CCI*** Awards ceremony at Fair Hill International, Sunday evening

My horse world heroes have changed my life for the better

A hero is someone you really admire; a person whose strength, achievement, fortitude, outlook, or demeanor is above and beyond the ordinary. A hero to you might be someone who has saved lives, like first responders or doctors and nurses.

A hero to some might be a selfless person who gives of their time for needy charities, or serves a religion, or church to help others in need. Heroes in the horse world are a bit more complicated, because the horse world is a place where we start with a little bit of privilege and money. But there are heroes, nonetheless.

I have three heroes I will write about today, that I have come to know a little bit in the eventing world, in the U.S. They are women (but I am not excluding men in the future) and all three have changed my life for the better in the last year or so. I am truly grateful to be able to show how they have helped me personally, and the world in general.

1. Sinead Halpin

Sinead’s actions this past summer at being left off the Olympic team was exemplary. The speed at which she picked herself back up, believed in her horse, used the positive and put aside the negative, was astonishing. She bounced back so far that she nearly won Burghley, the biggest honkin’ three-day event in the whole world. (She finished 2nd.)

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville at Rolex 2011 - photo by Calina

Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville at Rolex 2011 – photo by Calina

We first met Sinead in person at the 2011 Rolex Three-Day event where she graciously gave us a bit of a course walk, shared some personal moments, and ended up the best placed American in 3rd place there. She writes blog posts, shares secrets, admits failure, promises to do better, and does. She is persistently making herself better as a rider and loves to see others do well, too. She has sought ICP certification, teaches clinics all over the country, makes friends all over the world, and all this while making and riding a four-star event horse. She doesn’t complain about her time, and those who participate in her clinics always have glowing reviews.

How lucky are the Area II young riders who now get to look up to her as their coach for the next few years? I’ve seen Sinead bounce back a few times, too, and remember her riding and competing with a huge black brace on her entire arm after a serious injury; and her having a ouchy hiccup with a green horse at a lower level horse trial right before a really big event and she put it away and competed anyway. I know she’s suffered some terrible losses in her life as an eventer, and I don’t want to bring them all up here, (losing Tommy II and others) because my point is she has overcome. Sinead’s my hero because of that outstanding characteristic, and it was no surprise to me she and her horse Manoir de Carneville were the only American pair named to the Global Talent squad of the U.S. eventing team in 2013. I too have had to overcome difficulties to compete, and hope to be as gracious and smart and ride as well as Sinead someday.

2. Jacqueline Mars

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot

Mrs Mars owns Harbour Pilot, ridden by Hannah Sue Burnett

Mrs. Mars is someone that has touched the lives of a lot of eventers in America, yet we probably do not know her personally. She has supported the sport for many years by pouring money into horses, young trainers, riders like Karen and David O’Connor, and more.

Recently she made a huge financial committment to the USEA to allow them to take the pressure off funding lots of things for all of the areas in the country — this recently enabled many more people to attend the Area meetings, for instance, by lowering the registration cost. This is just one little example, of many, that Mrs. Mars has provided to people and the sport she loves.  Her unwavering support has been understated. Her recent public donation ($500,000) at the USEA convention really brought home the fact to me that she cares, and that’s hero class.

3. Colleen Rutledge

Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz - Burghley 2011 photo by Calina

Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz at Burghley – photo by Calina

There is an inevitability to life, and that comes at a price. Some of us pay a pretty high price to do what we do. I think Colleen Rutledge is one of the most mentally focused and strongest eventers in not only the U.S., but the world.

The circumstances of her family (a handicapped son, children to care for, a husband and farm) alone are enough to keep her competing at home and plunking about horse trials, but she dreamed a dream.

She bought a horse she believed in (Shiraz), and I first noticed her clocking through the Head of the Lake at Rolex like she had done it a hundred times at the Fair Hill cross-country schooling. I had to put down all my stuff, get into my backpack, and look her up immediately in the program — and I haven’t stopped being a fan since then. Colleen drew the admiration of many amateur eventers through no process of her own, she just kept riding and competing her Charlestown, W.VA., OTTB. She went to Europe to give Shiraz a chance on the biggest four-stars in the world and he just kept jumping, and jumping around the tracks.

Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz at Burghley - photo by Calina

Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz at Burghley – photo by Calina

At home we cheered for her, and still the powers that be hung back, skeptical. Being away from her home and family last year during the monsoons in England, it was clear she was trying hard to be positive. She ended a horrible situation by going out and riding like crazy at Luhmuhlen three-day event. There were other not-so-good events in 2012 for Colleen, but she has never ever blamed her horses, complained, or provided anyone with grist for snarking.

While taking the midwinter to regroup, get organized, and plan the year, again Colleen and Shiraz were left off the USET training lists, a devastating development to many of us who cannot understand why an American horse and pilot with the scope and ability to make mincemeat of the biggest tracks in the world can’t even be included on a development list. Colleen did not whine; she is determined to fix the dressage so that in the future they will include her.

And this year, to start off her season, the worst news possible — her 8-year-old son Connor fell ill, and died this week. She and her husband Brian, in the midst of their grief, gave permission for his organs to be donated, and while arranging a funeral, and holding family together, Colleen sent in her Badminton entry.  If that isn’t hero strength, I don’t know how you define it.

Those are my heroes. When I have a bad day, or think I am in a deep, bad place, I try to think of what they might do and pull up on those bootstraps! Thank you for being my heroes. Do you have some heroes? Why not write about yours, and why they are important to you? Email us –> here.

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