EN contributor and good friend Katie Lindsay was kind enough to send us a recap of Colleen Rutledge’s contribution to the USEA Area IV Annual Meeting. The report is courtesy of our friends at the USEA Area IV Website.
From Katie Lindsay:
Nora Endzel and I. the euphemistically named “USEA Area IV Directors of Communication,” (read Web and Newsletter drones), attended the Area IV Annual Meeting on March 24. We compared notes afterwards and agreed that, 1), the evening’s guest speaker, Colleen Rutledge, is both impressive and an inspiration, and 2). Colleen’s speech contained words of wisdom appropriate for anyone involved in any sporting endeavor, specifically in this case eventing. Nora is an active amateur eventer who juggles a full time job and law school in addition to successfully competing her OTTB Nila, (Daddy’s Girl). I retired from both my profession in the Mental Health field and competing, and concentrated on being an organizer and a USEF and FEI official.
The attendees at the meeting represented most every facet of our sport – riders, trainers, coaches, officials, organizers, parents, breeders, facility owners and volunteers along with many Pony Clubbers – and Colleen’s tale touched chords in everyone in different ways. Following is Nora’s recap of the evening from a competitive rider’s point of view followed by a couple of paragraphs from me on why I find Colleen a fascinating human being.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Colleen Rutledge last weekend at the USEA Area IV Annual Meeting and listening to her speak. My fellow website/newsletter editor Katie Lindsay had a few extra seats at her table with Colleen and invited me to join them for dinner. Because of this, not only did I hear her speak to the group at her allotted time. but I also got to see pictures of her horses and family on her iPad, listen-in as she discussed her other up and coming horses, and hear her candidly describe in a really funny and self-deprecating manner the challenges of competing an upper-level horse.
But you, dear reader, are less interested in my star-struck moments, (a recurring theme from previous entries such as my recap of the USEA Annual Meeting and the High Performance Training Sessions in Ocala, FL), and more interested in what Colleen had to say. What struck me the most about her is how she gives absolute credit all the time to Luke, her “freak of nature” horse. She loves Luke madly and she’s not afraid to show it. As an Adult Amateur who competes a horse that, as my trainer says, “I couldn’t make stop if I tried,” I understand fully how much credit is due to our equine partners. Colleen is too humble though. She has quite obviously developed such a wonderful partnership with Luke that he jumps the Cottesmore Leap at Burghley from a long spot without a second look! And she has the pictures to prove it.
Luke wasn’t always destined for upper-level eventing greatness, but Colleen saw something special in him and worked hard to develop that. How you say? Well, Colleen’s training philosophy includes not limiting your horse, but rather letting him set the limits of his comfort. She never tells a horse he can’t do something, but rather tries to allow him to figure out that he can. She believes in making mistakes while training to teach your horses to think for themselves. Even on a 4-star course, you should be able to make a mistake and have your horse say “It’s OK. I’ve got this.” Not being afraid to make mistakes while training builds a more confident horse who can think on his feet, an essential skill in eventing.
Another takeaway from Colleen was how strenuously she advocates for correct position of the rider at all times. She said that if your trainers are not constantly emphasizing correct position in all three phases, then they are doing you a disservice. She describes how, on the last day of a big four star competition, going into show jumping with a tired horse, as a rider it is her job to be as correct and effective with her position over fences to help her horse jump as efficiently as possible. As someone who struggles with correct position and its effect on my horse’s balance, I can fully appreciate this point. We must allow our horses to think for themselves, surely, but correct rider position is the key to helping and not hindering them.
Colleen is quite open about her flaws as a rider and it was fun to watch her cringe a bit at a stadium photo where she insists she dropped her shoulders at the fence. (It looked pretty darn good to me!) But this underscores a more important point about Colleen. She has an absolutely humble outlook on her success and is really open about her quest for improvement. She knows she has a lot to work on in the dressage, and her commitment to taking near constant lessons with Linda Zang while juggling running a farm, a business, and a family show just how serious she is in pursuing her goal of continued success with Luke.
Her horse care philosophy is simple. You likely won’t find lots of trendy therapy equipment in her barn. Colleen is a BIG believer in bodywork for her horses, especially chiropractic and massage. Luke gets regular adjustments, and she really has seen a benefit in that.
Colleen fielded questions from the group about topics such as her secrets to horse management, (chiropractic): the easiest way to get to Rolex. (buy a ticket!): to how did Luke get his name, (he came with it. She admitted that she didn’t even know Shiraz was a type of wine). Overall, it was really great to meet a 4 star rider and an Olympic hopeful who is humble, committed, talented, and not afraid to tell a group full of strangers how much she loves that little freak of nature horse of hers. Just don’t ask her to measure him.
To say that Colleen Rutledge is focused and intense is like saying Zenyatta was a pretty decent race horse. What I found fascinating about her went way beyond these two characteristics. Our sport at the “elite” level is peopled with focused and intense individuals. What sets Colleen apart from the pack is how centered she is, and what a realistic view she has of how she fits into the life she leads. In a recent interview in Practical Horseman, she acknowledged that humor is something she relies on in all situations, laughing at herself as hard as she does at the world around her. This comes across in a healthy and refreshingly self-deprecating way. She is also outspoken and doesn’t have the time or the inclination to play the games that many of her peers do.
Life is not a bed of roses for Colleen. Two of her three children have serious health issues, and she readily admits that her “other” life with horses is what keeps her sane. Her fabulous horse Shiraz, “Luke,” described by her longtime coach, Jimmy Wofford as both wonderful and “unconventional,” is wildly talented and difficult – and she loves him wholeheartedly. She credits the support of her husband, Brian, and her mother, Sallie Morris, a small animal veterinarian, along with a devoted circle of friends with enabling her to follow her dream with this horse.
Colleen does dare to dream, from the mundane to the “ice skate” variety so named because they would probably come true when Hell freezes over! Her 2011 first ever trip to Rolex in any capacity ended up with a 12th place finish. Luke next skipped around Burghley last fall, and things are on track for Badminton this spring. Brian is her chief fund raiser, and they have all worked very hard at it. Being not included on any of the 2012 USET training or grant lists was something that caused quite a furor to the eventing “man on the street.” In response, Colleen has quietly taken the bit in her teeth and forged ahead on her own path. Did I also mention determined and brave to her list of positive qualities? Yes, she dares to dream, but keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground whilst so doing.
I am grateful that this smart and private person let me have a peek at what makes her tick. She is extraordinary, and one can’t help but be a fan. I know she now has many new ones in Area IV!
Donations to help fund Colleen’s Badminton dream can be made through the American Horse Trials Foundation or Colleen’s website http://colleenrutledgeeventing.com.
Thanks for reading!