Savannah “Woodge” Fulton, 22, is the youngest competitor at the 2017 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*, where she will be riding Captain Jack, a 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. Although a Rolex Rookie, Fulton is no newcomer to the sport, having worked for Buck Davidson for the last five years. Fulton grew up on her family’s Full Moon Farm in Finksburg, Maryland where her mom Karen teaches riding and her dad Steven is a farrier. Her sister Grace also is a competitive rider and is grooming for her sister in Kentucky. Fulton took some time out her busy day settling in at the Kentucky Horse Park to answer a few questions.
AH: The competition hasn’t gotten underway yet but what is it like being at the horse park for your first four-star?
SF: It’s really special. I’m lucky that my coach [Buck Davidson] is here with his horses, and Kathleen Taylor. I’m lucky to be here with people I’m with normally, which makes it easier. Jack is loving the grass, especially coming from Florida where we haven’t had much rain lately. I’m very thankful to be here.
What have you been doing to get ready for the dressage here, which I understand is the toughest phase for Jack?
SF: I think as I’ve gotten to know him—this is my third year with him—we’ve become more comfortable with each other. But it’s just practice. In our first three-star we were both nervous; he has a tendency to get nervous and slightly explosive in the dressage, which he makes up for in the jumping. At the end of the day I’m trying to get experience and being safe cross country is what matters. It’s mainly about keeping him relaxed and obviously in Kentucky there is more atmosphere than we’ve ever experienced.
I was lucky to go to Great Meadow and the Wellington Showcase and it was nice to see how he handled that. Every show this year has been a personal best for us on the flat. You can only do your best and I’ve been really happy with him this year.
“He’s small and scrappy and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, that’s for sure. But he knows he’s a good boy and the nice thing is he’s never bad, just nervous.”
Buck gives you lots of advice as your coach but what words of wisdom will you take with you into the competition?
SF: I think it was a few weeks ago that we were talking about how it’s getting close and he said to make sure to take the time to be happy and excited and nervous all of the emotions involved, but mostly thankful because not everyone gets to do this. Also, you work hard but there’s a lot of luck that goes into it too. This is my first time competing here and I’m so happy to be here with a horse that is awesome and that I trust. It’s a great feeling that if something goes wrong it’s my fault, not his, because it’s way easier to control yourself than your horse. if I do my job he’s going to take care of me.
What role is your family playing this weekend?
SF: My awesome sister is here grooming for me and my parents are coming on Wednesday. We have a lot of friends and family who will be here, and Captain is owned by a syndicate. A lot of members will be here in Kentucky for the first time and also will see him compete for the first time. I’m from Maryland and most of the syndicate members are coming from there, so I’m really excited about that.
As the youngest competitor this year, how are you handling competing against some of the biggest names in eventing?
SF: It’s an honor and a privilege. Buck said I’ll have learned more on Sunday in the few days competing here than probably my entire life. It’s been an adventure; it’s also interesting being in Buck’s barn and seeing how he prepares three completely different horses for the same event. The only thing that is always the same is that everything changes! Some people are taking light hacks today and some are doing proper dressage practices. I did a light dressage school in a jump saddle today, trying to get him relaxed, and he spends lots of time grazing and gets lots of treats. He loves carrots and Stud Muffins, but actually he pretty much eats anything—he just loves food!
Jack sounds like a quirky horse, can you describe his personality and how you work with his unique character to get the best out of him?
SF: His name is so fitting—he’s very much like Captain Jack, the Pirate. He’s small and scrappy and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, that’s for sure. But he knows he’s a good boy and the nice thing is he’s never bad, just nervous. He wants to do the right thing but sometimes it’s all too much for him. They used to call him Captain Destroyer, he’s so bad in the stall! When you feed him he’s weaving side to side and rearing up in the stall. If he’d just eat the grain he’d be fine. By age fourteen you’d think he’d realize no one is going to take his food.
After the season he gets his shoes pulled in and goes in a field with the other geldings. It’s fun to see him relax and be with the other horses. I can’t catch him then; he knows when it’s break time and he wants to hang out with the boys. He doesn’t want to be pampered then, he just wants to be left alone. He’s still sweet though.
“It’s a great feeling that if something goes wrong it’s my fault, not his, because it’s way easier to control yourself than your horse. if I do my job he’s going to take care of me.”
Do you have a good luck anything, like a pair of lucky socks?
Oh yeah, lucky socks…I’ve got my lucky whip. I don’t know what makes them lucky but I’ve got my lucky pinney holder that only Captain uses. No one else uses that one. I don’t really know why I have all the lucky stuff and why I feel it makes it lucky, but from the first time we were clear at Richland, I figured all this stuff is lucky and it’ll be only Captain’s!
How many times do you plan to walk the cross country course?
Probably quite a few times. Definitely Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and I’ll have a look around on Saturday morning. Again, I’m lucky I’m here with Buck and he knows what works for him, so that works for me too. I’ll do whatever he tells me to do.
How have you prepared yourself for the fitness and mental challenges of the event?
Working for Buck is great. You’re always busy so there’s not really time to get nervous; we have a lot of horses to ride and work to do. I can’t imagine how stir crazy I’d go if there was only Captain—I’d be riding him fifteen hours a day and making him mad! I was able to take two horses to Ocala last weekend and it’s been nice having other things to think about. Taking two horses to their first two-star was nerve wracking too, but it was nice at the end of the day to be able to relax and ride Captain since I know him better than any horse. Keeping everything the same with him has helped to keep a positive mindset.
It’s a 30-stall barn and our work day is seven to seven, so I get a good workout every day! It’s great; I’d rather be there with the horses than lifting weights in the gym.
At the end of the event what result will you be satisfied with?
That I completed. I think for the first time competing here, that would be a huge accomplishment. I hope we’re both as happy and healthy as when we started. I’m grateful to everyone and anyone who helped me to get here. When you start thinking about everyone, it’s a lot; it’s overwhelming how many people it takes, and I appreciate them all.