He has been to every World Equestrian Games and Olympic Games since 1994, he was brought home team and individual Olympic medals, and he has been a stalwart of both the Australian and American eventing teams - it's Phillip Dutton! On this episode of the Equiratings Eventing Podcast, show host Nicole Brown is joined by Dutton to discuss his rise to the top of the eventing world, his experiences with world championships, and where he sees the sport has been and where it's heading.
Dutton was sitting astride a pony very early on in his childhood living in a small Outback town in New South Wales, Australia. Living on a working ranch, Dutton learned to ride while herding sheep and cattle, but he also was exposed to racing through his grandfather, and to Pony Club through his parents. While riding was a part of his landscape from early on, it wasn't until later that he was introduced to the sport of eventing.
Living in an isolated area presented challenges for Dutton when it came to competing. Eventing was a sport that you could train for at home and then travel whatever distance to compete. Through Pony Club, Dutton was exposed to Denis Pigott, who described his experience at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Dutton remembers being "mesmerized." He says he loved the sport, but never thought he would be able to make a living with it.
In 1991, Dutton traveled to the United States to further his eventing career. He recalls looking up Bruce Davidson's number in the phone book ("because that's what you did in those days") and Davidson agreed to help him get set up in the U.S.
He brought with him to America a horse named True Blue Girwood, an Australian Thoroughbred who failed out of racing, and he took Dutton to his first World Equestrian Games in 1994 and helped earn a team gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.
In 2000, Dutton returned to Australia to compete in the Olympic Games in Sydney, again bringing home a gold medal. Dutton recalls it being a particularly special games because of the opportunity to be surrounded by family and friends.
Dutton talks about the decision to change nationalities from Australia to the United States. He had come to feel like the U.S. was home, and in particular he had the support of several U.S. owners behind him. Given that, and the fact that he was building a life in the United States, it seemed like a prudent decision. Dutton's first championships riding for the United States was in Rio in 2007 at the Pan American Games.
In 2008, Dutton and Connaught won the Kentucky Three-Day Event. Dutton described Connaught's win as "inspiring," as the distance of a five-star cross-country course was difficult for Connaught to manage. But he had heart for the game, and that carried him through. That performance earned Dutton and Connaught a spot on the U.S. team at the Hong Kong Olympics.
Dutton discusses his experience with the different team coaches he's worked with, both in Australia and the United States including Wayne Roycroft, Captain Mark Phillips, David O'Connor, and Erik Duvander. He also talks a bit about how eventing works as an industry in the United States and the advantages and challenges that presents, and the mentality it takes to make it to the top of the sport.
Brown asks Dutton to recount his experience at the Rio Olympics in 2016 where he and Mighty Nice won the individual bronze medal and Dutton shares a bit about the "drama" leading into the event and the infamous save on cross-country.
Over the course of Dutton's 30-year career in the sport, eventing has gone through significant changes. Dutton shares his view of the how the standards have changed in all three phases and what he views as the most important factors in eventing in the United States continuing to progress.
Reflecting back on his career, Dutton said he tries not to live in the past, but instead focus on the future. Even so, which horse would he love to have over again, knowing what he knows now? And who does he have in his yard that he's looking forward to bringing up the levels? You'll have to listen in to find out!