spring of 2017.  Congratulations, Holly!

Fall 2016 KEMI Graduates

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Congratulations to our Fall of 2016 Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) graduates!

Lauren Bedell – Post University – Monticule Farm

Taylor Breeding – University of Arkansas – Taylor Made Farm

Hannah Brehm – Texas A&M University – Three Chimneys Farm

Lauren Brunn – University of Findlay – WinStar Farm

Jessica Colling – California State University, Fresno – Indian Creek Farm

Sarah Davidson – Washington State University – Three Chimneys Farm

Tracey Fischer – University of Queensland (Australia ) – Trackside Farm

Sarah-Jane Fish – University of Queensland (Australia) – Valkyre Stud

Elizabeth Fitzgerald – Oregon State University – Denali Stud

Ji Hoon Hyun – Jeju University (South Korea) – Silver Springs Stud

Annette Lokkesmoe – University of Wisconsin, River Falls – Margaux Farm

Lauren Maupin – Tarleton State University – Shawnee Farm

Shannon O’Hair – Iowa State University – Indian Creek Farm

Alexandria Phillipson – Washington State University – WinStar Farm

Marcelo Rizo Patron – University of Kentucky – Stone Farm

Jessica Sears – Washington State University – Silver Springs Stud

Katie Snyder – Southern Utah University – Pin Oak Stud

Emily Spengler – University of Georgia – Adena Springs

Caroline Spieker – University of Maryland – Ashford Stud

Allie Tamouzian – California State University, Fresno – Ashford Stud

Isabella Vieira – University of Missouri – Dixiana Farm

Erica Yopp – Berry College – Lane’s End/Oak Tree Division

Best of luck to our Fall 2016 graduates!

KEMI announces Fall 2016 interns

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The Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) is pleased to welcome 23 interns for the Fall of 2016 session:

Lauren Bedell – Post University

Taylor Breeding – University of Arkansas

Hannah Brehm – Texas A&M University

Lauren Brunn – University of Findlay

Jessica Colling – California State University, Fresno

Sarah Davidson – Washington State University

Tracey Fischer – University of Queensland, Australia

Sarah-Jane Fish – University of Queensland – Australia

Elizabeth Fitzgerald – Oregon State University

Ji Hoon Hyun – Jeju University, South Korea

Annette Lokkesmoe – University of Wisconsin, River Falls

Maira Martinez – Texas A&M University

Lauren Maupin – Tarleton State University

Shannon O’Hair – Iowa State University

Alexandria Phillipson – Washington State University

Marcelo Rizo Patron – University of Kentucky

Jessica Sears – Washington State University

Katie Snyder – Southern Utah University

Emily Spengler – University of Georgia

Caroline Spieker – University of Maryland

Allie Tamouzian – California State University, Fresno

Isabella Vieira – University of Missouri

Erica Yopp – Berry College

Welcome interns!

Congratulations, Spring 2011 Michelle Fuerniss Scholarship Winner, Jake Lederman!

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The Michell Fuerniss Scholarship Fund has been established to benefit one commendable KEMI intern each session.  The scholarship fund was created to honor the memory of Michelle Fuerniss, a young Central Kentucky woman who was devoted to the Thoroughbred industry. Jake Lederman was selected to receive the award as recognition of his work ethic, community involvement, and his dedication to the care of horses.  Congratulations, Jake!