Mike Cooper

 1943 - 2022

After a long period of ill health, Mike Cooper very sadly passed away on 6th March at the age of 79. The carriage driving world has many memories of Mike; his driving skill, his humour and kindness and his love of a good party!

In the 60’s, he was a very successful rally car driver obviously paving the way for the thrill of driving trials that became his main interest later on. Mike had a lifelong passion for horses enjoying hunting and racing in his early years.

His foray into carriage driving was with a local friend who had a Welsh Section D called Cherry who they broke to harness and enjoyed driving around the lanes and attending every BDS meet they could find in the 1970’s. Mike fell in love with Cherry and driving and, after a lot of persuasion, managed to buy her. They went on to have so much fun and success winning many rosettes including several BDS classes.

Learning from one of the best in the business, Sallie Walrond, Cherry turned her hoof to the new sport of driving trials and Mike became a member of WPEC although one horsepower clearly wasn’t proving enough of a thrill. With the support of great friends in the driving community and after buying the unrestored Lorna Doone Coach he found himself in Ireland buying a team of Welsh Section D’s previously owned by John Richards, much to his family’s amazement.

In the days before class progression, I clearly remember the doyennes of the team driving class gathering to watch Mr C. at one of his first national events in the mid 1980s, all with arms folded and sceptical faces. After making a great success of his first outings with the impressive team of cobs, he was quickly accepted into the fold and parties at the ‘Coops Troops’ horsebox and caravan became firm favourites with everyone. Mike would chat with anyone he encountered whether a groom, owner or driver and share a joke and a smile.

Mike’s daughter Amanda and son Stephen were key members of the team and the whole family attended the travelling circus of driving events in the 80s and 90s, making many friends thanks to Mike’s larger-than-life character and skill with the horses.

In 1986, after a meteoric rise, Mike was selected to represent Great Britain at the World Four In Hand Championships held at Ascot. This was televised on the BBC World of Sport programme; hard to believe now.

During that time, Mike not only built a successful business at Walsham Mill, he also founded the East Anglian Carriage Driving group and based the first events at the Euston estate. Amanda remembers that this was a family affair and riding her ponies around to collect the scores, her dad building ‘hazards’ with renowned course builder Tish Roberts and her brother Stephen along with a huge team of volunteers and friends.

Mike’s first wife Carole was secretary and the club went from strength to strength thanks to his enthusiasm and leadership. After the team of cobs was sold, Mike moved to Dorset, set up Lulworth driving centre competing a young team of Gelderlanders, with the indomitable old Welsh cob Cherry and others teaching so many the art of driving.

Mike went on to establish the Lulworth Driving Trials and Dunster Driving Trials, adding to his many pioneering HDT accolades. He retired from competition in the 1990’s but took up judging and stewarding with the same Cooper zeal alongside his wife Vivian.

As a competitor, I would regularly be clocked home at the end of the marathon by him and we would share an enjoyable chat about the course.

In his latter years, Mike enjoyed the power of technology and connected with old driving friends via Facebook and Zoom. His experience and character always shone through in his comments and encouragement.

Mike will be remembered for his huge personality and generosity of spirit. His true love of the sport has left a legacy, which has been enjoyed for decades and no doubt will continue to do so. Sincerest condolences to his wife Vivian and his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Mike’s funeral will be held at Gorleston Crematorium in Norfolk on Thursday, 31st March, 2022, at 1pm followed by a celebration of his life at The Pier Hotel at 2pm.


Liz Harcombe