A local equestrian is in London to compete in the Olympics.
Phillip Dutton calls Chester County home but was born “down under.”
Dutton has 40 horses at his True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Chester County, just outside Kennett Square. This will be his fifth Olympics, his second riding for the United States.
He rode three times for his native Australia before becoming an American. He was part of Australia’s gold medal winning team in 1996. Dutton will try for a medal in the three-day event, which he explained during a phone call from London.
“It’s like a triathlon of all sports, we do three different phases which is dressage on one day, cross-country jumping on the next and then the stadium jumping on the third day,” said Dutton.
If your equestrian experience is limited to a pony ride, this is like asking a single horse/rider combination to be a ballerina, then a marathon runner and then a slalom skier. The sports require finesse and discipline and at times all out running.
Jenny Brannigan is one of the assistant trainers at Dutton’s farm. She says his horse Mystery Whisper will help Dutton with his weak spot, dressage. That discipline demands horses followed a choreographed routine while the rider uses only slight hand motions to direct the animal.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses doing three different disciplines and he’s the best cross country rider in the world and a great jump rider and that horse’s strength is dressage, which he believes is one of his weaker phases,” said Brannigan. “So he says it’s really important to pick a horse that going to improve their weaknesses and vice-versa for the rider.”
Dutton says at 47-years-old, he’s still able to compete and could have a leg up on some of the other riders.
“Experience plays a big part, certainly you do need to keep in shape you don’t want to be overweight you need to have good balance to stay on galloping horse at speed and jump your jumps and not interfere with the horse,” he said.
That’s a major understatement. To jump a four foot tall fence at a gallop without practice runs takes more than balance. It takes an understanding of the animal and a keen ability to read the course. Phillip’s wife Evie Dutton says her husband’s day at the barn would put many other athletes to shame.
“Phillip rides eight horses a day he also runs and he’s not a young man anymore he works at it, he loves what he does, he watches what he eats,” she said. “He’s an athlete and the horses are obviously athletes as well.”
The horse business is a family affair. Evie’s daughter Lee Lee Jones is an aspiring Olympian. She says it’s impressive to watch her stepfather work.
“It’s pretty amazing, he’s a huge role model and I look up to him, the Olympics is the best, the top of the sport,” said Jones.
Assistant trainer Brannigan also dreams of the Olympics and is thankful that Dutton has taken her under his wing.
“He’s unbelievable to work for and he’s made into a big professional here and he’s really helped me because I’ve had some really bad things happen,” said Brannigan. “These people have become my family and they are amazing to work for we’ve been through a lot together, I just love being here.”
Dutton came to Chester County because it’s known as a great place to train against high calibre competition. Why did he stay? For one, he met his wife who has roots here. For another, Evie Dutton says the area is perfect for training Olympic equestrians.
“The land and the community, we have a great tradition of equestrian sports in this area,” she said. “Fox hunting is very important and that helps with the open space, steeple chasing, driving, there’s just and kind of equestrian sport here. You have top notch facilities, [Penn’s] New Bolton Center is just down the road, the best vets the best farriers, everything that supports an equestrian operation.”
As he prepares to fight Olympic favorites England and Germany in the three-day competition, Dutton says unlike in some other sports, this is the biggest stage.
“Certainly to be involved in the Olympic games what I do is a relative small sport To be a part of the Olympic games is pretty magical, it’s like to play in the Super Bowl.”
Dutton’s events begin this weekend.