10 Questions with Justine Dutton

Justine Dutton and Huck Finn. Photo by Sally Spickard. Justine Dutton and Huck Finn. Photo by Sally Spickard.

EN: What would you consider to be the biggest achievement in your career so far?

Justine: Jumping 5’11 bareback in the Puissance at Plantation Field! Also, going Advanced would be one. I had two two-star horses and until this year I had never even done a CCI before.

There are a lot of factors, like money or riding for someone else and the horse got sold, etc. that kept me from having horses like this before. Both of these horses had been Prelim horses and producing them to the two-star level and getting around two different two-stars with a great result on both is a pretty good achievement.

EN: What are your big career goals? 

Justine: Honestly, I don’t like to plan too far in the future because you never know what’s going to happen. I feel like I’m better at planning with short term goals and seeing where it takes me.

My goal was never to take (Huck) Finn Advanced, but that goal became a possibility as I kept building. Same thing with Jollybo; I never thought I’d take her Intermediate.

I’d like to do Rolex one day, and maybe one of these horses will do it maybe not, it depends on timing. I guess I’d just like to see where it all goes. You kind of have to make goals as you go.  I’ve had to become a really reality based person.

You sometimes have to sell those horses who may take you those places so you can pay the bills. Would I like to go Badminton on Finn? Sure, but I’m not going to say that’s my goal because I don’t want to forget the big picture.

EN: Where would you go for 6 months if you had no worries about keeping your business or career going?

Justine: I’d probably go somewhere hot and tropical like Jamaica. If I didn’t have to worry about my business and could do whatever I wanted for a few months I would want to travel and see some things I’ve never seen. Maybe Australia.

I like to keep a balance in my life and for me it’s really important to me to have another outlet. It’s just really important to me to have a balance, and I see a lot of people who are burned out. I definitely work hard, but there’s a certain way I want to live too.

EN: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring upper-level rider, what would it be?

Justine: Firstly, I’d say don’t give up. You’re going to want to give up many times, especially if you’re not from a lot of money and you have to figure out how to do it yourself.

It’s definitely possible. I’ve built all this myself and have had to figure it out myself. If you work hard and try hard and are honest and treat people well, those are the things that will get you where you want to go.

Someone once told me that there are three ingredients to success: talent, drive and money, and if you have at least two out of the three, you’ll succeed. You just have to not give in, even when the going gets really tough.

EN: What’s the best piece of advice that coach Buck Davidson has ever given you?

Justine: Believe in yourself. I have so much self-doubt, and that’s one thing he always tells me. Every time I achieve something he tells me I will, I start to believe a little bit more in myself.

EN: What’s your most embarrassing moment related to horses?’

I fell off at the last fence at Virginia Horse Trials a couple years ago when my horse decided to change her mind and not jump. That was pretty embarrassing.

Justine and Jollybo. Photo courtesy of Valerie Durbon.

Justine and Jollybo. Photo courtesy of Valerie Durbon.

EN: What prompted you to move to the U.S.?

Justine: Well, I quit riding when I was 16. I was a hardcore pony kid, and I went to boarding school and got a scholarship and I was used to mucking stalls to help pay for my pony at school.

I did a bit of everything with the horses. But when I got home from school, I kind of found freedom. We get done with high school at 16 and I wanted to explore other things in life like hanging out with friends. I went to college for awhile and decided it wasn’t for me, got a job in a bank, moved to London for a corporate job, and by the time I was 19 the itch kind of hit me again.

Horses were always in my blood. So I found a job in a riding school in Canada on the internet and called up my friend and asked if she wanted to go with me. We were planning on doing it and then my father died shortly after we’d talked about moving, so that gave me the final push, like “I need to get out of here. I need to do something else.”

We ended up in Canada and just kind of made it work. It was the happiest I’d ever been. Then I ended up in the States and was back and forth between the U.S., Canada and England just working and riding with different trainers and finding my feet.

EN: How did Sport Ponies UK (SPUK) come to be?

Justine: I used to ride a lot of ponies in England and I really kind of liked the concept of importing top level eventing ponies. In Europe, they have pony championships, and the jumpers are divided according to height.

Before I was seriously familiar with how the world worked here, I was really into that idea. We imported some New Forest Ponies and it was kind of a learning curve. They were awesome. I had one who went Preliminary and did 3’6 jumpers, you could put any tiny person on it. But I couldn’t sell it. It took me so long to sell it, I couldn’t quite understand.

The pony jumpers here aren’t as big of a deal. I do think maybe it’s something that’s missing in the US. In England it’s huge and those kids are taught to ride really early on. The 12.2hh ponies who were jumping 3’6 were being piloted by 7 and 8 year old kids, and by the time they’re 15 or 16 they’re jumping 4 foot courses. It really teaches them gumption and how to get stuff done. We don’t have the whole hunter circuit over there in England, so ponies are the first step for a lot of the kids.

So I kind of figured out that I really wasn’t going to make a business out of the ponies. I could have a pony going Prelim all day long but it would be hard to sell. It is how it is. Here, you’re competing against horses so people want to buy horses.

So now the name just kind of stuck and it’s become a fun thing; we play around with the name a lot so you can only imagine what we come up with!

EN: Describe yourself in one word. 

Justine: Determined.

EN: When you look for a new horse for yourself, what do you look for first?

Justine: I’ve never actually shopped for myself! The horses I have I’ve just kind of ended up with.

I do like them smaller. It needs to be something I can compact together, a good mover and clean jumper. It has to be bold cross country, but I definitely don’t like anything heavy and strong. I do like the Thoroughbred type, they tend to be lighter on their feet and more adjustable. And most definitely something with a good brain — nothing crazy. Generally speaking, anything I get has to be resellable.

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