Growing up on a sheep and cattle farm in the starkly beautiful Australian outback, Phillip Dutton never imagined he would strike gold twice at the Olympics. He spent much of his day on horseback, holding herd or riding a fence line.
"Our day-to-day work was done riding horses, so if you fell off you had a long walk home," laughs Phillip. "You learned to stay on your horse and take care of him. I naturally migrated toward eventing since it requires all-round horsemanship."
He relocated to the heart of Chester County's horse country in 1991 to train with world champion Bruce Davidson. He brought along the Australian ex-racehorse True Blue Girdwood.
Five years later horse and rider earned a gold medal as members of Australia's Eventing Team in Atlanta. Dutton helped the team retain the Olympic gold on their home turf in Sydney in 2000. A year later he was inducted to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame.
A top performer in four World Championships, Dutton was named the United States Equestrian Association Leading Rider of the Year in 1998, and from 2000-2006. He was the number one World Event Rider in 2005. Dutton was Individual Silver Medalist and Team Gold Medalist at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro last summer (2007).
"It's gone way beyond all my dreams," relates Phillip, relaxing after a morning training session. "A lot of people here have been incredibly good to me. I've trained and competed with some of the best horses in the world." Dutton takes great pride in being recognized as one of the region's preeminent horsemen.
"There's good soil, nice grass and rolling hills, which are ideal for getting horses in shape fitness-wise," he notes. "For decades there have been so many champion horses and horsemen. The area has the greatest concentration of top-notch horse service people in the world- the vets, the farriers, equine dentists and physical therapists, feed people, you name it."
After toying with the idea for a number of years, last December Dutton became an American citizen.
"It wasn't something I took lightly," he explains. "America has been my home for a long time. It was just time. My mentor, Wayne Roycroft, was very supportive and got the stamp of approval from the Australian equestrian organizations. It's worked out well, Evie and our kids enjoy a wonderful country life."
Dutton is married to Evie Davis of Centreville who grew up riding hunters. After graduating from Vanderbilt she took a position at the National Gallery of Art, then later studied art in England. In the early '90s she owned the Chase Gallery in Kennett Square with partner Kathy Nelson.
These days Evie does her riding at True Prospect Farm in Chatham. The couple purchased the property last year along with partner Bruce Duchossois. For the previous seven years Phillip and Evie worked in a managerial role for two sets of owners. The most recent owners, Dr. Tim Gardner and his wife Nina, helped the Duttons acquire the farm.
Its 80 acres is home to roughly 45 horses that Phillip conditions for his elite-level competitions, those he trains for his students and others that he schools and sells. Once a strictly dressage facility, the farm is blossoming into a full service eventing training ground. Phillip and Evie live close-by with their daughters Lee Lee, 11, and twin daughters, Mary and Olivia, age 5.
Phillip keeps a busy schedule competing at the top level most weekends from late January through October. When he's not competing, he often flies to teaching clinics along the east coast. He recently purchased an RV that enables his family to travel to summer competitions in upstate New York and Massachusetts.
"The girls love riding in it," he says. "They have their buddies that they hang out with at the events. For the family it's tough to come up with the right balance. We're still working on it."
"Occasionally we'll go to a nice restaurant in Philly and say, wow, we should do this more often," Evie laughs. "Our work is our life as are our friends, it's all interconnected."
Last year Phillip's mount Tru Luck earned Horse of the Year honors. With his citizenship Phillip has been added to the USEF Eventing "A" List with the horses The Foreman, owned by Unionville's Ann Jones; Tru Luck, owned by Jones and Shannon Stimson; and Connaught owned by Bruce Douchossis.
Riding Connaught Dutton earned his fifth runner-up trophy at the four-star Rolex Kentucky in late April. The Foreman was injured and unavailable, Tru Luck finished ninth.
"Obviously I would have liked to have won," said Dutton, "but I'm very pleased for Connaught. It's his highest placing here."
As for selecting his mounts, Phillip looks for an all-round athlete that is a exceptionally talented at the canter.
"A lot of dressage is done in a canter, plus the horse jumps from a canter," he explains. "The horse also needs toughness, since you have years of training ahead of you. I look for an elastic, light moving horse, but one not very nervous."
While looks are important, horse smarts are crucial.
"He needs to remember his job, even with 40,000 people in the stands screaming in an electric atmosphere," Philip says. "On the cross country phase he has to be able to work out situations and problems without me having to do too much for him."
"Walk a four-star course, most people will find the jumps quite daunting. "But it begins with a horse at the lowest level, jumping logs then you gradually build up. It's amazing how confident you can feel in a few years time." From True Prospect Farm, Dutton trains his horses and teaches a mix of professionals and adult amateur riders.
"There is a ground-swell in the sport all across America," he relates. "Virtually anyone can do low level events and have fun. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing people improve."
Looking forward, Dutton has his sights set on next year's Beijing Olympics. So the question arises: how long can he compete at this level?
"In my mind, Ill be competitive through the London Olympics (2012)," he replies. "But I won't carry on unless I feel I've a good chance to win. I will always be involved in the sport in some aspect. It's been too good to me, not to be there."