My Weekend with Phillip Dutton

Hilary Popiel is training her OTTB, Four Fs and a D, or “Rusty,” in preparation for next month’s TCA Thoroughbred Makeover and Symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park. In the past, Hilary has trained OTTBs to become her upper-level mounts, representing Ontario at NAJYRC in 2003 and competing through the CCI2* level. As a part of her preparation with her latest project horse, she participated in a recent clinic with Phillip Dutton and kindly sent us her report. Many thanks to Hilary for writing, and thank you for reading!


Photo by Trudy Antrens

Rusty made it all the way down to the other side of the province for a Phillip Dutton clinic. We all had an amazing time and came away as better horses and riders from the adventure. The facility that hosted the event was a beautifully manicured horse heaven. We could not thank enough all the wonderful people who put it together.

Mr. Dutton is at the top of the game for a reason. He looked at every horse as an individual and made the riders ride them boldly forward, jumping more than we could have imagined.

The future jockey Holly McDougal brought her lovely war horse Galaxy. Maureen Popiel, aka Super Granny, brought our 4-year-old homebred, the “Big Bay Mare,” as Phillip kept calling her. Sportswoman is a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, and she inherited his confidence and bravery for sure. And I brought Kasztan in the Training group, and Four Fs and a D in the Pre-Training group.

Mom entered me into the clinic by surprise. She does amazing things like that all the time. And since Mr. Dutton won the Thoroughbred Makeover last year, I thought to myself, should Rusty go to? We contacted Brenda, and she was enthusiastic for him to go. So we made it happen, and we took four of our horses to the clinic! Since the trailer is going, we might as well load’er up. It was a team effort for sure with four horses, three girls driving five hours, and living two nights in tents with Jack the amazing almost 1-year-old boy. Everyone was a great help, and Jack made loads of new friends.


Photo by Marni Morton

The clinic started off with great exercises on the flat to get all the horses going properly and while improving everyone as a rider. It is so important to connect your horse, and Phillip knows how to get that done even from the ground. On the first day of the clinic, Rusty’s feedback was “You need more tricks up your sleeves. More adjustable in the canter, for instance.” I can’t wait to do a week straight of dressage with my horses. I can’t believe I just said that.

The first thing Mr. Dutton noticed when I introduced him to Rusty was his missing eye. Since the horse still blinks, some people don’t notice it, but of course he would. Rusty was so bold; he amazes me every day. He is still pretty new at this, and he has vision issues, but he is game! He I think is the only horse I have ever ridden that accelerates to ditches. There is no fear in this horse.

Every exercise improved Rusty’s jump and his confidence. Broken lines, narrow over a barrel, roll-back, corner-corner combination. It was intense. Rusty’s canter was getting lighter and softer throughout the weekend, and he is ready for whatever the world throws at him. I asked Mr. Dutton if he would hesitate to upgrade a horse with one eye. His answer was “No, Mark Todd rode around Burghley on a horse with one eye.” We also agreed that the little red rocket seems to like jumping and that he has a huge stride!

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Photo by Avril Patrick

Later on during the clinic, we were schooling a water jump where Rusty was his usual rockstar self. It was our turn to go, and Phillip says, “You can just pop in over that and call it a day … That was good, just keep trotting and drop in over there … Hilary if you want to go jump those two, you can end on that if you like?” Eventually we stopped jumping. I think this horse is going in the right direction.

I can’t thank Mr. Dutton enough. That clinic was just what we all needed.