Colleen Rutledge: Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture

Colleen Rutledge is an international event rider who has completed every four-star event in the Northern Hemisphere aboard the same horse – the first rider to accomplish this. She’s based in Aiken, S.C., during winters and Mount Air, Md., in the summers with her husband, Brian, and her two daughters, who also event.

I was competing in the three-star at the Fork last year with one of my veteran partners, Covert Rights, when I had three rails down in the show jumping phase. Show jumping has been a nemesis of mine and “CR’s”, but I’d been working hard with my coaches and at home to improve. I was frustrated when I came out of the arena with three down. Where was the improvement I was looking for? I looked over to fellow eventer, John Michael Durr, who has been immeasurably helpful with my show jumping, and asked him for his thoughts.

“The horse is jumping in a better shape,” he told me. He said we were improving, even if it didn’t feel like it in the moment. It was a reminder that I needed – the big picture is something that’s very easy to lose sight of when you get caught up in the day-to-day.

The horse business is often a thankless one, and in the race to get to the upper levels or be in contention for a national team, it’s very easy to get a little lost.

The big picture is something that’s very easy to lose sight of when you get caught up in the day-to-day.

A major goal for many riders is to represent their country on a team. This is always in my mind as I work to produce my string of horses. But one thing I’ve learned about myself is that the idea of a team is not the only thing I’m in this business for. I’m in this because I love the horses. I love the fulfillment of producing my horses and watching them flourish, and I love watching my girls grow up on horses. If I can look back and say that I am putting in the effort that I need to be, and if I get recognized for that effort, then it will be a huge compliment and endorsement in my program. But if not? It’s OK. As long as my horses are improving, and are healthy and happy, this is what matters the most to me.

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But with that said, it’s very easy to lose sight of those improvements, as was the case with my show jumping this spring. It’s good to have someone in your corner to help you be able to focus on that improvement, even if it is small or it looks different from what you think it should. Otherwise we might all go crazy. We are, after all, our own biggest critics and worst enemies.

So who do you have in your corner? How do you monitor and track improvements? The road to the top (whatever the “top” is for you) is never a straight line, so it’s important to not get so caught up in the struggle that you don’t see the purpose anymore. Next time you’re struggling, look for an improvement to focus on, not a supposed failure. This might help you pull that bigger picture into focus and keep kicking to get to the top.

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