In June of 2012 an unemployed Texas air-conditioner repairman named Carl Wayne Cooper made a startling announcement. “I am planning to ride a horse around the world and intend to complete the trip in 1000 days.”
He also revealed that he dreamed of setting a Guinness Book of World Records.
“Someone will have to go along to make sure it’s documented so it will be eligible for the Guinness World Records book.”
In addition to knowing nothing about equestrian travel, Cooper was equally unaware that the Guinness website states, “We do not endorse speed records for travelling over large distances on horseback because of concerns over the welfare of the animals involved.”
Cooper did not own a horse or saddle. He had no money and had not planned his route. He had no idea how he would travel overseas, even if he was lucky enough to reach his first goal of San Diego, California. Instead of resolving these basic problems he took two unusual steps. Cooper announced that he had mysteriously become a “cowboy preacher”. He also broadcast an appeal for help via the internet. “I am currently seeking sponsors to achieve this historic, monumental ride.”
Even though Cooper lacked any of the knowledge needed to undertake even the most elementary equestrian journey, his shocking absence of training and preparation did not deter an American woman named Megan Gist Carter Dubé from encouraging the ill-equipped preacher to set off. This was an unfortunate meeting as Dubé had attempted to complete several journeys within the USA but had invariably failed for a variety of reasons. Yet her lack of experience did not discourage Dubé from taking the initiative to contact Cooper. After they spoke for several hours, Dubé wrote on the internet, “called in all I knew to offer Cooper assistance….started hooking each of them up with Cooper via Facebook …gave him advice about border crossing and resources to help him along the way”.
The grateful Cooper responded, "Megan Gist Carter Dubé educated me to the fact that I need to acquire a horse from every country that I enter. So thank you Megan, I am listening."
One of the most ill-fated equestrian journeys then began.
Having had a saddle donated, Cooper adopted an unsuitable horse from the Humane Society of North Texas. The three-year-old stallion (right) was underweight and barely broke to ride. This didn’t keep Cooper from setting off in 100 degree July heat. Unable to carry the 200 pound rider, the small horse collapsed after only fifteen miles. “He lay down with me still in the saddle,” Cooper told a reporter.
Determined to proceed, Cooper asked another local equine rescue organisation to supply him with a new mount. Having obtained a mare from the unsuspecting organisation, Cooper proceeded to ride the animal so hard that on the second day she too collapsed. The cowboy preacher told a reporter that the mare was “tired.” He then published a plea on the internet. If his journey was to succeed, “I need a real piss cutter.”
Cooper’s third horse lasted 300 miles, until it developed such severe saddle sores that the animal was too ill to continue. Cooper blamed this accident on the donated saddle which had been given to him by a custom saddle-maker in Texas.
Then it got worse.
Having obtained his fourth mount, Cooper had managed to reach the neighbouring state of New Mexico. While travelling through the desolate desert country near Alamogordo, Cooper came upon a cattle guard. According to a spokesman from the White Sands Missile Range Fire Department, which had responded to Cooper’s 911 call, the inept traveller had attempted to “walk or lead” the horse across the dangerous cattle guard. The horse broke its leg and had to be shot.
Cooper had now lost four horses in two months. But he still wasn’t done.
He caught a ride to Albuquerque in the hope of getting another horse. But his antics were becoming widely known. The Albuquerque Journal, and Horse Talk, the international equestrian news service, had reported the death and injuries of the horses. Despite the release of this alarming news, a local rancher loaned Cooper a fifth horse. A week later it was returned, after Cooper claimed, “it had kidney problems.”
The rancher loaned Cooper the sixth horse used during the doomed journey. By now Cooper had dropped any reference to the Guinness Record, claiming instead that he was now making the journey so as “to do the Lord’s work and help abused horses.”
Before he set off, Cooper had predicted, "The media attention to this ride will be enormous." He was right, but for reasons he could never have foreseen.
An international public outcry had begun when it was discovered that Cooper was destroying horses in his cross-country trip. Members of the Long Riders’ Guild, animal welfare organizations, reporters in the United States and overseas, state police and equine welfare organisations all pooled their resources and tracked Cooper’s movements.
Despite a growing wave of condemnation, Cooper remained defiant, until it was discovered that he had falsified his wife’s death. In an early effort to generate emotional and financial support, Cooper posted online that he had lost his wife to cancer. After the scandal broke, his wife suddenly announced that she was in fact very much alive. Additionally, even though Cooper had falsely told the press that he was a widower, the couple was still married.
When asked to explain the martial discrepancy, Cooper told the press, “I did that before I was ordained and I forgot about it. I didn’t want people to know my business. If you say you’re a widower, they tend to leave you alone.”
Despite the string of injured or dead horses, Cooper refused to accept any responsibility. "I'm doing the Lord's work out here," he told the press. But with his every step now being monitored, and his supply of free horses having been removed, Cooper returned to Texas in defeat.
Before setting off Carl Wayne Cooper had announced his intention to set a world record. That wish had been fulfilled, as he had crippled or killed more horses in the shortest possible distance than anyone in modern history.
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