Unionville, Pa.—Sept. 22
The feeling of completing a tough course with a homebred horse is one that a lot of top riders can’t relate to, and when asked, Colleen Rutledge struggled to find words.
She set out over Mike Etherington-Smith’s CCI4*-S at the Plantation Field International today with Covert Rights with the thought of testing his fitness, and he proved he’s back on form after some time off last year and a few blips in the jumping phases this spring.
Rutledge and “CR” were one of three pairs to make the time, and they clinched the win ahead of Will Faudree and Michel 233.
“For a very long time he did it because I asked him to, now he does it because he wants to,” said Rutledge, Frederick, Maryland. “He felt so good today that a trained monkey could have pulled him by his tail, and he still would have jumped the things.”
Rutledge admitted the 13-year-old Clydesdale-Thoroughbred (BFF Incognito—Let’s Get It Right, Covert Operation) saved her a few times today, but he’s experienced enough at the level that she can trust him to take over if needed.
Watch Rutledge’s round via USEF Network.
“He was like, ‘You know what? I get it, this is why you pay me. We’re going to do it my way.’ I slowed down at the end of the course because I didn’t want to make a stupid, cocky mistake. He wasn’t 100 percent certain why we were slowing down, and we came through the finish flags, and he was like, ‘All right, let’s go again.’ And I’m like, ‘No, we’re whoaing!’ This mainly for me was a fitness run. I was going out to see where his fitness level was before Fair Hill. There were enough questions that it kept his interest, and that’s been my main thing—I want to see where he is mentally and physically. I’m super pleased.
“It’s indescribable,” she continued. “He’s one of my homebreds, so he’s one of my children. Not only just to have him back, but to have him back and actually going the direction I want him to go and feeling as good as I want him to feel—it’s indescribable. Really and truly. There aren’t enough words to discuss how absolutely happy I am.”
Faudree and Michel 233, a 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Mighty Magic—First Lady, Federweisser) owned by Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables, also made the time. “Mikey” just moved up to advanced this year.
“He’s a very good cross-country horse,” said Faudree, Hoffman, North Carolina. “He’s still six to eight months away from being strong enough for the dressage at the upper levels. I often describe him as being three men in a horse costume, and sometimes they’re not all facing the same direction, but they all get along. His show jumping is something that Bobby Costello and I have been working a lot on, and I think it all boils down to him just being a big baby. As a young horse he was just always that awkward kid who didn’t realize how big he was, but he’s really come together.”
A personal best in dressage and a good show jumping round meant Faudree decided to go quick today despite the area having a drought for the last month.
“Plantation Field did an incredible job with the footing with the hand they were dealt. They aerated in all the right places. A huge thanks to them,” he said.
Faudree is fresh off a good finish with Pfun at the Millstreet CCI4*-L (Ireland) and received good advice from U.S. High Performance Director Erik Duvander.
“I used to be a really fast cross-country rider, and then I broke my neck,” said Faudree. “Coming back from that, I didn’t always go with the first thing I would see. I was just taking care of too many things, which you have to do, but I had to break that mental block in my head to trust that my eye’s good enough to trust what I see on the first time. It took time following my accident. It’s been four years this month. As Erik said to me, very few people can go slow at the horse trials and then go fast at the [big] competition and be able to feel confident in doing that. You have to practice going fast. He’s a super jumper, he’s got a great gallop. My plan today was to see how he felt and go after the time.”
Etherington-Smith’s course caused a few problems with 13 pairs having jumping penalties, including overnight leaders Erin Sylvester and Paddy The Caddy. Shanon Baker retired Ballingowan Pizazz after two refusals, and Boyd Martin fell from Bonito at fence 16, a set of two angled cabins. Caroline Martin also fell from Danger Mouse there, as did Zoe Crawford (K.E.C. Zara). Shelby Brost fell from Crimson at fence 17, the trakehner.
Both Martins went to a local hospital, and Caroline was diagnosed with a broken collarbone. Danger Mouse and Bonito were reported to be fine.