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Justine Dutton

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The Truth About Importing Horses

Justine Dutton and MGH Heartbeat, an imported Irish Sport Horse mare, in the Ocala Jockey Club CCI2*. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I am often met with surprise when people inquire about my imported sale horses and find out the price.

As a seller/producer it can become frustrating when potential buyers are shocked and sometimes even offended at the price tag on these horses, often even informing me they can go to England/Ireland/Europe themselves and find the same quality of horse but for much less money.

I thought it might be enlightening to outline the process of sourcing, importing and producing sport horses to sell.

Firstly, sourcing horses abroad isn’t something that just anyone can do. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye — both skill and expense wise. I am fortunate enough to have a very trusted source, partner and friend in the UK who is always looking for the types of horses she knows I like. She spends hours on the road, trying horses up and down the country in all weather making sure the absolute right one is chosen.

It is very hard to shop for horses without a trusted source — there is often an “American” price put on horses for sale abroad, as those slightly unscrupulous sellers see big dollar signs and naivety when potential buyers show up alone or aren’t with someone experienced. For me, this is avoided with my English partner/Unicorn Hunter.

Sometimes I will go over to see horses with my partner (expensive round trip flight) but mostly she will look without me. And guess what … I have to pay her for that service she is doing for me! We handpick our horses for their brains as well as ability, talent and records and are very picky about what makes the cut.

My English Unicorn Hunter is also responsible for arranging vettings and knows which vets will do a good job and understand how to put potential horses through an “American Vetting.” I vet all my potential horses as they would be vetted by a buyer in the USA; this means a full set of X-rays including back and in some cases scopes and ultrasounds. Many horses with minor issues which I am confident won’t be a problem, I have to pass on, as I know they will not be acceptable in an American vetting even for a low level job. We have gone through periods where I’ve vetted six horses in a row that have not had good enough vettings or X-rays. That gets very expensive very fast!

When the chosen unicorn has finally passed the stringent vetting, we arrange for transportation. Depending on where the horse is located will depend on shipping fees to get to Liege/Amsterdam. Also depending on if there are other horses that are shipping will affect the cost greatly because if you’re riding solo … again, big expense! Sometimes you will have to wait for a flight as they are all booked/no share available/no quarantine room and then you will at times need to pay board on your new horse until it can ship.

Side note — as soon as the horse is paid for, we purchase insurance on him to cover against loss or major medical from the time we own him as well as additional flight insurance.

Bloods have to be run and this is also where there is some risk. Many common acceptable diseases in Europe are not allowed into the USA so imagine buying your dream horse, paying for him, vetting him, arranging shipping to then find out he has tested positive for piroplasmosis and your horse is stuck in Europe for an unknown period of time. And yes this has happened to me and also to others. Some people might risk it and say it’s a false positive or it’s low enough it will retest negative … but then when this horse arrives in U.S. quarantine and tests positive he is not leaving!

So if your unicorn has now jumped through all these hoops and made it onto his flight and landed in the USA you have quarantine. This is a minimum of 72 hours for geldings and can be at least three weeks for mares. Note, it is about $2-3k more to import a mare depending on the quarantine facility. And even though your horse is healthy and ready to rock, if there is a horse displaying anything dodgy in its blood/clinically/has a fever, then the entire flight of horses is held in quarantine until it’s resolved and you have to pay for the extra time there even though your horse is fine! Yep, that’s happened to me too.

If you’re lucky and have avoided all these hurdles, the horse will be released from quarantine and will arrive at his new home hopefully in good health. As you can imagine, the long trip can be a lot on the horses and often they can become sick. We always treat ours with GastroGard when they arrive and monitor their temperatures and have only had a couple arrive not feeling well.

I don’t think I need to put a dollar amount on all of the above as I think it’s explanatory that importing a horse does not just involve a lot of expense but also risk. We as sellers take on all the risk of the bloods being positive, the vettings failing and also the horse arriving and not being what he was supposed to be! I don’t scrape the bottom of the bargain barrel for any of my horses; the saying you get what you pay for rings very true in this industry so I pay the price for good quality horses.

Oh and this is all before I have even spent a dime on shoes, vet, tack, feed, bedding, memberships, shows, etc. or any time on training and care. But that’s another story ….

