Friday, January 22, 2010

Phillip Dutton: Ends 2009 on top, wins Coach of the Year, and the horse who changed his life

I talked with Phillip Dutton at 9:00am while he and the rest of his True Prospect Farm in West Grove, PA were packing up for Aiken, South Carolina. I'd been told by more than one rider that he was a man of few words, but of words that mattered. And they were right. He was also kind, thoughtful, down-to-earth, and (thanks to his home country) had a great Australian accent. Phillip topped the USEA scoreboard eleven times over the years, including 2009. The USEF named him one of two 2009 Coaches of the Year (alongside George Morris). He was on Australia's gold-medal winning team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and has represented his home country in three Olympics and four World Championships. And in 2007 he represented the gold-medal winning United States team in Rio de Janiero at the World Games, taking home an individual silver to boot. There's more, but I'm running out of space and you're eager to get on with it. So let's. For more just go to Phillip's web site at

Q. What characteristics do you most value in others?

A. Well, I guess, reliability and honesty. A sense of humor is nice to have.

Q. In yourself?

A. It’s important for me to be a good dad, be the best at the sport, and then be as successful as I can be; to be a good sportsman and help out some others that are coming along; and to keep an eye on the people who have helped me along the way like coaches and owners and vets.

Q. How did you first get into horses?

A. I come from a farming family in Australia so we had sheep and cattle and horses. My grandfather had racehorses and I did okay with them so horses were always part of my life. One thing led to another.

Q. What do you like to do with your time when not in the saddle?

A. Well, you know, we have three young girls so most of it is family oriented. Most of our time after horses revolves around school or sporting events for the girls or activities they want to do. At the moment they ice skate and our eldest is into track.

Q. How did you meet your wife?

A. She came for a lesson. When I first moved over here she was one of the first people I started helping.

photo by Sarah K. Andrews

Q. How would your wife, Evie, describe you?

A. Over all that I’m a good partner for her and we’ve gone through a lot together and raised a family and she’d be proud of what we’ve done.

Q. After a long day on the road what kind of dinner would you wish could be sitting on the table waiting for you?

A. Coming from Australia I grew up with meat and potatoes. So lamb and steak comes to mind first. As I’m getting older I’m getting more health conscious. I try to hold off on those so they’re not that regular. There’s pretty much not any food I don’t like if you get to know me.

Photo by Emily Daily

Q. Who are your top horses?

A. At the moment we have Woodburn, who just did a horse trials with but who has done Kentucky and Burghley. Tru Luck who was 4th at Bughley. Kheops Du Quesnay is going to Kentucky for the first time this year. Foreman is coming back from injury, he was very successful before. My elder statesmen, Connaught, who went to Olympics and has won a lot.

Q. What are they like in their personalities?

A. Woodburn is probably not the friendliest horse you’ve ever seen, he’s a bit on edge. Tru Luck is a real happy go lucky kind of guy, he enjoys life. Kheops Du Quesnay is changing: he’s mellowing out and enjoying the training, he’s pleasant around the barn. Foreman is meek and a little shy but once you’re on he’s pretty forward. Connaught is a pretty strange character and pretty opinionated about what he wants to do and what worries him, but he means well.

Below: Phillip on Tru Luck, a "happy-go-lucky guy"

Photo by Emily Daily

Q. What do you look for in a horse? Is there anything that would put you off a horse?

A. I’m not real keen on lame horses, that would put me off. Obviously I’m looking for an athletic horse who’s a good mover and good jumper with good self carriage who carries himself easily without having to work hard at it. The mind is so important so you can work with the horse. Soundness, obviously. Most horses, if they’ve got talent, they can make it as long as they can stand up to it.

Q. Is there one horse who really captured your heart? Why?

A. Well, True Blue Girdwood was my first horse that I brought to this country. He basically set up my career. I’ve heard people talk about things in your life that, if you didn’t have them, your life would be changed. For a lot of people it’s college. For me, my life was changed by that horse. For what he did for me and set me up and got me started here. There’s been so many horses over the years. Heckle Hannigan was a horse that had incredible talent and an incredible personalityhe was like a person. Unfortunately he passed away a year ago.

photo by Emily Daily

Q. Do you have any pet peeves about the way a horse gets turned out for competition?

A. I think, like anything, you need to have pride in what you do and how you look. But, like anything, you can take it too far. A balance has to be there. There can be an emphasis on turnout and appearence but also the way your horse goes.

Part II of Phillip's interview will post on Sunday with a look at the past decade---and the one ahead. If you want to read more on Phillip or his horses check out his website at

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