Watching the deer-like Caracole de la Roque lighting up a five-star jump-off track, it’s quickly clear that the French-bred mare has that certain je ne sais quoi.

Although she’s only competed 30 rounds at 1.60m under two riders—France’s Julien Epaillard and current partner, the USA’s Karl Cook—the 12-year-old Selle Français mare has been setting tongues wagging since she moved up to the top level two years ago.

For one thing, her softness across the ground and daisy-cutter gaits could rival a top-moving American hunter. Meanwhile, her large, intelligent eyes, streaming tail, and delicate, perked ears suggest the Anglo-Arabian warmblood character inherited from her father, Zandor (mom is Pocahontas D’Amaury).

“Caracole” is a bit of a minimalist, often competing barefoot and in a hackamore bridle.

And then there’s her speed and ferocity, not unlike a Game of Thrones dragon. The key, Cook says, is that you don’t so much ride Caracole de la Roque as unleash her.

“She’s a very strong-minded horse. That’s a good thing, because when you’re in the ring, when she goes, she’s going,” Cook told Grand Prix.TV, adding that less-death-defying exercises, such as cantering a ground pole, have a tendency to bore the mare. “But her being strong-minded helps you in the ring when you can just channel.”

And if there’s one thing her riders can’t afford to do, it’s get this exceptional horse wrong. Despite her young age, Caracole is already a relative veteran on the championship stage—with, it’s predicted, more titles awaiting her in the years to come.

In 2022, she won the opening class of the 2022 World Equestrian Games with Epaillard, and later helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile under Cook. (The latter rider makes no bones about the fact that she was purchased with the 2024 Paris Olympic Games top of mind.)

One special horse, a duo of talented riders: So when it comes to the numbers, how does Caracole de la Roque’s stats stack up under two of the best in the business? Read on to find out.

“One of the best horses [Epaillard] has ever ridden”

Bred in Caen, in the north of France, by Michel and Alexandrine Hecart, Caracole was initially competed by their daughter, Adeline, and later by Michel. Her unique quality was evident from the start, says Adeline, noting that she “would jump into fire, she has so much character.”

Epaillard took over the reins in October of 2021, and quickly put the pieces together.

When the pair were hot, they were very, very hot.

In October of 2022, Epaillard and Caracole earned five (!) consecutive wins in a row, including the Longines FEI World Cup qualifier in Lyon, the CSI5*-W 1.60m Longines Grand Prix of Lyon, and multiple CSI4* 1.50m–1.55m classes in St. Lô.

One month later, they also won both the 1.50m CSI5*-W grand prix qualifier and the 1.60m Longines FEI World Cup qualifier in Madrid.

“Without a doubt, one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden in my life,” Epaillard said of the sleek bay mare with whom he earned a total of 18 total wins (eight of them grands prix) and $593,603 in prize money.

Their Jumpr stats support that statement.

In 18 total rounds—Caracole de la Roque’s first at the 1.60m level—they averaged 3 faults, jumping clear at 44%. Yet the French pair were both fast and competitive in more than half the rounds they competed at this height, finishing in the top-10 at 56%, and in the top-5 at 50%.

Karl Cook’s Paris 2024 Contender

American rider Karl Cook took over the ride on Caracole in early 2023, and though he characterized trying to follow in Epaillard’s footsteps as “impossible,” success quickly followed.

In July of 2023, the pair won the CSI3* 1.50m Grand Prix of Traverse City in Michigan. Then, they took home the 1.55m CSI3* Agero Grand Prix in September, and the coveted CSI5* 1.60m MLSJ American Gold Cup Grand Prix one week later.

Although they struggled early and became the Team’s drop score during the opening rounds of the Pan American Games in November of 2023, Cook and Caracole recovered for the Final, jumping clear to help Team USA secure the gold medal and an Olympic berth in Paris this summer.

This season has only seen their star rise.

Cook and Caracole started 2024 off with a series of top finishes in Wellington, then went on to put in a solid Nations Cup performance (0/4) and win the CSIO5* 1.60m Grand Prix in Rome in late May.

Moving on to France, they put up the best performance of the day for Team USA, jumping 0/4 at the CSIO5* Nations Cup Barrière in La Baule. Days later, they took 2nd in the 1.60m CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix of La Baule—the only pair to compete in both events—and were just pipped by countryman Kent Farrington and Greya by a tenth of a second.

In total, Cook and Caracole have earned 10 total wins—half of those in grands prix—and pocketed nearly $692,000 in prize money. That’s more than Epaillard earned with Caracole in their slightly longer tenure together, although it should be taken into account that the then 8- and 9-year-old mare was still new to the top sport, and had been turned out in the field for a full eight months during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Even still, Cook has Caracole’s numbers clearly trending in the right direction.

In a dozen rounds together at 1.60m, they average just 2.4 faults, jumping clear an impressive 58% of the time. Like Epaillard before him, Cook has also proven his ability to make the most of the mare’s natural foot speed: When he qualifies for the jump-off, the pair finishes in the top-10 and top-5 a whopping 88% and 62% of the time, respectively.

“It’s kind of just [about] directing her and holding on,” Cook continued in his interview with Grand Prix.TV. “I also have to be very prepared, because she’s so fast, that everything happens so fast.

“It’s really important for me to just not control her, because it’s impossible,” he said.  “If you try to control her, for me, you misunderstand her.”

Follow Caracole de la Roque on Jumpr!