I hope his article has been informative and thrown some light on what it takes to source and import horses and why most good ones are not cheap. I love producing and selling these horses and I can stand behind each and every one of mine knowing I have jumped through all the hoops and not cut corners and costs and can honestly say that they all “do what it says on the tin.”

Lessons Learned from a CCI3* First-Timer

Justine Dutton — the “other Dutton” — completed her first CCI3* with Jollybo, an 11-year-old British Sport Horse mare owned by Sport Ponies UK , this past weekend at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event. She kindly wrote a blog for EN reflecting on the experience.

Justine Dutton and Jollybo at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Tori Hain. Justine Dutton and Jollybo at Jersey Fresh. Photo by Tori Hain.

I’m pretty honoured (perplexed) that EN wanted me to write a second part to my blog; I initially wanted to name part two “How to Play Pick Up Sticks Like a Boss” but they nixed that pretty quickly! After 48 hours to beat myself up, tear apart and analyze every intricate detail of my performance, I am actually ready to be subjective and share my thoughts and feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, completing my first three-star was a massive achievement for both me and Jollybo and one which I am thrilled and proud of. However, as an athlete (and someone that wants to be perfect as you learned in my last blog), I find myself quite disappointed in parts of my performance and just completing wasn’t good enough for me.

I want to be great, not just good enough — I remember last year at some point my Buck Davidson said to me something along the lines of “seventh is fine, but aren’t you tired of coming seventh?” That stuck with me. I am not a person that will settle for a sub-par performance. I want to be able to execute in the  ring as I have at home — OK, perhaps a little unrealistic, but I know it’s possible.

I spoke to my good friend and one of my biggest supporters, Jill Henneberg, after this weekend, and she told me she was glad I wasn’t satisfied with it being “good enough” and that riders will only get better by expecting more of themselves and not being OK with just being “OK.”

With that being said, I took away so many positives from my week at Jersey, and 48 hours later I am able to not let my poor show jumping performance over shadow all that I got out of it.

Dressage was alright — I know it could have been better, and I know my nerves and tension contributed to the tension my horse carried. I had a 5 p.m. dressage time and rode Jollybo in the morning, where she was quite excellent. I have never ridden her earlier in the day before my test, but I have also never had a 5 p.m. ride time either, so this was a new thing.

In hindsight, I think I got my better work during my first ride and had a little bit of a less responsive horse because of it. Jollybo isn’t typically a hot horse, and she doesn’t really get distracted, so in retrospect perhaps next time I would just hack her instead of school her earlier on. However, I hit my goal of a 55 or less (well 55.3 about did it) so was fairly satisfied. I know we can be better though, and I will be working very hard for the rest of the year in this phase.

Cross country was, quite frankly, huge and formidable. Technically there wasn’t anything on there we couldn’t do, but seeing it all together on a 10-minute long course was definitely intimidating; when the course builder agrees with you and says, “Yep, that’s a $%#@ big ditch and wall, don’t miss!” you know you’d better get it right.

Justine Dutton and Jollybo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Justine Dutton and Jollybo through the combination in the main arena. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The combination in the arena was definitely of some concern, and the water was a bit complicated amongst many other combinations, so I had plenty to be worried about. The day of cross country, I was my normal, freaked-out self. When the time came to leave the start box, Jolly was VERY ready to go. I took a breath and just told myself to ride like I know how and do everything that Buck ever told me.

My little pony jumped around like a seasoned pro! I don’t think I had one bad jump, and she was honest, straight and quite frankly impressive (to me at least) through every single combination. As you know, I’ve struggled with her being a bit strong on me and was pleasantly surprised when she became really rideable about halfway through the course, and I could actually kick her and let her gallop.

However, about a quarter from the end, she got her second wind and literally grabbed the bit and ran off with me down the hill heading towards a combination coming out of the woods. After that, I didn’t feel I could let her gallop as much as I would have wanted knowing there was a big combination at the second to last fence that had caused some trouble.

We came home clear with some time, which I was thrilled about. I learned that I have a very honest, reliable and game little cross country horse who will do anything for me, but I also learned that I need to gain a better understanding of maintaining a consistent pace and also to trust her and to not set up quite as far out — I think this will come in time.

Show jumping day she jogged up very sound and happy. I actually enjoy show jumping and typically Jollybo is a good show jumper and has never pulled more than one rail since moving up to Advanced. I definitely did not have the show jumping round I had planned — we  took down more rails than I have in my entire career!

