Road To The Olympics: Rio's Now A Reality For Phillip Dutton And Emma Ford

Jun 21, 2016 - 6:12 AM
Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn honing their jumper skills in Kentucky. Photo by Anne Gittins Photography

The U.S. eventing team was announced on June 20, and Phillip Dutton aboard Fernhill Cubalawn will be joining Boyd Martin, Lauren Kieffer and Clark Montgomery (as well as reserve rider Maya Black) to represent the United States in Rio De Janeiro.

All horses being considered for the team were vetted on the June 18-19 weekend at the Virginia Equine Imaging center. Up next for Dutton, Ford and their charges: a short break before the Land Rover Great Meadow International CIC*** on July 8-10, which serves as an observation event for the newly announced team. And then it’s into the home stretch of their Rio preparations before the team flies out of Ocala, Fla., on July 30 to head for the games.    

On Rio Selection And Preparations

Phillip Dutton:

Obviously it’s a big turning point to get selected and have the horse named, so now we can start to build and see what we’re going to do between now and then and come up with a plan for each day. We usually work back from gallop days from the Olympics, so now you get into sort of more intense program for him.      


Richard Picken kept an eye on Phillip Dutton as he warmed up Mighty Nice in Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Joanie Morris.

Cuba got selected for the team, but there’s not much different between any of them. [Dutton has Mighty Nice and Fernhill Fugitive as his reserve horses.] I think some horses are a little bit more suited to some events, and I think with the atmosphere and the travel and the way the event shapes up, Cuba might be a little better suited for the crowd and the travel—he’s pretty laid back and easy to get along with as far as all that goes.

Want to know more about Fernhill Cubalawn? Check out Behind The Stall Door With: Fernhill Cubalawn.


Fernhill Fugitive headed into the Rolex stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park for some show jumping practice at the Country Heir show, with Richard Picken giving some last-minute advice. Photo courtesy of Joanie Morris

Emma Ford:

Cuba’s a little non-plussed [about the announcement], but I think Jack [Fernhill Fugitive] is like “Thank God, less work for me!”

As far as concerns about Rio, honestly from the groom’s side, I’m just continuing on. We get handled by different people and told how to deal with it if something arises that we need to change our plans for. At the moment, we’re not being told anything different than everything is going to be good and ready to go. So I don’t know if it’s just the media saying things or whether it’s actually true, and I guess we won’t know until we get there!

But I was [in Rio] in 2007 for the Pan Ams, and from all accounts when they went back for the test event they said its way more improved than what it was for the Pan Ams. The grooms for the Pan Ams lived in shipping containers—literally—for the week. Apparently this year we’ve got actual apartments. We’ve gone up in the world!

When we pack for Rio, it’s very restricted what we can bring. We’re not allowed to bring in hay; we’re not allowed to bring grain with the horses. Kentucky Equine Research has done the feed and the hay for the Olympic Games.

Basically at the beginning of the year we have to write down what each horse that could possibly make the team is eating, and it’s basically all been covered and is there waiting for us. The hay all gets shipped over there from one company, so we’re actually going to start feeding that hay a couple weeks out from flying so the horses all have a chance to change over to that hay.

On Jumper Classes In Kentucky

Phillip Dutton:

It was a long way to go as far as traveling, but it’s ideal to get to a venue like the Kentucky Horse Park where you have the big main arena, which is like what you experience at a championship show, rather than just going to a small showground. It’s pretty comparable for me and for the horses to go in a big arena. I like to go jump around; it was a good experience.


Phillip Dutton got to experiment with different bits and riding styles when he went to the Country Heir hunter jumper show in Kentucky with Olympic team mount Fernhill Cubalawn. Photo by Anne Gittins Photography.

It was also good to experiment a bit, because in eventing you’ve only got the one round, so you can’t experiment that much with the riding. So in Kentucky I was able to play around with different ways of riding and not be as worried if I had a rail, or if you paid the price of it not working out, so it was good. Cuba jumped really well. I couldn’t be more pleased with how he jumped, and I think he’s only going to get better. 

Basically Cuba needs a really consistent rhythm, and I did try a couple different bits because at the beginning of the round he can get a little aggressive, and it’s sort of hard to keep the rhythm then. He doesn’t want to be overly aggressive at the jump, but then he doesn’t need to be adding at the jumps; it needs to be nice out of stride, and the last stride or two he needs to be moving up a bit, not getting super deep.

The bit, I’m not sure what it’s called. It’s a combination of a hackamore and a bit; you can get him to wait, and he doesn’t fight it too much. 

Emma Ford:

It was a crazy week [in Lexington], but it was very beneficial. We left Tuesday, and then we jumped, we stayed with a friend of ours so all the horses got turned out, which was nice. We shipped in every day, and we jumped Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.


Fernhill Cubalawn spent his down time in Kentucky relaxing at Joanie Morris’ Lexington farm. Photo courtesy of Joanie Morris.

Happy and Jack jumped all three days, and then Thursday and Friday they got to jump in the main arena, which was awesome. Happy just kept improving all the way through, and then Cuba jumped Wednesday and Thursday. They did the 1.25-meter and the 1.30-meter, basically four-star height.

It was good for the horses’ confidence. It was great for Phillip’s confidence as well; they definitely improved. If you could do it again you would go back for longer. You wouldn’t really want to jump them three days in a row, but it was just what we had to do. I think next year we’ll try and go back with more horses and go for like 10 days or something, so we can give them longer off in between.

We literally jumped in the 8 a.m. class Friday in Kentucky, and then we drove to Virginia. We stayed at Morningside, pulled in there at like 7 p.m., and then Saturday morning we went to the Virginia Equine Imaging, and that’s where they did the vetting.

Phillip actually had lessons on all the horses with David [O’Connor] before we did the vetting evaluation. So it was definitely a busy week for the boys—that’s why they’re getting a slightly easy week this week before they start revving up for [the Great Meadow International CIC***].

While they have their easy week, I’m going to go teach some grooming clinics. We’ve done a book with Cat Hill [World Class Grooming For Horses], and it basically all stemmed from there. Cat and I have put together these clinics, and we pretty much teach whatever people want to know about. Every clinic is different. Sometimes a clinic is all Pony Club kids, sometimes it’s a mix of adult amateurs.

We cover everything, from getting to know your horse, bandaging a leg, jogging a horse, how to work with vets, how to present a horse at a show, trailering—we pretty much cover everything and anything involved with taking care of horses! So many people are interested in how the professionals do it, how a professional’s barn runs, so it sort of gives them insight into that.

Only one of Phillip’s horses will end up getting on the plane to Rio, but all three will run at Great Meadow, so that’s the next big item on the schedule! 


Mighty Nice hangs out ringside with (from left) rider Phillip Dutton, groom Emma Ford, owner Caroline Moran, and coach Richard Picken. Photo courtesy of Joanie Morris.

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We’ll check in with them every few weeks as they pursue a team spot, seeing how they’re getting their horses ready and preparing mentally. 

Read all of the Road To The Olympics with Phillip Dutton and Emma Ford

We’re also following:

Show jumper Callan Solem

Show jumper McLain Ward

Dressage rider Kasey Perry-Glass

Eventer Clark Montgomery

Dressage rider Laura Graves

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