I, too, was there to watch the masters, Phillip Dutton, David O'Connor, and Karen O'Connor at Nina Gardner's incredible True Prospect Farm where Phillip runs his operation. I was most inspired by the old horses, Custom Made and Prince Panache (House Doctor is a relative baby). Custom Made had the most incredible expression of wisdom. If I were putting my foot in his stirrup I'd have been very intimidated, assuming that he was so much smarter than me that he should be the rider. After demonstrating that he's probably the best trained event horse in the world on the flat, putting his old body through all sorts of suppling contortions, David got the crowd going with a demonstration of adjustibility in a five stride line. When he did it in eight we dared him to try nine, then ten, then he continued on with eleven and finally twelve even, straight, rythmic very very short strides. He then went back and did it in five and then four.
Karen explained to us what a terrible mover Prince Panache had been, especially at the trot, when she got him. She also talked about how he would switch leads behind and last year developed a stringhalt which goes away as
he gets fit. She then proceeded to show us what correct training can do for a horse's movement. Her medium trot was the best of the three horses. He's also the scopiest jumper. He's like a cannon ball being shot into the sky
when he takes off.
House Doctor seemed to me very much the classic American thoroughbred, even a bit more short on self-confidence than the average. Phillip warned us that he lacks confidence and that over his first few jumps "you'd think he never jumped before." Sure enough he jumped a two foot rail like it was going to jump up and get him the first couple of times, and he sucked back at the first oxer. Consequently Phillip rode him quite forward to the jumps at first. If David O'Connor is the consummate technician of our sport, Phillip is the seat of the pants, pull it out of the hat at the last minute athlete who somehow gives a horse like House Doctor enough confidence to tackle an
Olympic cross-country course. My guess is that David would put House Doctor back in training as a green horse, and Phillip would be so bored on Custom Made that he'd lose concentration and go off course.
The incredible thing was that all three riders were able to maintain a steady and articulate dialogue into their little headset microphones while jumping their horses. David suggested that they were hoping to do more of these
types of demonstrations, and I hope they do. It's a real education.