After much analyzing and replaying each second in my mind, I think the contributing factors were that I have never show jumped her after a 10-minute cross country course, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I struggled to find and maintain a rhythm but tried to ride all the correct numbers down the lines (I am an obsessive counter), which actually in hindsight I should not have done. Instead, I should have ridden the canter I had and gotten to the fences how I needed to and not in the numbers that weren’t there in that canter.

I think I may have used up my jumps in the warm up … maybe I am making excuses, but for me, I need to know what went wrong and how to fix it. When Jolly comes back off of vacation, I will for sure be working very hard on our show jumping and taking it to the next level that it needs to be.

Someone asked me if I was upset that this would not count as a qualifying ride. Honestly, at first I thought “qualifying for what?” until I realized she meant Rolex, which is a far away thought on the horizon right now. My immediate reaction, however, was that no, I wasn’t upset at all because the only reason I would even consider Rolex would be with an amazing qualifying ride at Fair Hill this fall.

If that didn’t happen and I had gotten a qualifying ride at Jersey, then I definitely wouldn’t be considering it because to me, I obviously wouldn’t be ready if I didn’t make the qualifying criteria at Fair Hill even if I were qualified from Jersey. I don’t want to do something just because I have managed to scrape through the qualifiers — I would want to be a thousand percent ready.

Even though the show jumping marred my weekend performance, I am still absolutely thrilled to have finished my first three-star on a little 15.2-hand mare that was doing her first Intermediate a year ago and was deemed to be “no more than a one-star horse” by a prior rider.

The support and encouragement of other riders and pros has been astounding and incredible and humbling; I can’t even count how many of them took a moment to congratulate me and offer words of advice, encouragement and praise. Such is the sport of eventing — everyone is competing against themselves and everyone wants everyone else to succeed — how many other sports can you say that about?

Moving forward, Jollybo is already hating her vacation, and I am dreading the first day of getting back on her, which will be no doubt far more exciting/death-defying than the three-star cross country course we just completed. I am excited for two (maybe even three!) new English ponies to arrive from the homeland in the next week and am even more excited that Finn is well on his way to being back to full work.

My horses and I are also taking part in a fashion shoot for a designer clothing line for a national magazine which will be shot at our  farm in a couple of weeks — I can’t wait to play princess and be a model for the day!

Signing off now, if you have made it this far through my waffling (English phrase — look it up) then I applaud you!

Checking In With ‘The Other Dutton’

Justine Dutton — the “other Dutton” — has been busy climbing the levels under the tutelage of coach Buck Davidson. She’s now preparing for her first CCI3* with JollyBo, an 11-year-old British Sport Horse mare owned by Sport Ponies UK. We talent spotted this pair last year, and we’re pleased that Justine has agreed to write some guest blogs leading up to Jersey Fresh. Many thanks to Justine for writing, and thank you for reading!

Justine and Jollybo. Photo courtesy of Valerie Durbon.

Justine and Jollybo. Photo courtesy of Valerie Durbon.

Hello EN! I know you’ve all been dying to hear an update on what has been going on in the world of the British, blonder, younger (I’m gonna catch some fire for that) “Other Dutton” so I happily accepted EN’s request to write a two-part blog leading up to Jersey Fresh International.

Team Sport Ponies UK (as me, my ponies, my students and everyone involved has come to know us) returned from a very successful 3.5 months in Florida just two weeks ago, although it seems like so much longer.

I thought I had been cunning enough to avoid the bad weather and was silently patting myself on the back until SNOWFLAKES began to fall just a few days ago. Karma, I suppose, for mocking Mother Nature.

We have actually moved into a brand new, incredible facility in Chester Springs, PA. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to have an indoor arena to ride in, the icing on the cake being that it is huge, very open and has good footing.

The horses are all enjoying big spacious stalls in a gorgeous bank barn and lovely turnout paddocks. We share the facility with the owner and another hunter/jumper trainer who all think we are mad when they see us casually leaving the property to go for a trot down the road to get to the galloping fields.

