Phillips shares experience and breadth of knowledge with other riders
Phillips considers himself fortunate, in that his hobby would grow into his profession, and the horseman who has participated at the elite level for the preponderance of his career, developed his foundation through his involvement with Pony Club.
However, Phillips considers himself very lucky to have enjoyed success internationally, and as a coach with the U.S., winning more than 20 medals during his two decade tenure at the helm of the team. The U.S. Eventing team won Olympic Silver in 1996, and Olympic Bronze medals in 2000 and 2004.
“That was a great journey, and there are a lot of fantastic memories,” said Phillips. “We didn’t quite get the result we wanted in London, and that was disappointing.”
The horseman will turn 65 years old later this year, and passed the U.S. Eventing Chef d’Equipe reins over to David O’Connor, the 2000 Olympic Gold medal individual winner, after the 2012 Olympic Summer Games.
“I think sport is a young person’s business,” said Phillips. “I think now, there’s a new generation coming, and David O’Connor is that much closer to the new generation. He brings a new energy and new dynamic. I wish him all the success in the world. If he has half as much fun and half as much success as I have, he’ll have a great time.”
A winner of Badminton on four separate occasions, Phillips won with Great Ovation in 1971 and 1972, Columbus in 1974 and Lincoln in 1981. His mount for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games was Cartier. The four individuals were completely different, he said.
“Great Ovation was quite a good mover, and he was a bit of a chicken,” said Phillips. “If I left a six inch gap in the cross country, he’d stop every time. I had to be very accurate on cross country. He had a thing for running out at left handed corners. He was really a work to get a result on him.”
Columbus was the best horse Phillips ever rode. However, Lincoln was a completely different story.
“Lincoln was a problem child who eventually became good,” said Phillips. “His neck was the wrong shape. He became good. He was very fast, not so good with the dressage, and luckily he was a great horse. He was one that was made, rather than being a good athlete.”
The horse Phillips rode in Seoul, Cartier, was a big horse, and seemed to be a composite of his previous international rides.
His experience at the elite level provided Phillips with great insight and perspective, and he began to turn his expertise to course designing in 1982.
“I started at home,” said Phillips. “I started with the European Championship at Burghley in ‘89. I’ve done Burghley for 17 or 18 years. If you do anything at a high level, there’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also very rewarding.”
It was Phillips’ experience as a coach that allowed him to build on the lessons he learned, providing him with a strong foundation that he was able to apply to his course designing.
“When you’re coaching every day, you’re aware of where the skills are in the sport, how the riders are improving, how the horses are improving,” said Phillips. “My coaching helped me stay up with the game on the course design front. I’m lucky enough to do Burghley, one of the world’s biggest horse trials. The 4-star at Luhmulen in Germany, other 3-stars and smaller events. I’m looking forward to doing a little more course design. It’s something I enjoy doing and find very rewarding.”
One of the sport’s problems is that there are course designers who see questions at Badminton and Burghley, and then they try to replicate them at the lower levels, said Phillips.
“A horse’s education is a horse’s education,” said Phillips. “When you’re going training, prelim and intermediate, it leads to an educational process, so the riders can develop the horses to go through at the upper levels.”
Phillips’ daughter Zara Phillips, an eventer on the United Kingdom’s 2012 Olympic Silver medal winning team, has enjoyed success at the elite level and internationally.
“She won the Europeans and Worlds back in 2006,” said Phillips. “It’s a fantastic thing (the Olympic medal) for her, something that she will never forget.”