The “Featured Clinician” article series is provided through a partnership between Event Clinics and the USEA.
Event Clinics caught up with six-time Olympian Phillip Dutton during a well-deserved quiet week after his sixth place finish at the Bromont CIC3* with his WEG team mount Z and an 11th place finish with I’m Sew Ready.
Based out of True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania, and Red Oak Farm in Aiken, South Carolina, Dutton spends a great deal of time on the road competing around the world. With so much top-level training and travel on his schedule, we asked how Dutton was able to juggle competition stress and a normal life.
Phillip Dutton’s humility is as commendable as his countless accolades. He acknowledges that in horse training, “Day-to-day improvements are valuable, it’s not just about success at a certain competition." He was quick to note, “Balancing training and a normal life is a challenge for everybody. But if there’s something that is a high priority for my family, that always takes precedence."
His wife, Evie, step-daughter, LeeLee, and twins, Mary and Olivia, however, are understanding that if an event is coming up “like the World Equestrian Games, for instance, that might mean missing a family obligation." He admitted, “It’s always a balance, I’m not sure I get it right all the time.”
Phillip Dutton and I'm Sew Ready. Callie Heroux Photography Photo.
Dutton noted that for him, “A major priority is a happy environment in the barn." To achieve this, Dutton credits his “great team here [at Phillip Dutton Eventing] who ensure the horses are well looked after, healthy, and eager to go to work each day."
Dutton further emphasized the importance of his team, stating, “It is important to surround yourself with the best possible people you can. That might be your coach, farrier, vet, or just somebody that you emulate who influences you to be the best you can be." He explained that he’s thankful to have taken this advice to heart in the early stages of his career.
Of course, we had to ask whether there was any wisdom Dutton today could impart upon his 20-years-less-experienced self that might be helpful for young professionals at the start of their careers. He admitted that his younger self could’ve best been guided by the advice, “The quickest way to get there is to take your time.”
He admitted that he still sometimes finds himself in too big of a rush and told us, “I’m always trying to improve that as my career goes on."
Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Sustaining such an illustrious career with consistent eligibility at the top level of the sport takes some serious skill. Dutton shared that among the more difficult aspects of riding at the top level of the sport is the ability to look ahead and prepare horses now to be competitive a few years down the road. “One of the keys is having a pipeline of horses, and that takes a bit of doing. You want to be sustainable so you can continue to be competitive."
As an instructor and frequent clinician, Dutton promotes the sport of eventing. He enjoys seeing his students improve and be enthusiastic about their goals. He noted, “Eventing is a great sport in that it’s not all about a natural gift. You can develop skills and techniques that make you successful."
Dutton has high expectations for riders who elect to learn from him, be it in a clinic or lesson setting. Not necessarily that they are competing at the Advanced level, but riders should show up for clinics or lessons with a certain desire to learn. His best advice to riders? “Try to get everything you can out of a lesson or clinic session; stay focused,” he advised.
It might seem fun to ride in a group with your friends, but a session is quickly wasted if you’re chatting, going off course, or forgetting the aim of the exercise. Dutton clarified, "There are times when a certain exercise or tip from your instructor might not be exactly what you want to hear, but if you’ve signed up to take a lesson— go along with something. At the end of the lesson or time you can decide what’s best for you.”
Callie Heroux Photography Photo.
Dutton spends a great deal of time coaching both High Performance Eventing Riders as well as Adult Amateurs and Young Riders. His daughter Olivia, 16, was a member of the Area II Young Rider team that rode to a gold medal finish at the 2018 Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships Presented by Gotham North.
In regards to competitions, we asked Dutton about a recent favorite horse show experience. He highlighted CHIO Aachen in Germany as an event that “is pretty special. It features a good, friendly atmosphere, but is still a top sporting competition governed by rules to be adhered to, and attracts all the best riders in the world.”
When he’s not riding or teaching, Dutton also spends a great deal of time setting the groundwork for other eventers to have a positive competition experience. Dutton and his wife, Evie, serve as members of the organizing committee for Plantation Field Horse Trials. Dutton expressed that the Committee is working to develop a competition similar to CHIO Aachen in the States where it’s “a great experience for everybody; grooms, riders, [and] owners.”
Competitively speaking, we wanted to know how Dutton deals with the stresses of top sport for both himself and his horses. Despite his countless accolades as an equestrian and professional achievements, Dutton admits, “I definitely get nervous before competitions. There’s something wrong if I don’t.”
Phillip Dutton and Sportsfield Candy. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
He cautions that it’s important to ensure that nerves don’t affect your performance in a negative way. Instead, Dutton advised, “Channel that energy to help you be more focused rather than distracted by the wrong things.”
To productively channel horse show anxiety, Dutton emphasizes lots of mental preparation for both horse and rider. That includes taking outings seriously and preparing the details well before it’s time to perform. “Do at home what’s a little harder than the shows; in the dressage, the stadium, and the cross-country. Nothing should be too much of a stretch for you and your horse.”
Even more straightforward than the training, Dutton incorporates logistical planning into successful preparation for a competition. “Make the day go smoothly, know where you’re going and when you’re supposed to be at the warmup for the dressage, et cetera . . . there’s no need to have a panicked rush to get the horse or yourself ready.”
Phillip Dutton and I'm Sew Ready. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.
Despite the demands of a top-notch training and competition schedule plus carving out time for his family, Dutton manages to fit in some quiet time. “I read a lot,” he said, “I just finished Fork Over Knives, which was pretty scary coming from a farming family in Australia.” The book discusses the downsides of the meat-based Western Diet. Dutton also mentioned enjoying the most recent Dan Brown release, Origin.
We wish Phillip Dutton and the entire Land Rover U.S Eventing Squad the best of luck at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon later this month!
You can catch Phillip Dutton on the Event Clinics calendar; he is heading to Rutledge Farm in Middleburg, Virginia for a clinic in October. Visit www.eventclinics.com to secure your space.
This month we’re going to begin a several-month series about defense and coping mechanisms. It’s common for these two terms to be used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different. Coping mechanisms are mental strategies that resolve stressful events, while defense mechanisms are behaviors that attempt to avoid or hide from them.
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This article will be updated to include statements as they are released from upcoming USEA recognized events regarding actions they are taking due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In 2000 and with the support of Joan Iversen Goswell, the Worth the Trust Scholarships were established to provide financial assistance to amateurs to pursue their education in eventing. The funds from the Worth the Trust Educational Scholarship may be used for training opportunities such as clinics, working student positions, and private or group instruction, or to learn from an official, course designer, technical delegate, judge, veterinarian, or organizer.