Advanced Leaders Talk Cross Country Day at Millbrook

Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by Jenni Autry. Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by Jenni Autry.

An EN reader commented this afternoon that “Colleen is on fire!” — an accurate assessment of our overnight leader considering all the success she’s had this year with Covert Rights, her 9-year-old homebred Clydesdale/Thoroughbred gelding. After Colleen Rutledge and “CR” made an impressive four-star debut at this year’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, they went on to place third in the inaugural Land Rover Great Meadow International CIC3* in July.

Winning this hefty Millbrook Advanced division isn’t the big goal for CR at this point in his season, but it would be a nice cherry on top to what has been a stellar past few months for this pair. The big dance will come next month at Burghley, where CR will make his overseas debut over one of the toughest courses in the world. Considering the big ask that’s ahead of them, Colleen said she couldn’t have asked for a better cross country trip today (one of just two that made the optimum time).

“He was spot on. It’s great when you run a course that looks big when you walk it but then doesn’t feel big at all when you ride it,” Colleen said. “I wasn’t kicking for time. I went out thinking I would see how he’s feeling and let him gallop around. He just has such a ground-covering gallop. He reads questions so quickly now, so we wasted very little time. He feels fantastic, and I’m thrilled with him.”

Now Colleen and CR look ahead to Marc Donovan’s show jumping course tomorrow. The fact that he averages two rails down over Marc’s courses dropped him outside the top 10 in EN data analyst Maggie Deatrick’s predictions (Maggie and Divine Comedy also jumped clear around Advanced today!), and Colleen said she has been diligently working on the show jumping with U.S. team show jumping coach Silvio Mazzoni — valuable training she can now access thanks to being named to her first USEF training list.

“I’m trying to get CR to take a bit of a different shape in the air,” Colleen said. “I had a lesson with Silvio last week where he gave me some good suggestions. Whatever happens tomorrow happens. I’m just going to go ride what I can ride. I want to see if I can leave him alone to do his job and see if he does it better without my help. Then I go overseas and keep practicing my homework so he can continue to be better.”

Colleen does not have a rail in hand — just 1 penalty separates her from second-placed Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless — so any poles will prove costly. We’d like to think EN karma has helped Colleen and CR get this far — remember EN talent spotted this horse as a 6-year-old three years ago — and we’re sending them all the karma once again for a clear round over Marc’s course in tomorrow’s finale.

Maya Black and Doesn't Play Fair. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Maya Black, sitting in third place after a double clear round with Jon and Dawn Dofelmier’s Doesn’t Play Fair (another horse EN talent spotted!), has also been diligently working on delivering consistency across all three phases and said she thinks the fact that “Cody” ran cross country today will help him be less spooky and more rideable in show jumping tomorrow.

“I’m going to go in there and try to ride him the best that I can and try to stay out of his way,” Maya said. “I’ve heard that it can be a little spooky in that ring for show jumping, and spooking is his MO in the show jumping. After running cross country today, I think he’ll be a little bit more settled.”

This is Maya’s first trip to Millbrook, and she said the entire experience has been a wonderful one. “It’s absolutely beautiful and a really gorgeous area,” Maya said. “The type of grass reminds me of being home in Washington a little bit. I’ve ridden some of Tremaine’s courses on the West Coast (at Aspen Farms and Inavale), and you could see his stamp on the course in the construction and how it’s laid out.”

Maya said she wasn’t sure how Cody would handle the hills — and fitness has been a work in progress with this 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding — but they ultimately emerged as the only other combination to make the time aside from Colleen and CR. That’s particularly noteworthy considering no one has made the time in the Advanced division at this event since 2011.

“My goal this year has been trusting him and letting him jump out of stride, especially to the galloping fences,” Maya said. “For me, I’ve been needing to improve on that to make his job easier. I wasn’t necessarily going out to make time by any means, but my goal was to try to ride the best I could while also work on trusting him and letting him jump out of stride as much as possible.”

The culmination of bolstering Cody’s fitness and trusting him to jump out of stride will come at this year’s Dutta Corp Fair Hill International, which Maya plans to target to settle unfinished businesses after falling on cross country last year. “I was careful down the hills, but I let him gallop up the hills to see where we were fitness-wise,” she said. “I’m always looking to improve his fitness, and I know I need to trust him and be more efficient in my pace.”

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We’re in the Land of No Cell Reception here at Millbrook, so I’m still trying to catch up with Kim Severson, who is sitting in second place after picking up 3.2 time penalties in Fernhill Fearless’s cracking return to the Advanced level following his coffin bone injury at the World Equestrian Games last year. If the Reception Gods smile down on us, I’ll update this post with Kim’s comments.

In the meantime, read the full report on all the action from this afternoon’s Advanced cross country at this link. Then stay tuned for much more from #MillbrookHT. I watched a large chunk of the competition across multiple divisions today — from Intermediate cross country and Junior Training show jumping to Advanced and Preliminary cross country — so a smorgasbord of Who Jumped It Best? is coming your way next.

But for now I need to head to the Competitors’ Party to congratulate the riders on a great day here in New York. Thank you to super secretary Sharyn Antico; scoring wizard Rick Dunkerton; czar of all things Steve Blauner; hostess with the mostess Gloria Callen; and all the wonderful volunteers, riders, owners and horses who made this day possible. Go Millbrook. Go Eventing.

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