Monday, September 7, 2015

Women of the Week!

Today I'm naming two Women of the Week, for their stellar performances this past weekend in my beloved sport, eventing.

First off, Colleen Rutledge, who finished in 22nd place at Burghley in England aboard her nine-year-old homebred Covert Rights. If you are not an eventer you may be wondering why all the eventers around you are saying, "Hot DAMN! Covert Rights was 22nd at Burghley!" because 1) 22nd doesn't sound like winning to you and 2) you've never heard of Burghley.

If that's true, you are so missing out. Burghley is England's fall 4-star event, which means it's one of the really really big deal international events (Rolex, Badminton, Burghley, Pau). It's in England where they take eventing so seriously the royal family does it at Olympic level, and it involves massive jumps that absolutely no sane person would attempt. I say this with love. Colleen and CR finished 22nd out of 85 international big-deal horses, including this year's Rolex winner (who dumped her rider into the water, whoops) and the 2012 Olympic individual gold medal horse and rider (who won, because they are amazing--but hey, it was the same rider who fell in the water with the Rolex winner--in eventing, no matter how good you are, you eventually end up arse-first in the water jump).

Now I love Colleen whether or not she competes at Burghley. I first met her a little less than two years ago at the Virginia Horse Center, when we happened to sit down near each other in the stands to watch show jumping. She was on crutches from breaking a hip in a riding accident. We chatted for a bit; when I asked if she was on crutches from a fall, she said, "I didn't fall off, I rode that sucker into the ground." I said, "Do I know you?" which is actually a question people often ask me when they find out I'm a writer, and she got a small smile on her face and gave the exact answer I always give: "I have no idea who you know."

I said, "You're Colleen Rutledge," and she laughed. Then we happened to eat dinner together at the USEA convention a few months later and had a detailed discussion about another upper-level-rider's breasts, and pretty much I would love to learn from Colleen and hang out with her and drink wine and all that, not that I think she has time for it. She has children younger than mine, who are in pony club, and she's not very much younger than me, and she's amazing. Also, that phrase that her horse is a "nine-year-old homebred," means that first of all, he's quite young for this level, and second, she bred him and raised him from birth, and has ridden and trained him all the way up. It's a very cool accomplishment.

Colleen's older top-level horse, Shiraz, is the only horse to have completed every four-star event without a cross-country fault, and he's fabulous, but he's not the best at dressage. In Covert Rights she's got a horse that can do the dressage while also stepping up to cross country AND jumping stadium clear. It's one year to go to Rio. I'd love to see Colleen ride for Team USA.

My other Woman of the Week is Michelle Frazier, an attorney friend and fellow eventer from North Carolina, who rode in her first event at preliminary level in Southern Pines this weekend. "Preliminary" sounds like it should be beginner level, but it's really the beginning of the professional levels. It goes Beginner Novice, Novice, Training, Preliminary, Intermediate, Advanced. (Burghley is Advanced. On steroids.) I aspire to Preliminary someday.

Michelle is the sort of friend who not only would but has pulled a bit off her horse's bridle and loaned it to me in a bit emergency. She's the sort of friend who comes out to watch me school, or who, if we're at the same event, will look up my times as well as hers so she can applaud at the end of my dressage test, not because my test is necessarily worthy of applause, but because we all need friends at the ring. Michelle's lovely mare, Ava, is a rock star and I'm thrilled with their success--not only did they compete at prelim this weekend, they finished on their dressage score in third place. Next thing I know Michelle will be buying her first shadbelly, and it had damn well better have crystals on it.

For being my first-ever Women of the Week, Colleen (and her daughters) and Michelle are getting signed copies of The War That Saved My Life. (I know, Michelle. About damn time.) Congratulations, ladies! You inspire me.