On The Trail with Coco van den Bergh
Written by: Lily Weinacht< Back to Articles
Coco van den Bergh saw her first pair of Wrangler jeans and a Western saddle when she came to the United States as a college exchange student from Holland. Today, the 51-year-old is a breakaway roper in the RMPRA, making her home near Ferron, Utah, at the base of the La Sal Mountains, happily ensconced in the rodeo and Western lifestyle.
Coco started riding English as a child, first learning to ride bareback on a pony. “In Holland, kids usually go to a stable and ride ponies, and a fun thing they do is give you coins or money, and if you’re able to keep that money between your bum and your horse, you can spend it at their candy store,” she says. Her mother and grandmother both rode horses, and though Coco didn’t have her own horse until she moved to the U.S., she rode horses for friends, including a black Arabian stallion. “I did dressage and jumping, but the most wonderful thing is I lived at the coast, and you can ride your horse through the forest to the beach and go swimming with your horse.”
All of the disciplines Coco rode gave her a horsemanship foundation that made it easy to start riding Western, and the rodeo community was quick to show her the ropes. “The people are so friendly, and they treat you like you’re a part of their family. It’s so pleasant to go, and it’s fun and educational,” says Coco. “I love to watch human and equine athletes perform. I’ve been an athlete my whole life — I used to fence and figure skate, but horses are my whole life. That’s what I live for.”
A love of learning brought Coco to Utah, where she did her research for one of her two master’s degrees in geology, but she stayed for the Western lifestyle. She earned a welding degree taking evening classes, and she’s also tried her hand — and feet — at ballet, field hockey, surfing, sailing, and skiing. Coco was even on the college fencing team at her university in Holland and University of Wisconsin-Madison, competing with other schools much like any other college sport. Coco finished her second master’s degree in geology at University of Wisconsin-Madison at the request of ExxonMobil, where she worked for a year. “It means so much more when you see the landscape and understand the carbonate rocks, or fluvial or volcanic. I just love it (geology) because I love nature. I’ve found Indian arrowheads and pottery, and I love the wildlife you see out in the middle of nowhere by yourself. After that (ExxonMobil) I started my own business as a geologist doing research for oil companies, but the income was too inconsistent, so I got the job I have now so I could live the Western lifestyle.”
Coco purchased her very first horse in 1996 after moving to Utah, and once she’d run a few chutes for friends, she wanted to back into the box herself. She learned to team rope first before switching to breakaway roping. The first rodeo she entered was in Salina, Utah, and Coco even went to a Stran Smith roping clinic. She has four quarter horses, several of which are bred by Mary Journigan of the K Cross Ranch in Lamoille, Nevada. “My partner, Brad Richman, is a cowboy, and he takes my horses for five months and does nothing but cowboy on them and get them broke for two summers. After that, I take them over and cowboy on them myself because I help the local ranchers.” Coco met Brad in the mountains where he was herding cows and she was helping the local ranchers, and they cemented their friendship looking for several horses that got loose. Coco also welds on the ranches when needed and takes much of her vacation time to work cattle with local ranchers. “I cowboy on my horses for two years before I rope on them. It takes a lot of years to make a good horse, and I get nothing but compliments about them.” She’s especially excited about her 3-year-old gelding, Charlie, whom she started breakaway roping off of in the last few months. “I went to two Clinton Anderson clinics and put that foundation on him, and Todd Fitch put three months on him. My goal is to make it to the RM (RMPRA finals) by basically training this horse all by myself.” Steve Young has also trained a few of Coco’s horses and helped her with the team roping. Brady Ramone works with her in the breakaway, while Coco says the Mascaros, Clowards, Webers, and Foxes have become like family. Her own family, who live in Holland, love that she rodeos, and her mom comes to visit for a month every summer.
In 2012, Coco’s horse training earned her a spot in the credits of Disney’s John Carter, a sci-fi movie that she worked on in Moab, Utah. “I worked for three weeks training the horses and then training the actors how to ride. There were five horses from Hollywood, and then a whole herd of horses from Washington.” One of the horses Coco trained — the backup horse to the lead horse from Hollywood — starred in the movie, and she also trained them to accept riders jumping on and off their backs at a lope. “It was so cool, and I got such nice friends out of it too.”
Along with her horses, Coco runs a small herd of Corriente cattle, which she raises for roping. “It takes time for them to grow horns, so in the meantime, I breakaway on them, and when they’re ready to team rope, they’re already broke in and they run nice and straight. It’s so much easier on the head horse.” She ropes at least four times a week at friends’ arenas, or the indoor arena in town. She’s now the branch manager of a laboratory that analyzes coal and water, and Coco uses her breaks to rope the dummy in the bed of her truck. “I have that Jackie Crawford DVD Elevate, and that’s made a huge difference. I met her at a clinic in Utah one day, and last year I went to her house for a week to rope. Jackie Crawford and Jake Barnes are my heroes and role models.
“My whole life is horses and roping and rodeo,” says Coco, who’s entering her third season in the RMPRA. “This year, my goal is to make it to the RM finals, and then go to the Rehab Productions open breakaway roping during the NFR in Las Vegas. Another goal is to show people that it doesn’t matter how old you are. Live life to the fullest and make your dreams come true by setting goals, creating a plan, and working hard. Believe in yourself and go for it.”