(The Equiery • October 2011)

Colleen Rutledge of Turnabout Farm in Mt. Airy just got back from competing at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (September 1-4) as one of six U.S. entries. She finished the event in 37th place aboard her off-the-track Thoroughbred Shiraz (aka Luke or HRH) and was the third highest placing U.S. rider to finish the event. Before tackling this prestigious four-star event, Colleen and horse got the mileage and experience they needed competing at Fair Hill International.

Colleen has competed at FHI for the past three years, both in the two-star and three-star events with Shiraz and her other Advanced horse, Dillon. “If I had not ridden at Fair Hill, I would not have been as prepared for the ground at Burghley as I was,” she said. Colleen added, “The ground at Burghley was a combination of Fair Hill and Stewart, up in New York…up and down.”

She said that sort of ground, not to mention the actual fences, makes it hard for the horses to get into a rhythm on their own. Having ridden the FHI course several times helped Shiraz gain the confidence he needed to perform well over the same sort of terrain at Burghley. “If the horse can handle Fair Hill with that ground and those fences, then they will run better at Rolex and on from there,” Colleen stated.

Colleen traveled to the UK with Shiraz on her own as his “groom.” Which meant she got to stand in the back of the plane with the horses as they were taking off and landing. “It was really cool,” she remarked. While in England, Colleen said she had a lot of time to watch really good riders work really nice horses. She commented that “We breed in this country because we love our horses. Over there, they breed to create athletes.”

Colleen’s family arrived in England for the actual event to help out, take photos and lend their general support and cheering. Her husband Brian remarked that the people he met were incredibly courteous, saying that all he had to do was mention that his wife was coming to the fence he was watching and the seas of people would part and spectators would move him closer to the jump to take photos and watch.

When the trip was over and both Colleen and Shiraz had landed safely back in the U.S., Colleen laughed, stating, “I definitely want to go back. Now that I’ve ridden the course once, I’d like to go back and enjoy it!”

Although Shiraz will be sitting out this FHI, having just completed Burghley, Colleen is entered again with Dillon in the CCI**.
As for Shiraz, Colleen said, “Ideally, I would like to go back over to England with Luke in the spring for Badminton. Burghley is known to be the biggest four-star event in the world. Badminton is known as being both big and technical.”

Excerpts from Colleen’s Burghley Blog

August 18 – Sitting in the vetport [in New York] waiting to load the horses has turned into the longest exercise in patience that anyone could have ever dreamed up. There are seven or eight horses here waiting to be transferred out, some of them on our flight, some of them on later flights. At about 7 p.m., Luke and the rest of the horses get loaded on the van that takes them to the staging area. They are loaded on the containers, and then trucked by flat-bed out to the plane. The containers are just like the stalls in my trailer, only self-contained. I get dropped off at the front of the airport, so that I can check in and get a bite to eat. While I am sitting in the waiting area, with all of the other passengers, I see them sitting out on the tarmac. As I walk down to get on the plane, I realized it’s huge. Here’s to the second leg of our adventure!

August 21
 – After being stranded in Amsterdam for the better part of two days, we finally got under way. Next time the statement will be “yes, I need to get to England as soon as possible,” not “whenever you get a chance.” Luckily, I could at least ride HRH [Luke] while we were waiting for our ride to magically appear. Currently, we are on our way across the channel, soon to land at Dover. Unfortunately, we were unable to get on the earliest ferry, which means we won’t get to the stables before about 4. That’s a.m. We have been on the road for an extreme amount of time, most of it sitting, still waiting to get on the ferry. Luke is an absolute champ about this, and has been a perfect gentleman about everything.

August 30
 – We have arrived at Burghley! After checking the horses in, I went to get Luke settled in to his new digs with the rest of the Americans. I managed to be the first one here! For once I am not only on time, but early! I let HRH settle in for a bit, then decided that a hack around to scope out the place was in our best interest. Well, there are no words to describe the [Burghley] House but “wow.” It’s absolutely beautiful. I rode around for a bit in the warm-up area with Blyth Tait and Mary King and went on a short hack with Boyd [Martin]. This is so much fun, I have almost forgotten my nausea. The best part about being here is the history that saturates the atmosphere. Every little village is older than anything we have back home. It almost defies comprehension.

September 5 –

I have completed the Burghley 4.5 star! Just kidding. It’s just the biggest four-star. It goes down as the absolutely most beautiful event I’ve ever ridden at. The House is visible from almost anywhere on the grounds and it is just breathtaking. I feel so privileged to have competed here, not just because I did well, but because of the history of the grounds and the event.

Dressage is and will always be a work in progress, but it was much improved from Rolex. Our changes are still hit and miss and [in] this test, they were misses. Even though they were still late, they were better late changes, not explosive but unfortunately still my fault. I am just still a half a stride late when I ask. I will persevere. They will be right. The quality of our work is much better, but we are still lacking in our confidence in the ring. If the horse that I had outside of the ring were to show up in the ring, we would have been low 50s.

Cross-country was awesome. There aren’t enough words to describe it; besides, until you stand on top of the “Leaf Pit” looking down and getting that same feeling of vertigo as standing on the edge of a building looking at the street below, or walking up to “Cotswold’s Leap” and realizing that you can drive a large car through the ditch and still get out the door on either side if you were to stop in it, or limboing any of the rails on any of the oxers anywhere on course, you just hear words. [Jimmy Wofford] had the best saying of the year, “only the paranoid survive.” Just meaning that [you] don’t take anything for granted about this course, ever. That was definitely the case for me; I made damn sure that I was where I was supposed to be no matter what. Luke was amazing. I could have asked him to jump anything, anywhere. Never a waver, never a question, just “yes” and go.

Jogs (or trot-ups, as they are known here) were good; Luke was an absolute gentleman and so very pleasant. Then the sprinkling started. Not too bad, just a light misting (soft, for those of Irish heritage). It helped to walk the show jump course, first by myself and then with Sinead [Hapline] and Captain Mark Philips, because it just solidified what the voice in my head was saying.

Luke felt great and as we went into the ring, I was filled with awe. This is the conclusion of Burghley. Luke jumped absolutely fabulously and the one rail we had down was me just being a microsecond ahead of him in the triple. This was one of our best show jump rounds, simply because we both came to play. I was feeling quite fortunate that we show jumped early because when we went back for the parade of champions (where you pay your respects to the royals), it poured. And I mean poured. Everyone was absolutely drenched. It seemed to have quite an effect on the leader board.

This week has flown by and every time I went to write on the blog or even text someone, there was something else to do or somewhere else to go. I am thankful for all the new people I’ve met, all of the experiences I’ve had and the memories that I will always treasure. Thank you to all of the people who helped me to get here; you helped make this trip a huge success.