I watched Colleen Rutledge ride her 15-year-old Thoroughbred-Clydesdale cross gelding, Covert Rights (BFF Incognito x Let’s Get It Right xx), at the Carolina International Horse Trials CCI4*-S about a month before the Kentucky Three-Day Event. The horse and rider duo have plans to compete in the CCI5*-L at Kentucky, and Carolina served as preparation for the year's biggest event leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. After her dressage trip on day one of the Carolina International, I spoke with Rutledge about Covert Rights and how they're getting ready for Kentucky.
Can you tell us about Covert Rights — your top mount for the Kentucky Three-Day Event?
He is a 15-year-old home-bred Thoroughbred-Clydesdale cross gelding. He's out of my first advanced mare—a chestnut Thoroughbred mare with every ounce of that fire. He's a character. He's an absolute peach 95% of the time and the other 5% he'll break your nose. The running joke in the barn is that I get fired before he gets fired. If my mother decides that I'm in trouble, the horse stays and I go.
When did you start riding him?
He got broke as a 4-year-old. He was very precocious and moved up the levels really, really easily. And then, we got to the upper levels and I had some soundness issues, he had some soundness issues. So, between the two of us, we kind of bounced back and forth. He did the [Kentucky Three-Day Event] his first time as a 9-year-old and then went to the [Burghley Horse Trials] that fall. He was actually the youngest horse at both Kentucky and Burghley that year. And then we had some little foibles here and there, but hopefully this year we can go back and feel like a million bucks.
How did you bring him along? Are there any specific training exercises that you've worked on with him?
For him, it's really making him remember that he's got a full range of motion. He will go exactly the way you let him. I've left for periods of time and [my mother] has had to ride him, and she doesn't ride really big, moving horses, so she shortened [his stride] down, but he's lovely to ride. My kids can ride him, you know. I have video from him right before he did his first long-format advanced, not Kentucky, but the [Fair Hill International]. My daughter was 6 at the time, riding in the indoor walk, trot, canter. He's just that sort like, he's an absolute peach.
Does he have any quirks or funny personality traits?
One of his little things is that he hates to be alone. He either has to have a person or ... I'm currently lobbying for an emotional support chicken. He's got to have a friend. You can't leave him in the trailer alone. If you leave him in the trailer, all of a sudden, you think he's a 4-year-old who's never been off the farm. He absolutely will lose his mind. So, that's a big quirk. That and his love of peppermints. He will do anything for peppermints—anything. That was our running joke that he didn't run Kentucky because he wanted to run Kentucky, he ran Kentucky because we told them there were peppermints at the end of it.
Are there any specific health-care routines that you follow with him?
I'm very much a proponent of being proactive in what I'm doing. So, I try to make sure that we aren't having to fix damage, but that we are hopefully preventing. Cosequin plays a very large part in that for them, for me, for everything, and just for comfort levels and things along those lines. But I also believe in lasers, I believe in a lot of the extra [things] like Back on Tracks, the PEMF (pulsing electromagnetic field therapy) blankets, the ArcEquine. If it's out there, I've probably used it. If I think it's got a value, then I will absolutely keep it in my repertoire. So, I've got a bunch of different things. And, even if it doesn't work for one horse, I'll use it on something else. I like to prevent problems rather than chase after them.
How do you prepare mentally and physically for a big event like Kentucky?
Luckily, I have a fantastic support group. And not just the emotional support group, but I've got my mom, I've got my kids, I've got my husband, I've got my head girl, I've got my vets. Knowing this last month leading up to [Kentucky] ... if I call you crying, just ask if you need to help or ask if I just need to vent. I couldn't do it without them. Really and truly, I don't have people who work for me, I have people who work with me because we're all a team. And the biggest thing is essentially Kentucky. It's a team sport, it's you, your horse and everybody else who has helped you get there. And a lot of times people forget when they get there because it's the big show. But it is every person who's helped you along the way. It's every person good or bad that has said something that's resonated with you and made you want to work harder or made you want to defy the odds.
Do you have any pre-show routines?
I don't ever wear a new piece of leather without it touching the ground–ever. If I have to go buy a new set of reins, they touch the ground. I will wear new pants, though. We try to keep the pants and the Colleen out of the dirt and the water. We try really hard.
I would have to say one of the things that I do before any of my big shows is I go back over and I make sure that I've actually looked at the right dressage test. I will screenshot every page that has my dressage tests on it, and I'll write at the top what dressage test it is. But even though I've done that, I will literally go back in and just double check that I actually did the right thing because I am blonde and I am old. I am a master at mismatching every test I've ever had in my brain.
I used to obsessively paint my fingernails. But I can't have fingernails now because I have a kid with some medical issues and I have to be aseptic. When I would get nervous, I would go paint my toes or paint my fingers, because even if I screwed it up, it was something that I could very easily fix and have control over. So, it was the one piece in my world that I had control over.
What do you think the most challenging part of the Kentucky Three-Day Event might be?
This year's going be very interesting because there's not going be the extra distraction. So, with not having the extra distraction that you actually need to insulate yourself from, I personally am going to struggle a little bit that I'm not focusing enough on what I should be doing because there's not enough going on around me to make me really focus.
Do you mean because there won't be spectators due to COVID-19?
Everybody, just everything. When we're on the backside and everything, we have quiet spots. But then you go out and the difference between where we are in the back and where spectators are in the front is such a huge difference. And this year, it's not. Everything's very low key and relaxed. It'll be interesting to see how that plays into how people's nerves actually affect them. Like, say somebody had a crappy test there before and they go in and that horse puts in the most relaxed and lovely test because there's 12 spectators instead 1,200. It might be a slightly bitter pill to swallow of, "Hey, maybe it's not my horse's fault. Maybe it's mine."
The strangest thing for me is how is it all going to work? We all know how it has worked in the past. What are we going to do now? Especially with COVID-19 and EHV-1, all of this stuff going on. Plus they're doing the four-star.
Follow along with Practical Horseman's coverage of #LRK3DE2021 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Special thanks to our sponsors, Cosequin, Kent Nutrition Group/Blue Seal and Straight Arrow (Cowboy Magic/Exhibitor's/Mane 'n Tail) for their support!