I believe “You’re riding off propery??” and “You’re going down the ROAD??” have been thrown out at us a couple of times now. As much as we are a novelty, everyone also seems to be very happily surprised at how bombproof (“We can mow grass while you’re riding in the ring?”) and easy to deal with our horses all are — except when Finn decides to make his opinion known and kick the walls…

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Moving onto Finn (or Huck as some like to call him). He is recovering from his injury, which he incurred last fall, remarkably well. It has taken a little longer to rehab him than I initially had hoped as, with me competing a lot in Florida and being away, I didn’t feel like I could have anyone else ride him for me due to him randomly throwing in some very athletic and quick spins, bucks and a few rears for good measure.

Other than the fact I actually like all my friends and value their lives, I also couldn’t risk Finn losing his rider and going for a spin around Rocking Horse, so it has taken me more time to get him where I would like.

He is currently cantering and I am hoping he will be able to compete this summer. I don’t want to jinx myself so assuming all goes well and he continues to stay sound and happy, my fate as always will be in Buck’s hands and what he tells me to do.

This winter was a massive confidence builder and learning curve for me. We took 10 horses to Florida and sold three to lovely new homes. I competed multiple horses at all levels and had zero cross country penalties between them – other than when I hit the deck, but I’ll get to that.

Probably my favourite ride was our little 13.1hh pony, Merrylegs, who I had a lot of fun aiming at fences that were almost bigger than him! I guess it’s good to be versatile. And maybe slightly crazy.

The wonderful, amazing, incredible Jollybo continued to surpass all my expectations throughout the winter. I am definitely one who is currently eating my hat and some, considering this time last year I was still struggling to figure her out and was half-heartedly trying to sell her, convinced she was probably a one star horse.

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Oh how wrong I was! Thanks to a few people that made me keep pressing on, here we are today, a year later in a completely different place.

Jolly made her advanced debut at Rocking Horse 2 – this also being only my third Advanced ever. We had been working really hard on the flat and over fences and when Buck told me I was ready, I just believed him and did it.

I think Buck is probably happy that I am finally at the point where I don’t try to argue with him every time he tells me I am ready to move up/try this/try that. He always convinces me and has yet to be wrong so now I am just going along for the ride wherever he tells me.

Rocking Horse went great – a decent first attempt dressage test, one rail show jumping and a clear cross country run with some time. I couldn’t have been happier.

I did fight Buck hard on his decision to have me do the CIC3* at Red Hills but again, I lost that battle and succumbed to the fact that I would just do it.

Dressage was again decent, but still in need of improvement. Cross country was … terrifying in the moments leading up to it as many very experienced combinations had had trouble on course. But as soon as we left the box, my mare gave it her all and delivered another clear round.

We were slow again, but this is something that will improve in time. A one rail show jump round put us in 15th place which I was ecstatic about!

After Red Hills I was feeling very good about myself and continued to work hard at getting better in the parts I struggled with (Dressage … or “stressage” as I have called it before). We headed to Poplar for another Advanced run.

After a very much improved dressage test putting us in fifth and another one rail show jump round still leaving us in the top placings, I left the start box determined to go a little faster than my normal pace.

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Justine and JollyBo at Red Hills. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Perhaps this was my downfall – literally. Four fences in, I didn’t half halt strong enough to a bounce bank up to a log and ate it. Completely, one thousand percent my fault. Luckily neither Jolly or I were hurt, but I was MAD at myself for letting my horse down and not riding how I knew I should and could.

I know everyone makes mistakes and this is something I personally have a hard time with as I always want it to be perfect – but this is also something I am having to learn to deal with and accept that nobody is perfect. Except maybe Michael Jung.

I ended the winter season at The Fork – a renowned big Advanced that many headed to Rolex were using as a prep run. I didn’t even bother trying to fight Buck on this. Instead I focused on being the best I could.

And what a weekend! I had the best dressage test of my life, pulling a 34 and sitting in eighth out of 32 after phase one. Show jumping went wonderfully other than one rail (mine as always) and cross country, Jollybo was just incredible and delivered another clear run with some time. Redemption!

Now, we are preparing for Jersey Fresh International next week where we will both be competing in our first CCI3*. I’m looking forward to competing a little closer to home so some of her syndicate members, my clients and friends can come and watch my little powerhouse go.

In the meantime, I will be spending the next week taking countless lessons with Buck, lot of dressage practice, endless trotting and trying to stay calm and focused.

More to come soon, EN readers!