Phillip Dutton, who left Australia for Pennsylvania, eyes more Olympics in his 60s
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Equestrian Phillip Dutton turns 60 years old on Wednesday. The seven-time Olympian doesn’t know when he’ll step away from competition, but it won’t be any time soon.
Dutton, who lives in West Grove, Pennsylvania, bids next year to become the oldest U.S. Olympian since art competitions were held at the Games in the 1930s.
Aside from that, the only older Americans were at the 1904 St. Louis Games (archers and one roque player, according to Olympedia.org).
Dutton made his Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games, winning the first of back-to-back team eventing golds for his native Australia.
Dutton, who moved to the U.S. in 1991, became an American citizen in 2006 and competed for the U.S. at the last four Games. In 2016, he became the oldest U.S. Olympic medalist in any sport since 1952, winning bronze in individual eventing.
He might just try to bookend his Olympic career with another Games in the U.S. in Los Angeles in 2028.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. At some stage, I can’t keep doing it forever,” he said. “But I haven’t considered giving up and retiring. I’m still excited. I still enjoy the day to day and what I do every day. As long as I can keep doing well, I’m going to keep at it.”
Dutton’s path to becoming a U.S. Olympian was a step-by-step process. First came the decision to move from Australia more than 30 years ago.
“A friend of mine once said to me ... ‘For an hour work anywhere in the world, you’ll get more reward for it in America,’” he said.
And Dutton knew about hard work. He was born in Nyngan, an isolated, outback-type town about 350 miles northwest of Sydney. He and three siblings grew familiar with horses on the family’s wheat and sheep farm.
Only Dutton converted from recreational riding to senior-level competition. In his 20s, he had an up-and-coming horse and reached a crossroads.
“Most eventing people who had aspirations like me in Australia went to England because that’s kind of the mecca of eventing,” he said. “It’d be pretty hard to establish in England without a really great horse.”
Dutton remembered what his friend told him about the U.S.
“Starting out in the bottom in America, there wasn’t as many [eventing] people coming here, so honestly the opportunity to grow my business would have been a bit better here,” he said.
Next, Dutton had to decide where to set up shop in America. He flew over for a scouting trip, found a phonebook and looked up Bruce Davidson, an Olympic eventing medalist.
Davidson answered, invited Dutton to his farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and helped him find a base. Weeks later, Dutton moved to America.
He has primarily lived in Chester County for the last 32 years. He and wife Evie co-own True Prospect Farm in West Grove.
“The terrain was what attracted a lot of steeplechasing and fox hunting and race horses to this area because of the hills,” he said. “It’s a great area to get the horses fit.”
Dutton made the most of the community’s expertise, from horseshoes to veterinarians, to become part of an Australian dynasty in eventing, which combines the results of three distinct disciplines (dressage, cross-country and jumping).
Australia won the Olympic team event in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Dutton was on the latter two teams, then made his individual Olympic debut in 2004.
But when he won competitions on American-owned horses, and the Australian anthem played, it increasingly did not feel quite right.
“I sort of still regard myself as Australian, but having said that, since I’ve been in this country, everybody’s been so good to me,” Dutton said. “I wanted to sort of be a part of the American scene and also give something back to the sport from which I gained so much.”
So Dutton, the world’s top-ranked rider in 2005, decided to switch his nationality. He dreaded the phone call to tell his parents, “but they were very understanding.”
Dutton made his global championship debut for the U.S. at the 2006 World Equestrian Games and competed at every Olympics and World Games through Tokyo in 2021. He was a traveling alternate for the 2022 Worlds.
Dutton conceded there are more aches and pains when he gets off a horse these days. He also underwent Lasik eye surgery before the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m not quite as nimble and as sharp as I was 20 years ago,” he said. “I’ve worked hard at trying to stay in shape and stay true to that for what I do.”
His three decades of experience can be an edge over younger riders come 2024 Olympic team selection.
“As the rider, I’m kind of the horse’s coach,” he said. “As you get older and more wise and you learn from every horse you’ve been with and everything you’ve gone through, you probably get a bit better at being able to get the horses to understand what we want and teach them.”
There are five U.S. eventing riders ranked in the top 15 in the world, including Dutton at No. 13 (and fourth among Americans). The Olympic team will be three plus an alternate, expected to be named next spring by a selection committee.
Dutton was confident after placing sixth (and third among Americans) in a top-level competition in Germany in late June. He continues to ride Z, his mount at both the 2018 World Games and Tokyo Olympic Games. He’s never ridden the same horse at back-to-back Olympics, but that could change next year.
An event in Kentucky next April will likely be the biggest decider, he said.
“It’s looking OK,” Dutton said. “A lot can happen between now and then.”