By: Allyson Lagiovane / Phelps Media Group
On Saturday, October 26, two-time Olympic eventing gold-medalist Phillip Dutton returned to Rutledge Farm in Middleburg, Virginia to host his second clinic as a part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions clinic series. Set on the picturesque grass field and inviting riders and horses of all skill levels, Dutton’s clinic focused on building upon the basics, emphasizing the importance of thinking forward, adjustability, and the trust between horse and rider.
Dutton said, “My goal was to make the education for the horses pretty clear and keep the training basic and simple. We wanted to keep the horses thinking forward and getting a good understanding of leg-to-hand connection, and obviously we added the cross country exercises into it as well. Training like this is good because you can break it down to be simple and then make it harder as they understand it.”
Each group kicked off with flatwork, warming the horses up through leg yielding and counter bending exercises at both the trot and canter. Dutton said, “We want to create a really athletic horse that can come to any jump at any distance you want. You don’t want your horse behind the bit, you want him to take the bit forward. All of this understanding and training will help you when we jump.”
Over fences, Dutton worked with riders through various bending lines, two-strides, and eventing obstacles such as logs, pipes, and corners. He honed in on the importance of adjustability on course, asking riders to either lengthen or shorten their horses’ strides through the lines.
He said, “To fit in a certain number of strides on course, we don’t need to be mathematicians. It’s all about being able to adjust your horse. As you get further up the levels, the communication and adjustability becomes more and more important so that you do not have a battle on the approach to the jump. It’s all about you and the horse working together.”
Professional athlete Allison Springer of The Plains, Virginia, brought two greener mounts with her to the clinic. Being familiar with Dutton’s teaching style, Springer looked forward to gaining a fresh perspective and walking away with a few new training tools for her mounts.
Springer said, “Phillip [Dutton] always sets up tougher lines than you might set up at home and he always pushes you to the limit of rideability, which is so important for these horses. I expected that and that is exactly what I got out of today. It was great to have his input. This is the first [Rutledge Farm Session] that I have been able to participate in and people just love it. It’s a very special thing to have a really great opportunity.”
Dutton ended each group’s session over a simple gymnastic line, with riders jumping a two-stride to an eight-stride line, focusing specifically on their technique. He said, “We are finishing with nice, straightforward riding, and this is an exercise that maybe gets away a little from cross country training. You still always have to go back to the basics – leg to hand and making sure they are responding in the right way.”
Coming from Washington & Lee University, amateur rider Caroline Cox was uniquely mounted aboard her miracle horse Beau, a 10-year-old Appendix gelding that was left underweight in a field until she purchased him for just $1,500 in January. Since then, Cox has been working hard to rehabilitate the gelding, with Beau surprising Cox each step along the way.
Cox said, “We were just hoping to come out here and get some insights from someone who has really written the book on how you event. I don’t think [Beau] has ever seen a corner before in his whole life, or even a skinny. He was really game and Phillip [Dutton] was really encouraging about getting the horses to go forward and go to the jumps. We had a really good time!”
On the clinic, Dutton commented, “I thought it was a good day and we had a big cross-section of riders and experience and horses. They all came with the right attitude and wanted to learn and wanted to do the best that they could for their horse.”
He continued, “We’re all trying to get better and learn, just the same as I’m out there getting help from other people as well, I think you need someone to critique you. It’s rewarding for me to help other people and call on my experience over the years, and hopefully that makes the journey a little bit easier for someone else.”
Click here to read about the five pieces of training wisdom that Dutton imparted on clinic participants throughout the day.
The 2019 Rutledge Farm Sessions will conclude the weekend of November 9-10 with renowned equitation trainer Stacia Madden. The unique clinic series’ recent expansion offers even more clinics for riders of all levels and in all disciplines at the world-class Rutledge Farm facility. For more information or to register to attend the final clinic of the year, visit www.rutledgefarm.com/clinics