Chester County riders comprise half of USA Eventing Team at Rio Olympics
By J. Chambless
Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton prepare to walk the course at the recent Nations Cup. (Photo by Cindy Lawson)
Chester County boasts two riders representing Team USA in Rio as members of the eventing team.
Phillip Dutton of West Grove and Boyd Martin of Cochranville each will travel with a primary horse, as well as a reserve mount, to compete in a very tough sport.
“I first came to Chester County because Bruce Davidson [of Unionville] helped me find a farm there to base from,” Dutton said. “I have seen no reason to move, as I think it’s the premier horse community to live in anywhere in the United States.”
Eventing can be likened to a triathlon, but on a horse. On each of three successive days, the same horse and rider team compete in a different phase. From its roots in the military, eventing was designed to test a horse and rider’s discipline, endurance and athleticism.
In the first phase, dressage, the horse and rider perform a test of specific movements in an arena. It is the most elegant phase and the only one which is subjective, as judges score each performance on accuracy and smoothness. The second day, the horses and riders tackle a cross-country course of somewhere around 40 huge jumps, all as they gallop up and down hills and in and out of water. The final day, the horses and riders are back in an arena setting for the phase known as show jumping. Unlike the solid, natural jumps on the cross-country course, these jumps are set much closer together, and some are in combinations of two and three jumps together, with just one or two strides between them.
“Eventing is a unique sport,” Martin said. “The equestrian events are the only sports in the Olympics that add an animal into the equation. It’s also, with the exception of sailing, the only sport men and women compete in as equals. Plus, it’s just very exciting to watch!”
Rio will mark the fourth Olympic Games for Dutton, 52, who was a member of Australia’s Gold Medal eventing team at both the 1996 and 2000 games before he became a naturalized American citizen in 2006 and then rode for team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
As a seasoned Olympian, Dutton knows that mental preparation is as important as physical preparation and talent. “The main difficulty with the Olympics, outside of the competition, is being able to adjust and be comfortable to perform at your best when factors outside of your control go awry,” he said, citing allocated training times, media attention, and team difficulties. “It’s so important to remember what the one goal is – putting in a personal best performance for the team.”
Also Australian born, Martin, 36, relocated to West Grove in 2007 to take a position as assistant trainer to Dutton in hopes of advancing his career. He, like Dutton, has become one of the most sought-after riders and trainers in the eventing world. Martin was a member of the U.S. eventing team at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Dutton and Martin were both members of a gold medal team at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Very recently the two, along with Clark Montgomery and Lauren Keiffer -- who together comprise the U.S. team headed to Rio -- won the team gold at the Nations Cup in The Plains, Va. Montgomery also claimed the gold individual medal.
Dutton’s primary horse for the Olympic Games, Fernhill Cubalawn, is one he has ridden to many top finishes, both in the U.S. and Europe. Boyd will be aboard Blackfoot Mystery, a relatively new ride that he has already ridden to a number of top finishes, including a first-place finish at the posh Wellington Eventing Showcase in February, and a sixth-place finish at Rolex Kentucky, indisputably the most challenging event in the U.S.
“We are very well prepared,” Martin said. “We have four very good riders and four very good horses. We’ve put in all the work; the key now is putting in our best on that day.”
The eventing competition begins with dressage on Aug. 6 and 7, followed by cross-country on Aug. 8, and concluding with show jumping on Aug. 9.