One glance at Phillip Dutton’s exhaustive resume of saddled-up achievements says it all: the man can horse. The 53-year-old has been doing it for decades at the highest level of three-day eventing, earning seemingly every attainable accolade in equestrian sport. But on Friday evening at the USEF Pegasus Awards in Lexington, Dutton picked up a brand new feather for his hard hat: 2016 Equestrian of the Year.
It’s the first such honor for the long-standing, ageless Dean of American Eventing, who strung together one of the best seasons of his career in 2016. Teaming up with stable star Mighty Nice (“Happy”), the pair placed 4th at Rolex Kentucky, and most notably, earned his first Olympic medal as an American with the individual bronze in Rio. Dutton finished the year as the 2nd ranked rider in the world.
2016 Equestrians of Honor
Cynthia Burkman, Arabian
Hunt Tosh, Hunters
Gail Aumiller, Friesian
Laura Graves, Dressage
Joel Kiesner, Arabian
Ted Carson, Arabian
Stefanie Putnam, Para-Driving
Lou Roper, Arabian
“I’m incredibly honored to be named 2016 Equestrian of the Year by US Equestrian,” Dutton wrote on his facebook page. “So much goes into your career as an athlete in this sport, and it’s not something you do on your own…I’ve had an incredible amount of support since I moved to this country, and I have to thank everyone who has believed in me along the way.”
Dutton and Happy provided two of the most indelible images from the equestrian competitions in Rio. First, the “Save Seen ‘Round the World” on what proved to be the most treacherous cross-country track in the modern Olympic era:
Dutton’s emotional embrace of his companion following the final round in Rio is simply what equestrian sport is all about. Overcome by appreciation, joy and longing for the late Bruce Duchossois, who entrusted Dutton with his promising horse Mighty Nice years before.
Dutton was unable to accept the award in person however, as he has put his career on hold to be with his family while stepdaughter Lee Lee Jones recovers from a traumatic head injury suffered during a riding accident in December. Dutton opened up about the ordeal on facebook:
While this award is a reflection of his performance, Dutton deserves recognition for his continued championing of off-track-thoroughbreds. He is certainly not alone in this effort, but when it comes to committing time and resources, few horsemen walk-the-walk like Team Dutton.
This is the man in a nutshell: family first, a model of consistency, and one hell of a horseman.