by Stan Goldberg/ News-Post Staff
Photo by Graham Cullen
WHEN COLLEEN RUTLEDGE was about two years old, her parents “plunked her on a pony.”
She has been in the saddle since.
Rutledge has been involved with equestrian sports for most of her life. Her specialty is eventing, also known as the horse triathlon. It involves three equestrian events — dressage, cross-country and show-jumping.
Last year, the Frederick resident was ranked 39th out of about 11,000 riders. This year, she has been ranked as high as 14th. Her goal is to one day make the U.S. Olympic eventing team.
When she isn’t competing in eventing, she teaches horsemanship to 15 to 20 student at her parents’ Turnabout Farm in Howard County. Her students are involved in everything from eventing to fox hunting.
Rutledge spends much of her time on horses. She even rode late into each of her three pregnancies, stopping only when it got too uncomfortable.
“I do it because it’s fun,” she said of her eventing career. “Some people are adrenaline junkies. Some jump out of planes. Some race motorcycles. This is my adrenaline fix. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Rutledge rode one of her horses, Luke, around the indoor training rink throughout the interview. “The more time you spend on a horse, the better,” she said.
The rink was built about a year ago.
“Before, I would have to plow the snow around our outdoor rink if we had a lot of snow,” the 32-year-old mother of two daughters, a son and a stepson said. They range in age from 16 months to 14 years old. All have been on horses.
“We didn’t have much snow this year, but one year we had 18 inches. Riding is not conducive to that.”
EVENTING GOT ITS start as comprehensive tests used in the cavalry to show the mastery of several types of riding. Only men competed in the first competitions, which were held in the armed forces.
It became part of the Olympics in 1912 and was only open to military officers. Male civilians began to take part in the 1924 Olympics, then women were allowed in the 1964 Games.
Dressage is the first event and involves an exact sequence of movement in an enclosed area. Cross country involves riding anywhere from a mile to three and a half miles, and jumping between 12 to 40 fences, depending on the length of the course. In show jumping, 12-20 fences are set up in a ring.
The riders not only have to jump the fences, but do it in a certain amount of time. One eventing competition can take up to three days.
“I really like to run and jump,” Rutledge said. “The whole reason I do it is to run and jump over fences.”
She first got started in eventing
while riding in pony clubs. She was about 8 or 9 when she entered her first eventing competition. She has moved around the area, but has lived in Frederick since 1999.
“Originally I did some dressage and jumping, but it all came back to eventing,” she said. “In eventing, you do everything. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Lately, she has become more involved in the sport and participates in 20 to 25 events a year on the East Coast. The spring season runs from February until May; the fall season from August through November. The past few years is the busiest Rutledge has ever been.
She competes in the advanced level. Rutledge said the competition is a partnership between the horse and the rider. She will ride five to six different horses in an event.
“It doesn’t matter what you can do, but what the horse can do,” she said. “You have to have a horse with talent. You can be the best rider in the world, but if you don’t sit well on the horse, it doesn’t matter.”
She said the hardest park is keeping control of her body while remembering where to go and what do to.
She finds the sport relaxing.
“My stress relief is riding,” she said. “It’s stressful, but no matter how hard it is, it is fun.”
Rutledge has fallen at times, but has never been seriously injured. She has broken fingers and suffered bruises.
“I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve been around people that were badly hurt,” she said.
SINCE RUTLEDGE WAS LITTLE, she thought about the Olympics. Lately, though, she has gotten more serious. She said there are various levels of eventing from one star (the lowest) to four star (the highest). The Olympics are a four-star event.
Rutledge has recently ridden in two two-star events, finishing 15th out of 80 riders in one and 18th out of 35 in another. She is on a long list of about 300 Olympics hopefuls. She hopes to make the short list of about 25, but would have to start riding in three-star events.
“You’ve got to place well and impress the selectors to make the short list,” she said.
The Olympic team is made up of four women, with four alternates.
“The Olympics is a dream for everybody,” she said. “You want to become stronger and go up to a higher level and do well.
“Making the Olympics, that would be a lot of fun. I think it’s a possibility. It’s not a pipe dream.”