When you look at Colleen Rutledge’s riding resume, it’s hard to believe she’s only been on the four-star scene since 2011. She’s competed at five of the world’s six four-stars: Rolex, Badminton, Burghley, Pau and Luhmühlen. In fact, she was the first rider to complete them all on the same horse, Shiraz.
Colleen has since brought multiple other horses up to the four-star ranks, most notably her homebred Covert Rights, who completed Rolex and Burghley in 2015, but unfortunately had to be scratched from Rolex this year due to injury.
It’s been a lifetime of hard work and dedication for Colleen, who began riding a 2 years old and joined Pony Club at 8. She balances a loving family with her eventing career, operating Turnabout Farm in Mt. Airy, Maryland, and can often be found riding multiple horses in competition. Colleen was very kind to sit down with EN and answer some of our most pressing questions.
EN: Covert Rights had such a great start to the season this year, but sadly had to be scratched before Rolex. How’s he doing and when can we expect him to be back out and about?
Colleen: “CR is such an awesome pony and it was a bummer to not be able to cap off his spring with a run at Rolex, but these things happen. He is doing well and is progressing through his rehab but as with anything about horses, they’ll go at their own speed.
“He doesn’t understand why we won’t just let him go do whatever he wants. At this point right now, we are quite happy with how things look. He should be back in to full work in the next few months, barring any unforeseen setbacks. We’re just taking this time to go back and re-solidify our basics and fill in any training issues that we can find.”
EN: You had to take a little downtime yourself this summer for some elective surgery in mid-May, but you got back in the saddle in mid-June and were competing again at the Maryland HT II in mid-July. Was there anything in particular that helped you get back in the saddle so quickly?
Colleen: “There wasn’t anything in particular; it was more that I was tired of not doing anything. I don’t take inaction well at all, and I’m lucky to have some really great horses that I can trust to take care of me when I’m floppy. The best way for me to get back to being fitter is to work. I hadn’t planned on being out of the tack for so long, but it is what it is and sometimes you just have to roll with what life gives you. I have a whole new perspective on colic, though.”
EN: Rolex was probably a little disappointing for you this year, between scratching Covert Rights (CR) and a mandatory retirement with Escot 6 (Monkey) on cross country. How have you regrouped and moved ahead this season?
Colleen: “Just getting to Rolex is awesome, but yes, this year wasn’t how we wanted it to go, but that happens. The lows make you appreciate the highs, and this year definitely made it easy to appreciate the good years. But considering everyone walked away in good health, I’m not going to complain.
“I will say that I took a step back after Rolex and began to reevaluate the hows and whys of what happened with both CR and Monkey. We’ve revamped a number of different things and hopefully have come up with some solutions for some of the issues. It’s humbling, but I personally had to evaluate my part in everything and determine what I did, what I could have done and what I can do better in the future.”
EN: Escot 6 and Roulette both had great runs at Richland Park, with Escot 6 (Monkey) in third and Roulette (Rou) in 13th in his first 3*. What’s the future plan for them both?
Colleen: “I am so incredibly proud of both of them. They both were just fabulous, especially on cross country. My short-term plan for them both is to bring them to Fair Hill. Long-term plans will be made after we see how they run Fair Hill, but my gut instincts tell me Rou is going to need at least another CCI3*, as he is only 8 years old and a little slower to mature mentally.”
“Monkey will decide what he wants, but I’m hoping he really wants to see the cross country finish flags in Kentucky next year and jump the colorful poles in the big ring.”
EN: How do you stay organized throughout the weekend of a busy event and stay focused on each horse at the right time?
Colleen: “A. L. E. X. That’s all I have to say about that. Alex Ambelang is my head girl. She is THE reason I can function at the level I do. She can herd cats (me) like a pro. Not only does she take exceptional care of my ponies, but she runs the ship like a well oiled machine and makes sure that I have the time and ability to focus on my jobs. She is a one-in-a-million.”
EN: You have a few other up-and-coming horses in your barn going at Novice, Training, and Preliminary right now. Which are you particularly excited about and who should we be on the lookout for at big events in the near future?
Colleen: “All of my baby ponies are really quite special to me. They’ve all got something that I just love, whether it’s “Paul”’s (Paul just Paul) ridiculously flamboyant self both on the flat and over fences as well as his pocket pony personality, or “Pickle”’s (Your A to Z’s) game-face mustache and phenomenal canter. It could be “Conn”’s (Confidence Game) exuberance for everything and adorable pony nose. It’s so hard to pick just one to single out. Paul is definitely my jaw dropper, but he’s still trying to figure out if he wants to play this game.”
EN: Your mother just got back into competing, your husband runs your social media, and your daughters ride as well. Tell us a little about how eventing is a family affair for you and what it means to you to have your whole family’s support.
Colleen: “I’m so incredibly lucky not only to be doing something that I love, but that I have the amazing support from my family. Everyone of them has made sacrifices to get me where I am, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without them.”
EN: You’ve become very accomplished internationally now, having completed all of the Northern Hemisphere four-star events plus representing the U.S. on the Nations Cup team at Aachen in 2015. What else is on your career bucket list?
Colleen: “There are so many things that I’d like to do, but here are a few: I’d like to actually complete Aachen. It is such an amazing venue, I’m just bummed I didn’t get to finish the cross country course. I would like to repeatedly represent the U.S. at whatever venue they feel I’d be an asset. I’d like to continue to develop a string of four-star horses and not be known for having a specific type of ride, but for being able to get the best out of each and every horse. I’d like to continue to refine and enhance my skill set to improve my horses’ results.”
EN: We’ve noticed that you’re wearing glasses in some recent photos from this season. Are they a new addition? Fellow visually impaired equestrians may be curious to know: Did it take some getting used to riding in glasses and does it make any of the phases more difficult?
Colleen: “I had ridden for years in glasses and had finally gotten contacts in my late teens to correct an astigmatism, but it had become increasingly difficult to manage, mainly because I seem to keep riding in the rain, wind and dust. Having your contacts move as you’re galloping down to the first combination at Rolex Kentucky is not my idea of fun — not at all.
“Richland Park recently was especially hard with my glasses as the weather change was so frequent. As anyone who wears glasses knows, if you’ve been in a cold room and move into a steamy area, your glasses fog right up. As I was galloping down a hill on cross country heading towards the keyhole, we went through a drastic temperature change and my glasses went completely opaque. Not optimal conditions for seeing cross country fences.”
“I had recently been wearing glasses because I had just gone through an evaluation to get LASIK done on my eyes and couldn’t go back to contacts without skewing the results. But now, I am past my surgery, and I am loving being able to see without my glasses or contacts.”
EN: What do you like most about MOJO?
Colleen: “I was introduced to MOJO at Burghley last fall. I’m a horrible skeptic and some guy was telling me this rubbery bracelet was going to help me. ‘Pah. Mmmhmm,’ I said. Well, I put it on and while I was on the airplane flying home, I realized that my left leg wasn’t cramping.
“My left thigh has cramped since I broke my hip a few years ago, and this was the first plane ride where it felt better than tolerable. I also I noticed that my legs weren’t cramping as much when I was sleeping at night. I used to wake up at least once or twice a night, but now my MOJO has allowed me to get a better night’s sleep, which then helps me maintain my energy during the day.”
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