Colleen and Luke at Plantaion, photo by Samantha
Americans Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz have just jumped a clear round at the Pau CCI**** which makes them four for four, having already accrued clears across country at Kentucky, Burghley and Luhmuhlen CCI**** in the last couple of years. I spoke to Colleen shortly after her round and asked her how the French course compares to the others,
“The course rode really well; when I got my lines it was fantastic. This is definitely a wicked course, and with the footing as it is, there were a ton of questions. This was definitely a big, nasty course – the fences themselves didn’t look big walking them, but they ride so much bigger because the terrain is so different from anything I’ve ever done. The number 3 fence was literally almost straight up hill about 30 feet, and when I say straight up – we walked up it on hands and knees a couple of times because it was so steep and we were sliding backwards so badly. That was the third fence and Luke got up there and overjumped the jump, and we had a corner on a bending line at the bottom of the hill so rather than risk the oops I just went around and took the long route. It was a rollercoaster of a ride; it was great but this course was testing all of my weak points – I like to see my spot from way off and this course wouldn’t let me do it, I was constantly coming round corners looking for the spot and trusting that it was going to be there. A lot of these combinations are not just turning one way or another it’s changing direction through the middle; it’s the first time I’ve ever had an A,B, C, D and E and that was the first water and it was number six on the course, and it’s a humdinger – a duck that you had to jump offset to another duck on a very short stride, then a hard ninety-degree turn and straight on down to a huge drop log into the water, then a change of direction in the water and a huge bank, followed by a long one stride to a good jump! I’ve never had to jump something like that and looking back on it, it was great fun but I remember riding it going ‘OH.MY.LORD!’ Some of the other stuff, as long as I could get Luke’s eye on the next jump, rode great, but some of the stuff just didn’t happen fast enough. I couldn’t get him turned fast enough to get his eye on it. Luke was fantastic – he was a little overly bold, he jumped past a couple of distances and the hills were so big that we couldn’t really do anything about it so I had to take a long route rather than get ourselves into trouble but all in all….great fun, absolutely great fun!”
Colleen told me that the combination of a less than ideal preparation coming into Pau, as well as the conditions, and the trouble the course was causing, all factored into her playing it slightly on the safe side this time,
“He felt fantastic. I was a little conservative, well, I was a lot conservative on time because the ground was so wet this morning and horses were sliding all over the place in the CIC**, and having had such a bad run at Richland and then a good run at Plantation it was still in my head that we might have some issues, so I was very conservative on our speed. He jumped fantastically, I’m thrilled with how he jumped and how bold he was, I’m just more mad at myself because it was my problem not his.
I ended up taking more long routes than I’ve ever taken in my entire life because he was just jumping out of his skin, and I knew this course would be really, really tough for him because he’s great when he can see what’s coming up but there were so many hidden fences, we were constantly turning and having to change direction, and he would often jump past our line so we would have to take the long route rather than get an unfortunate oops, but when it was straight going he was phenomenal. I’m bummed with myself because there’s about ten places that I could have shaved off some time but I can’t really be upset with Luke for that, that was my problem not his. The ground was definitely a bit slicker than I was prepared for so that made me a little more conservative because I really like to finish with numbers not letters, and I’ve just seen Mark Todd and Mary King fall, and they were both horse and rider falls. The course doesn’t look huge but it is so twisty and turny, and if this is going to be what the WEGs look like and the WEG is going to be bigger, then it’s going to be very interesting.”
The best news is that Luke came out of it feeling great according to Colleen, even if his rider is already planning his winter training program!
“Luke feels fantastic, he wasn’t even tired at the end of the course, he was cool in about five minutes and that’s kind of why I’m mad at myself because he wasn’t even tired! I had plenty of horse left in the tank, plenty of horse, and so I’m bummed with myself but it is what it is. I am thrilled really, he jumped fantastically, he ran fantastically, it was more my issue which of course I can get over, I can work on that. I’ve already texted Jimmy (Wofford) and told him my goal is to learn to put my eye on a fence and to keep coming around a corner to it, and I will learn to take care of this, and to learn to get Luke’s eye on the fence earlier. It’s always great to have homework, and I’m so happy that I get to show-jump tomorrow.”
Colleen told me that she was surprised by the amount of atmosphere at Pau, that she’d expected it to be quieter like Luhmuhlen, but “they’re cheering you all the way around and there’s definitely a lot of party here!” I hope that she gets to celebrate ticking off yet another milestone with her incredible little horse. We’d talked a couple of months ago and Colleen had mused that she wasn’t sure if she would ever do Adelaide because of the huge distance involved, despite her fondness for having a full set of things. The plan was to complete Badminton this spring, but they re-routed to Luhmuhlen upon it’s cancellation, and I know from following Colleen’s Facebook page that she’s already making plans to go there next spring. I ask her if perhaps she’ll change her mind about going down under, “I’ll answer that question after Badminton, we’ll see how our spring goes.”
Massive Congratulations to Colleen and her entire team, and thank you to her for talking to Eventing Nation on this and so many occasions. I wonder if the knowledgable readership can help Rutledge Eventing out – Colleen’s husband Brian posed the question earlier on twitter, and I don’t know the answer and so far we’ve had no replies – has any other US horse and rider combination completed four CCI**** without cross country jumping penalties? Thanks for reading, Eventing Nation, and Go (Rutldege) Eventing!