At the Carolina International Horse Trials, I spoke with accomplished Olympic gold-medalist Phillip Dutton about the upcoming Kentucky Three-Day Event. Dutton shared about his two CCI5*-L mounts—Z, a 13-year-old Zangersheide gelding and Fernhill Singapore, a 12-year-old KWPN gelding. He expressed his hopes for the two at the Kentucky and gave insight into some of his training techniques, his horses’ healthcare routines, and how he prepares for big competitions like Kentucky.
Can you tell us about Fernhill Singapore and Z — your two mounts for the Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L?
Fernhill Singapore was imported by Julie Richards from Carol Gee. I’ve had him since he was a 4-year-old. He’s not the fastest learner I’ve ever brought along, but he’s starting to figure it out now and he’s enormously talented in all three phases. [Kentucky] will be his first five-star. Z is the most experienced of [my mounts]. He has represented America at the [World Equestrian Games] and he’s been to Kentucky two times with good results. He continues to improve and he’s a great horse, so hopefully we’ll have good things from him.
Are there any specific training exercises that you work on with your horses?
I try to keep things as simple and as correct as I can. Everything that I did with these horses, to a degree, you start out with the baby horses as well. You get them going forward from your leg and into the contact, and then you gradually increase the collection and the adjustability as they get up the levels. With jumping, you know, you’re not always jumping big fences. It’s more about getting the rideability and the understanding and the confidence and the horses trusting me. I try not to ever, ever ask them to do something that I don’t feel that they can do well or easily, so that every day they jump, it’s a good experience for them. We try to build that confidence on a daily basis.
Are there any specific healthcare routines that you follow with your horses?
They’re all athletes, so having them feeling their best is important. We have a feed that’s catered to each individual horse. We have joint supplements too, because event horses, there’s a lot of pressure on them, especially at this level in their joints and overall. I’ve been using Cosequin with great results for as long as I can remember. And, there’s the veterinary side of it—making sure that there’s not some small injury or small soreness somewhere and keeping on top of that. And then there’s just the day-to-day care. Our crew gets to know [the horses] just like they’re close friends and can pick up on anything that’s a little different. It’s important to know what your horse is normally like and if there’s any change. And, then there’s the training and getting them fit. There’s so many components that go into getting a horse to this level. It’s kind of like owning a racing car—there’s so many components. The riding is one part of it, but there’s so many components to make a good performance and a good horse.
How do you prepare mentally and physically for a big event like Kentucky?
Mentally, you’ve got to do your homework and make sure that you’re prepared. It’s very easy to send the entry off, but you’ve got to make sure that your horse is prepared because when you get there, you realize how big the course is and how hard it’s all going to be. You don’t want to get there and then second guess your preparations. The long answer to the mental part of it is making sure you’re prepared when you get there so you can be a little bit more at ease and know that you’ve trained well. You’ve got to believe in that training mentally so that when you start to second guess yourself, you can think back to training and everything you’ve done beforehand and get some confidence that you’re ready and that your horse is ready and your horse is talented enough.
Physically, if you ride a lot of horses, that’ll be the best fitness you can do. But, I think everybody’s got a different approach to getting themselves fit and every body is a bit different. It’s a big topic in today’s world, but I don’t think there’s any one way to [prepare physically]. It can’t be a grind, doing it all the time, so you’ve got to find something you enjoy that’s helpful to you. Like, if you hate going to the gym, you’ll probably be better off finding something else to do rather than go to the gym.
Do you have any hobbies outside of riding?
I don’t have a lot of time now to do other hobbies leading up to Kentucky. But, like I said, I ride a lot. The biggest thing I try to do now is keep my body stretching because it tightens up pretty quickly. I try to do that before and after [I ride] and I add a little bit of aerobic to it from time to time.
Do you have any pre-show routines or superstitions?
I’m superstitious about not being superstitious.