Phillip receiving the Bronze Medal at the 2016 Rio OlympicsPhillip receiving the Bronze Medal at the 2016 Rio OlympicsPhillip Dutton is one of the biggest names in eventing and each winter he packs up his farm in Penn­sylvania and heads for Aiken, SC, where he trains his top horses, schools up his young ones and competes all over the south. So, this January, as we drove down the long, winding drive way to meet Phillip at his farm's "winter retreat" the excitement in the car was obvious. Dutton has competed at the top of the sport for years, recently riding "Mr. Medicott" to a fourth-place finish at Rolex 2017, with "Fernhill Fugitive" and 'Tm Sew Ready" in the top ten and bringing home the individual Bronze Medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics with "Mighty Nice." Throughout the years, he has ridden on several Pan American teams, competed in previous Olympic events, in addition to suc­cessful rides at the largest competitions in the world ... Rolex, Pau, Fair Hill, Bromont, Jersey Fresh and the list goes on.

We were met at the door to the pale-yel­low barn by a pack of happy barn dogs, in­cluding Dutton's Head Groom, Emma Ford's Labrador, "Charlie." The barn was a buzz of activity as several horses were heading to Florida the next day, so Emma was packing and planning as Phillip was prepping to ride one of the many horses he would work that day. Phillip was everything you hope a top rider will be - friendly, personable, welcom­ing, and very focused. Throughout the time we were at Red Oak Farm, he rode 5 horses as well as gave 8 lessons - to say he runs at full speed is putting it mildly, he never stopped moving. Our interview actually took place in his cross-country field between two lessons in a golf cart with a few pups lounging around us! Even with the busy afternoon, Phillip was relaxed on every horse, smiling and helpful to every rider ... he had control of the day.

His working students were in constant mo­tion as well, tacking, grooming, caring for the horses. The care these athletes receive is top notch and the love and appreciation between rider and horse is clearly reciprocal. Phillip loves what he does and the horses he works with do as well, "I like good jumpers, I think that's important. You've got to have a horse you can trust to run down those big fences and know that they have the self-preservation to jump well. I've tried to become a good enough rider that I can ride a variety of hors­es, it broadens that the pool of horses that are available to you, that's helpful for your career. My barn is a big mix of different horses." At the level Phillip competes, he must be able to rely on his partners, "you need a good XC horse. You need someone that is tough and brave on cross-country day, but then you real­ly need to be competitive in dressage as well. Then there's holding your own in stadium too." He chuckles, "A 4* horse is a pretty spe­cial animal that can do all of that and be com­petitive and understand the 3 phases. This sport requires a different athletic ability and a strong mental attitude." Having grown up in Australia on a sheep and cattle farm, "sort of cross country-ish," he laughs, seems to have benefited his current career, "I have to work hard in all the phases, as does every rider, but I feel cross-country comes more natural to me, probably from galloping around as a kid."

2018 promises to be a busy year for Phillip, as he will take on several US events including Pine Top, Carolina International, The Fork, and Kentucky; Canada's Bromont, and also head overseas for Badminton and Luhmiihlen. With "Mighty Nice," or "Happy," unfortunate­ly, out for the season with a small soft tissue injury, Phillip plans to compete "Fernhill Cu­balawn," "Z," "Fernhill Revelation" and 'Tm Sew Ready." While we were at Red Oak, we were able to watch "Fernhill Cubalawn" in his first cross-country school in a year. The duo sauntered out to the large cross-country field filled with obstacles, hacked around a bit and then proceeded to pop over everything they looked at ... calm, cool and collected. After each course, 14-year-old "Cuba" simply stood quietly as Phillip spoke to his students before Phillips' daughter, Olivia, hopped on him and quietly walked the trail back to the barn.

Phillip Dutton

When asked about winning the Bronze Medal at the 2016 Olympics, he states that "it was such a shock, I didn't think I was going to get a bronze. I was so proud of my horse, it was a great thing. Incredible for my career, but also for "Happy's" owners and Bruce Duchossois's memory, who had such faith in the horse. For all his friends that stepped up to support the horse, the HND Group - Caroline Moran, Kevin Keane, Michael Bombar, Annie Jones, and Evie Dutton. It was a great moment, just great for the sport and America as well. We haven't been that competitive in the world for a while so it kind of showed that we can do it, but we just have to be able to put it together on the day." A big supporter of Phillip's is owner, Caroline Moran, "I was introduced to Phillip about ten years ago by my dear friend, Bruce Duchossois. Shortly after Bruce's passing, I be­came a part owner of Phillip's Olympic mount, Mighty Nice," who was previously owned by Bruce. Phillip is an incredible horseman and is extremely detailed in every aspect of the hors­es' care, preparation and performance. In the saddle, he has a certain grit that I have not seen before. He is in it to win it every time he leaves the start box. My journey with Phillip and Evie has been exciting from the start They are a spectacular team and have truly added a new dimension to my enjoyment of the sport."

It's clear that Phillip has surrounded him­self with a strong, supportive team - from the ground up, so it's not surprising that he encourages young riders to do the same, "it's good to have idols and people to aspire to as well as surrounding yourself with the best possible people. People that help you aim for the right things ... that can be your parents, farrier, coach, vet. A great support crew with good role models, that's something I learned early on. It's not always the right horse that makes you successful, but the right people."

Phillip Dutton Eventing hopes to qual­ify several horses for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in September to be held at the Tryon International Equestrian Cen­ter (TIEC). "It comes down to seeing how many horses are ready for that level when it's a qualifying year. Then I work backwards from the event and do what's needed for each horse to get them prepared. Hopefully they will do well and shine." According to PEI regulations, to qualify for WEG, riders must compete at either a CCI 4* or a CCI 3* plus a CI 3*. Riders must receive a dressage score "with no more than 45 penalty points;" a clear cross-country round with "not more than 75 seconds exceeding the optimum time (100 seconds for 4* competition)," and a stadium round with "not more than 16 penalties at the obstacles."

It's been said that "a successful team is a group of many hands but of one mind," and there's no better representation of that than Phillip Dutton Eventing. To keep up with Phillip, visit www.phillipdutton.com.