News 12 @ 6 Monday Feb. 25, 2008
Aiken, SC--There's no questioning how rich the history of horses in Aiken. But for the past month, Aiken has also played host to some of the elite riders in the world, Olympic caliber to be exact.
Meet Phillip Dutton, two time Olympic gold medalist for Austrailia. Today, training in Aiken for the red, white and blue after becoming a U.S. citizen.
"Well I'm married with a family now and this country has been great to me so I thought it was time to see if I could try to add to the U.S. team if I can" said Phillip Dutton.
Dutton is just one member of the U.S. equestrian team hoping for another chance at Olympic gold. He'll be competiting in the eventing aspect which comibines dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Three disciplines, three days, one horse. You can compare it to the triathlon.
Sometimes the biggest challenge facing these riders is the horse itself. You see, they're much like us and have a distinct personality and sometimes they just don't go together.
"Sometimes they can get like a bad marriage," said U.S. coach Mark Phillips laughing. "they sort of get at each other and my job is to keep the peace, to try to keep the harmony that will produce the best result."
While the cross country and show jumping are pretty straight forward events, dressage, that's a different story. Compare it to figure skating or even the floor exercise in gymnastics with set criteria. The margin for error at this level, miniscule.
"The most incredible dressage riders sit there and you think what are they doing." said rider Will Faudree. "The horses are just dancing underneath them. It's minute movements of your body so feel like you have to become one with your horse, you have to become part of that animal."
Whether they're trying to make the Olympics for the first time or even as a veteran like Dutton, there's no greater honor then representing your country.
"It's the pinnacle of any sport, there's nothing better. It's the single greatest honor an athlete can have to walk into a stadium representing your country." added Faudree.
A couple of other interesting tidbits about the equestrian team. Much like people, horses have a nationality the owner declares. Not just that, they too have passports to travel abroad. The U.S. Olympic equestrian team will be named July 15th