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!