If asked what he’s going to do now that he’s won a bronze medal in equestrian eventing, Phillip Dutton would have to say, “I’m going to Clayton, North Carolina.”
As the 2016 Rio Olympics move into their second week, the two-time gold medalist will be at the Portofino Equestrian Center for a two-day clinic this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dutton won his golds in Atlanta and Sydney, representing his native Australia, but he picked up the bronze this year for the United States. Eventing is a three-day competition combining dressage, cross-country and jumping. At 52, Dutton is also the oldest Olympian representing America.
“We’re excited to welcome him to Clayton,” said Melissa Hughes, assistant barn manager at Portofino. “He just won the bronze in Rio, like yesterday. So it’s a pretty big deal.”
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On Tuesday, Dutton will lead a stadium jumping clinic in Portofino’s eastern ring, and on Wednesday, riders will go out in the field and learn about cross-country jumping. Hughes said the clinic filled its 27 rider slots at $350 each but is selling $20 standing tickets, or $30 to watch both days.
Hughes said the clinic had been scheduled for months, but the timing was fortuitous. The clinic was set up because Dutton has ridden in the past with Portofino trainer Holly Hudspeth, who was on the national riding team’s wait-list for Rio.
“He’s fresh off of medaling in the Olympics, so hopefully he’ll be in a really good mood,” Hughes said.
Fringe sports – anything without a ball or without wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN – often see a bump in interest in Olympic years. At only 2 years old, Portofino can’t detect an Olympic bump, Hughes said, but said Eastern North Carolina is increasingly interested in riding.
“There’s been a lot of interest in equestrian in general in this region,” she said. “Again, I may be partial; I live in an equestrian world.”
Many Olympic athletes struggle to command their own bodies, but equestrian riders try to do that while commanding a thousand-pound horse. Hughes said it takes trust and skill.
“It takes two hearts,” she said. “You have to have the heart of the rider, but most importantly, you have to have the heart of the horse. The horse has to have its heart in what they’re being asked to do. One is leading; the other is trusting.”
Trainer Aaron Stuckey-Hill said the center wanted to hold the clinic as a way to expose riders to the top levels of competition.
“We have a team of four going to the American Eventing Championships, where we’ll compete against the best of the best,” Stuckey-Hill said. “We thought this clinic would help those riders learn from one of the best in the world.”
The clinic begins early in the morning, 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday and 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. For more information on auditing the clinic, go to www.portofinoequestrian.com.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson