Friday, May. 24, 2024

Eventing Horseman Of The Year: Phillip Dutton

In his first year as a U.S. citizen, he helped bring home a team gold and topped the USEA leaderboard for the ninth time.

Topping the U.S. Eventing Association’s Rider of the Year   standings isn’t a new accomplishment for Phillip Dutton, who earned his ninth title this year. But his utter domination of the year-end standings (the next closest rider, Karen O’Connor, had 573 points to Dutton’s 946) has raised the bar on what it means to run a top U.S. eventing business in the 21st century.
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In his first year as a U.S. citizen, he helped bring home a team gold and topped the USEA leaderboard for the ninth time.

Topping the U.S. Eventing Association’s Rider of the Year   standings isn’t a new accomplishment for Phillip Dutton, who earned his ninth title this year. But his utter domination of the year-end standings (the next closest rider, Karen O’Connor, had 573 points to Dutton’s 946) has raised the bar on what it means to run a top U.S. eventing business in the 21st century.

And it’s not just the quantity of points he earns; Dutton goes after the biggest and most prestigious titles to be had. In 2007, that included the highest U.S. placing at the Rolex Kentucky CCI, the team gold and individual silver medals at the Pan American Games and the U.S. Equestrian Federation CCI*** championship at Fair Hill (Md.)—each accomplished with a different horse.

“I have great people supporting me with the horses—that’s the biggest thing I have going for me,” Dutton said. “I like to do well, and I like each horse to do well.”

Dutton’s owners—including Annie Jones, Nina Gardner, Bruce Duchossois, Shannon Stimson and Acorn Hill Farm’s Jess Sweely—comprise one of the largest and strongest groups of backers in the sport.

“Somebody who will support a horse with you is the best sponsor you can have,” said Dutton. “I have quite a few [owners], but I don’t take it for granted. I try to be frank, and I under-promise rather than over- promise. But I’m still ambitious for what I set out to do with the horses.”

Duchossois, an accomplished adult amateur hunter rider, had no intention of getting involved in eventing, but when Dutton met Duchossois after wintering in Aiken, S.C., several years ago, he was immediately interested in expanding his equestrian involvement.

“He came up with a horse that was reasonably priced, and within a year, he had paid for himself. I think that’s the first time in my life I’d made money on a horse,” Duchossois said with a laugh.

“It was fate; I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to meet Phillip. I’m lucky to be associated with one of the best,” he said.

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More than anything, Duchossois finds a great deal of fun in owning a horse for Dutton. “Anybody who’s involved with horses knows the time and money put in is a lot, and it’s got to be fun,” Duchossois said. “I’m competitive and I like to win, and Phillip is a winner. I enjoy the entire crew—the whole attitude is exciting, professional, successful. It’s a great group of people.

“I like to consider Phillip a friend,” he added. “He’s just a good guy and a good horseman. [The success] is just him. It’s something that’s there that can’t be learned; it just has to be there.”

In 2007, Dutton’s acquisition of the ride on the Acorn Hill horses, particularly the stunning Woodburn, who finished third at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) and won the Wits End CIC*** (Ont.), added a large contingent of prospects to Dutton’s barn.

“I wanted the best rider for my horses, so it was easy,” said Sweely. “I have great confidence in his ability to bring horses along, and he’s as honest as the day is long. If it’s not going to be an advanced horse, he’s going to tell you. He’s a real professional and an honest individual, and I can’t say that about too many trainers.”

Personal Profile

Hometown: West Grove, Pa., and Aiken, S.C.

Family: Wife Evie, daughters Lee Lee, Mary and Olivia.

Originally From: New South Wales, Australia.

Top Horses: The Foreman, Connaught, Woodburn, Truluck.

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Age: 44.

Dutton By The Numbers For 2007:
117 placings on 31 different horses—22 at advanced, 30 at intermediate, 35 at preliminary, 26 at training, four at novice. Ninth time winning USEA Rider of the Year title. First time riding on U.S. team at Pan American Games.

Sweely recalled coming into his office in Madison, Va., one day and finding a large package had arrived from Dutton’s Pennsylvania base. “It was all the goodies he’d received when our horses placed or won,” said Sweely. “I said, ‘I don’t mind the trophies, but you can keep all the blankets and everything else.’ ”
In addition to a supportive string of owners, Dutton said that keeping horses in the pipeline at all times keeps him at the top of his game.

“I’m working on horses not just for this year but for the World Championships [in 2010] as well,” he said. “It’s important to always have them coming along.”

Having a deep string saved Dutton in 2007 when his most experienced four-star horse, The Foreman, had an injury that kept him from contesting a spring three-day. Instead, Dutton drew on the experience of Connaught, who’d competed in the 2006 World Equestrian Games and was slated to have a rest in the spring of 2007. Dutton put shoes on Connaught at the end of March and re-routed him for Rolex Kentucky, where he finished second. Truluck then filled in for Connaught when a minor injury kept him from being able to go to Brazil for the Pan Am Games.

“That is part of the sport that gets me down—the injuries. You put a lot of effort and work into the horses, and the owners [are hopeful]. The horses only get so many big events. But you’ve got a lot to look forward to, too. There’s always another event next weekend,” Dutton said. “Having as many horses as I do in the barn is key now.”

Dutton, a native Australian who changed his nationality at the end of 2006, named the Pan Am Games, his first time being eligible and competing on a U.S. team, as the highlight of his year.

“It’s something I’ll always remember, and I was particularly proud of Truluck,” he said. “Looking back, Kentucky was a bit of a stretch for him, and it was not an easy trip to Brazil, working all through the summer. I was impressed with the way he hung in there and did well.”

Although Dutton has three horses on the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Winter Training list, he’s not counting his spot on the Olympic team just yet.

“I’m not taking the horses for granted in any way,” he said. “I’m going to give each horse a good chance to make it. I don’t just want to get there; I want to get there and do well for myself and the team and owners.”
“He’s a typical Australian, what else can you say?” said Sweely. “There’s nothing they can’t do. He’s got a touch and feel for horses, and that’s what makes him successful.”

Beth Rasin

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