Virginia Horseman Bay Cockburn Passes Away

Reprinted with permission from the National Steeplechase Association.

 

Bay Crosby Cockburn, 57, a champion steeplechase rider and widely respected horse trainer in the Middleburg area, died on Dec. 25 at the Loudoun Hospital Cornwall campus in Leesburg of complications from melanoma.

Cockburn, who lived in Unison, Va. was seriously injured in a fall in 1998 that left him a quadriplegic, but he continued to pursue his love of horses until his death.

A natural horseman and raconteur, Cockburn was born at home on Glebe Farm in Shuckburgh, England, on May, 18, 1956. His mother, Anne Blaker Cockburn, and late father, Edmund Crosby Cockburn, were avid foxhunters with the Warwickshire Hunt as well as breeders of steeplechase horses.

Educated at Dunchurch-Winton Hall and Worksop College in England, Cockburn also had a great passion for racing and foxhunting. He apprenticed with his uncle and aunt, Fred and Mercy Rimell, in their champion-filled steeplechase barn as an amateur jockey before heading to Sussex where he broke yearlings for Roy Trigg.

At 21, he moved to Ireland and worked for Arthur Moore and won many races under his tutelage. A few years later, Cockburn opened his own training facility on the Curragh and started working as a whipper-in for the Kildare Hounds.

Bay_Cockburn

Photo courtesy of Douglas Lees.

 After spending nine years in Ireland, Bay came to America and eventually landed in Hamilton, Va., at Hillbrook Farm, owned by Dr. Joseph Rogers. Cockburn and Rogers teamed in the hunt field with the Loudoun Hunt and on the point-to-point circuit with Rogers’ stable of horses. A familiar face in the winner’s circle, Cockburn never failed to thrill many a race-goer with his driving finishes or his spectacular falls and re-mounts to win a race against all odds.

He was married to Chrissy Keys in 1989 and they had two children. The couple later divorced.

In 1991, Cockburn was named the Amateur Riders Club of America’s national champion race rider. He also won many local Virginia awards throughout his racing career riding horses he trained himself and for others.

Before his injury, Cockburn raised and trained two highly successful horses originally owned by Gordie Keys of Middleburg. Both horses, later under different ownership, went on to win the Maryland Hunt Cup (Solo Lord in 2001) and Virginia Gold Cup (Ironfist in 2001).

Cockburn loved foxhunting and adored his hounds. He especially enjoyed listening to them as they worked a scent. Riders who trailed behind him always said hunting was rarely dull when Cockburn was in the saddle. He was huntsman to the Loudoun Hunt in Virginia and huntsman for the Goshen Hounds in Maryland for several years until he was made a Master-Huntsman of the Loudoun Hunt West.

Most people would find it virtually impossible to hunt two packs of hounds in two different states while continuing to ride and train steeplechase horses. But to Cockburn, the pace was just perfect.

On April 17, 1998, that pace came to a halt when he fell from his horse on the eve of the Middleburg Bowl point-to-point race. Cockburn took the horse out for a pre-race trot the day before, then found himself regaining consciousness and lying flat on his back under a tree. Many days later, he said he knew he was in grave trouble when he could not push the helmet off his head as he was lying on the ground. He had permanently damaged his spinal cord and broken his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.

Still, Cockburn lived a productive life from his wheelchair that was inspirational to anyone who knew him. He mentored many youngsters over the years and continued training and racing horses with much success.

Survivors include his mother, Anne, and brother Kim, both of Warwickshire, England; his sister, Georgina Neil, of Hay, Australia;, a daughter, Katie, 23, of Long Beach, Miss.; and son Sam, 21, of Starkville, Miss. Cockburn is fondly remembered by Amy Long, his caregiver and friend of ten years and many supportive neighbors in Unison, as well as the entire Keys family.

Contributions in Cockburn’s memory may be made to the Hunt Staff Benefit Foundation (HSBF), P.O. Box 363, Millwood, VA 22646 at http://www.mfha.org.