Cosequin presents OTTB Showcase: Trainer Tips With Phillip Dutton

by | 11.27.2013 | 10:54am
Phillip Dutton at the 2013 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event

Born in 1963 in Nyngan, New South Wales, Australia, Phillip Dutton grew up on his family's sheep and wheat farm. Horses were a major part of his life from day one, and as he grew older, he participated in pony club rallies and horse trials and continued riding through his college career. By 1991 he made the move to the United States to focus on training for international events with a goal of representing Australia at the Olympics, which he did, helping Australia's Eventing Team win gold.

Since coming to the States, Dutton has represented Australia in three Olympics and four World Championships. In 2006, he became an American citizen with a goal of representing his adoptive home internationally, which he has done extensively, first helping Team USA win gold and earning individual silver at the Pan American Games in 2007. He also represented the U. S. at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong and at the World Equestrian Games in 2010. He has also earned the U. S. Eventing Association's Leading Rider of the Year title in 1998, and every year from 2000 through 2010. He was also the top FEI World Event Rider in 2005.

Phillip and his wife, Evie, own, manage and train out of their True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania and at their Red Oak Farm in Aiken, South Carolina. While still internationally competitive, Dutton spends much of his time these days coaching up-and- coming riders. He is a founding member of the Professional Riders Organization (PRO) and is on the USEF Safety Committee, the USEF High Performance Committee for Eventing and the USEF Board. In 2009, Dutton was voted the Developing Rider Coach of the year.


What have been your impressions over the years – both positive and negative – of off-track Thoroughbreds as eventers (both at the lower levels and the higher levels)?
Thoroughbreds were the main horses used in eventing for many years. In the past 5-10 years, purpose-bred horses have become more popular. If you had to generalize (which is not always good to do), the Thoroughbreds are usually great cross country horses, but not as strong in the other two phases.

When you or a client is considering purchasing an off-track Thoroughbred, what are some unique concerns you consider that might not be applicable with other breeds?
It's quite hard to judge how a horse will settle once in a different job. Some horses that are pretty nervous in training can settle nicely as event horses. However, some won't settle down.

Dutton aboard TruLuck at Rolex 2007

Dutton aboard TruLuck at Rolex 2007

You've competed on several Thoroughbreds at the higher levels over the years including TruLuck (who raced as C L's Luck). How did he and others compare to some of your other top horses who were not Thoroughbreds?
It's always comforting to have a Thoroughbred at a four star on cross country day because you can be fairly confident that he will handle the endurance aspect of the cross country course.

At the Thoroughbreds for All event this past year during the Rolex Three-Day Event, you mentioned briefly the fact that many off-track Thoroughbreds are not suitable for the upper levels. Why is that and what can the Thoroughbred industry do to better prepare or protect their racehorses to they are viable sport horse prospects after racing?
Regardless of breed, there just are not a lot of horses that are suitable for the four star level. It takes a pretty special horse to get to the highest level of eventing.

When looking at an off-track Thoroughbred as an eventing prospect (or prospect for another discipline), what do you look for conformationally?
I look for an athlete. A horse that is naturally built uphill. One that has good bone and substance. One who is well built and well proportioned will have more potential or scope in all phases.

What are some effects (both positive and negative) of a horse having a racing career prior to becoming a sport horse?
The greatest part of a horse who has been on the track is his base of fitness. It is so easy to get and keep them fit, unlike other breeds. Conversely, the worst part is probably getting the horse to settle and relax into a new life and career.

Many Thoroughbreds retire from racing with injuries that can be rehabilitated so that over time they can be a viable, sound riding/show horse. What injuries have you found to be the easiest for a horse to overcome and ultimately perform at a high level after incurring?
If soft tissue injuries have healed properly, I'm generally okay with those in a horse's history. Big, fat joints or arthritis on x-rays generally deteriorate with the pounding and dressage work. I really suggest all young Thoroughbreds be on a supplement like Cosequin.

Dutton and Mighty Nice at the 2012 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event

Dutton and Mighty Nice at the 2012 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event

What can Thoroughbred owners and trainers do to best prepare their young racehorses for careers after racing?
I would suggest that owners and trainers of Thoroughbred racehorses come to a decision about the horse's career earlier rather than later. Less racing wear and tear on a horse is the ideal scenario for setting him or her up for a successful second career.

What advice can you give to young riders looking to get a Thoroughbred off the track to make into an eventer?
Be patient. A lot of times, these horses have known no other life than the racetrack so it will naturally take time for them to adjust. The Thoroughbred loves to go forward, so base your training around this.

What are some of the initial key things you suggest people do when transitioning a Thoroughbred from racing to being a riding/show horse (training, care, etc – what's the best way to give them a good foundation)?
Start to ride and train your new horse in the quietest possible environment. Not a lot of atmosphere or other horses around until your horse begins to understand what you are asking and become educated. It's not a good idea to force the dressage, but rather slowly and methodically teach him. Trotting jumps are good for a while too.

What do you like most about off-track Thoroughbreds (mentally, physically, or otherwise)?
A well-trained, talented, and educated Thoroughbred will try harder for you than any other breed of horse.

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