In past years EN has awarded the title of Evening Nation Horse and Rider of the Year based on popular vote. With 2016 being an Olympic year and one combination stepping up as the heroes of U.S. eventing, the names of the clear winners in our mind likely will not surprise you.
Following a unanimous vote from EN’s staff, we are excited to announce Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice as 2016 Eventing Nation Rider and Horse of the Year.
Mighty Nice, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Ard Ohio out of Sarazen, is owned by the HND Group: Evie Dutton, Annie Jones, Caroline Moran, Michael Bombar and Kevin Keane. “Happy” was formerly owned by the late Bruce Duchossois, whose friends stepped in after his passing to keep his dream alive.
While Bruce lost his battle with cancer before his Olympic dream for the horse came to fruition, it was clear to all of us in Rio that Bruce was watching and cheering for Phillip and Happy all the way to the podium.
Phillip and Happy have already received numerous accolades to honor their bronze medal performance, and Happy was named the 2016 USEA Horse of the Year at last month’s USEA Convention & Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Happy is also one of three horses nominated for USEF International Horse of the Year, while Phillip is the recipient of the William C. Steinkraus Trophy and has been nominated for USEF Equestrian of the Year. The winners of those titles will be announced at the upcoming USEF Convention in Lexington, Kentucky.
As for how EN made the decision to name Phillip and Happy our 2016 EN Horse and Rider of the Year, we could simply point to this one single moment in time:
We also crunched the numbers on their 2016 season:
- Phillip and Happy had a 100% completion rate in their five international runs for the 2016 season, finishing outside of the top 10 only once.
- Happy secured the third top-10 Rolex finish of his career, as well as his best Rolex placing (4th) and best Rolex finishing score (57.8).
- They averaged a 45.2 in dressage for the 2016 season and delivered a personal best test at CCI4* level in Rio, scoring 43.6 to sit in 15th after the first phase as the best U.S. combination.
- Phillip and Happy persevered through the toughest cross country day in modern Olympic history, pulling off a jaw-dropping save at a tricky corner combination and storming home with 3.2 time penalties, moving up to 5th place.
- Their hard work with Richard Picken in show jumping paid off on the final day. One time penalty in the first round combined with one rail down in the second round gave Phillip and Happy individual bronze on a final score of 51.8, the best CCI4* finishing score of his career.
- Phillip won individual bronze 20 years after winning his first Olympic team gold for his native Australia.
- Phillip and Happy’s bronze medal is the first Olympic hardware for U.S. eventing since 2008, when Gina Miles and McKinlaigh won individual silver in Beijing.
- Happy was one of just 11 horses in 2016 to secure two top-10 finishes in a CCI4* (4th place at Rolex Kentucky and 3rd place at the Rio Olympics).
- At 52 years old, Phillip was the oldest athlete on the U.S. Olympic Team across all sports, proving that age is truly just a number.
- Phillip finished the 2016 season ranked #2 on the FEI World Athlete Eventing Rankings.
In looking back at Happy’s unforgettable year, Phillip told EN: “I couldn’t be more pleased and proud for the horse and the people who have supported him. To have another accolade for Bruce Duchossois, who gave so much to me and the sport, makes it that much better.”
The EN staff also weighed in on what stood out to us the most about Phillip and Happy’s 2016 season:
Leslie Wylie: “Phillip is an anchor of the U.S. Eventing Team for good reason: We know he is going to show up and get the job done in pressure-cooker situations. He met his match in Happy, who clearly shares the same mentality.”
Maggie Deatrick: “When evaluating performance to determine our EN year-end superlatives, I noticed that Happy, despite not cracking the top five in any of the three phases, was always in the top-10 mix. Sure enough, when looking at overall finishing averages, Happy ended up right at the top, excelling by being a jack of all trades.”
Sally Spickard: “Phillip and Happy’s success in Rio is made, all at once, bittersweet and meaningful because of how much the horse meant to late former owner Bruce Duchossois. This one’s for you, Bruce.”
Leslie Threlkeld: “The image that will stick with me is not the amazing contortion to save 20 penalties at the corner or even Phillip on the podium wearing a medal, but Phillip’s arms around Happy and his face buried in his neck the moment they won bronze. That emotion is the thrill, the bond, the reward we dream of.”
Please join us in congratulating Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice as 2016 Eventing Nation Horse and Rider of the Year! Go Eventing.