Partnerships are everything in the sport of eventing. The relationship with your horse is the bedrock on which solid training can be laid. Many riders are lucky to know their horses from the moment they hit the ground, but Colleen Rutledge and her five-star event horse Covert Rights go back even farther.
Rutledge bred the 14-year-old Clydesdale-Thoroughbred, who is out of her former eventer, Let’s Get It Right, a Thoroughbred by Correct Operations.
“His mother was the first horse that I learned how to break. She was the first horse I took advanced,” Rutledge said.
She elected to pair “Delia” with Lisa Reid’s Clydesdale-Thoroughbred stallion BFF Incognito, who had evented through the preliminary level himself. The result was a 16.2-hand athlete built to contest some of the biggest events in the world including the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England).
Rutledge and the gelding have done a lot of winning over their career together. Last year, the pair won the Plantation Field CCI4*-S (Pennsylvania) and the Morven Park CCI4*-S (Virginia) and were second at the Great Meadow International CCI4*-S (Virginia), but they have not yet been out to an event this season due to COVID-19.
Let’s go behind the stall door to learn more about “CR”:
• Rutledge met CR’s dam when she was working for Kevin Bowie in Clarksburg, Maryland. Bowie asked her to longe Delia, who was 2 at the time. After being chased out of the round pen by the fiery chestnut mare, Rutledge had to choose between battling a badly behaved baby or her employer.
“I was like, ‘Who am I more scared of: the 2-year-old mare or my 4’11” boss?’ I was more afraid of my boss,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge, Frederick, Maryland, and Delia forged a path together that took them through the advanced level before an injury forced the mare into early retirement.
“While she was off I thought I might as well breed her. I’d been riding horses for a local breeder who had a really cool half-bred stallion, and I thought, ‘My mare is actually crazy enough that this might work,’ ” Rutledge said.
• CR is the only viable offspring from the partnership. “He’s the only one we got out of her that survived past 5, so he’s super special,” Rutledge said.
• Rutledge says her goal as an eventing breeder is always to produce a top-level horse, and it wasn’t until CR was a yearling that her dream began to truly come in focus.
“He got hurt as a yearling trying to jump from one field to the next over some high tensile wire. I remember looking at the woman who had him at the time and saying, ‘If this has ruined my [five]-star horse, I don’t think I’m ever going to speak to you again,’ ” Rutledge said. “It’s been that thought in my head, so the fact that he’s gotten there, it’s like one of your kids that you have hopes and dreams for actually getting there.”
• While CR is generally laid back, he’s got the potential for over-the-top behavior, especially at competitions.
“He is one of the nicest horses to work with about 95 percent of the time. Five percent of the time you need a face mask and bodyguard. Especially when his adrenaline is up,” Rutledge said.
At his first CCI2*-S in Virginia, Rutledge’s mother, veterinarian Sallie Morris, reported she refused to hand walk CR, a horse whom she had done all the fitness work for prior to that competition. “She said he reared up, so I took him on a walk, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t walk on his hind legs and strike,” Rutledge said. “So as quiet and complacent as he is, when we’re at places where his adrenaline is going to be up, he gets a chain on his nose.”
• CR is an easy horse to please. All you need is a peppermint. “He’s the biggest peppermint hog you’ll ever meet,” Rutledge said. “If it crinkles, he loves it. It was a running joke that he didn’t run his first [five]-star because he wanted to jump the fences. He was running it because we were crinkling peppermint wrappers at the finish line.”
• CR prefers a buddy when traveling but shows no preference between the two- and four-legged variety.
“He doesn’t like being completely by himself, so he will go places by himself, but he has to have a person,” Rutledge said. “[At the $50,000 Liftmaster Grand-Prix Eventing competition in February in Aiken, South Carolina] I took the 6-year-old with him, just so he had somebody because otherwise he gets upset. When we go to Kentucky, he’s perfectly fine being by himself there because there’s always someone with him. And he’s fine in a stall; I just wouldn’t leave him in a trailer by himself.”
When wintering in Aiken, CR lives lavishly at the top of the totem pole, but back in Maryland, he has to contend with Shiraz, Rutledge’s retired five-star horse. “When we’re at home he still has to give the title of king of the farm to ‘Luke,’ ” Rutledge said.
The two share a paddock easily, but “sibling” rivalry is still a major part of their relationship. “They fight horribly over the stall walls. They’re stabled next to each other, and they bitch at each other like siblings,” she said.
• Around the barn, CR can find fun in anything. “He’s definitely a character,” said Rutledge. “He’s got a lot of personality, and it’s a little on the mischievous side. If you’ve got a toggle on your jacket zipper, he’ll grab a hold of it, zip you up and down, and then rip it off. He’s eaten no less than four sets of headphones from around my neck, so I no longer have wired headphones.”
• Rutledge admits it’s hard to pick just one moment as a favorite out of a lifetime with a horse like CR.
“The fact that I’ve had him his entire life; for me this is about the relationships that you form, and he is my longest standing relationship just simply because he’s been there since the day he hit the ground, and I had a history with his mom. It’s that piece that’s come full circle,” she said.