Icabad Crane is continuing his steady progress up the ladder in three-day eventing. He makes his debut at training level today at the Fair Hill Summer Horse Trials with Olympian Phillip Dutton in the saddle. During a recent visit, Dutton had plenty to say about Icabad Crane – his education, his work ethic, and his ever-burgeoning fan base.
“It’s been a pretty quick projection for Icabad. He started off at baby novice in Aiken in March and now we’re moving up to training level on Saturday. My reasoning is that the bigger jumps and a little bit harder test will be a better challenge for him. He’s not necessarily going to be super-competitive at that level, but I think it’s going to be a good education for him.
The dressage test is a little bit harder. It requires more forward work and smaller circles. We’re asking him for more bend and more elevation in all the movements. Obviously the cross-country is harder; he’ll probably have a jump into water. The course will generally ask more questions of him and the speed at which he has to go will be a little bit faster for him as well. The show jumping will be couple inches higher. Everything’s just a little bit harder for him, but I think he’s up to it.”
Preparations at home involved gymnastic exercises on the flat to help the horse collect and extend his trot, which over time will become more exaggerated with each leg spending a bit more time in the air; more moments of suspension.
Show jumping drills consisted of a line of jumps in an “S” formation.
“It was a turning exercise which was jumping oxers (spread fences) and getting him coordinated so he’s thinking forward and looking for a jump both directions,” Dutton explained. “Then with the verticals I had poles placed on the ground, and that’s a good exercise to get him thinking and coordinated and using his self-preservation so he’s learning to – when he puts his feet down – look what he’s got to do next. It’s to get him generally clever about his jumping.”
Cross country schooling consisted of more time spent on what has so far been Icabad Crane’s only real sticking points: ditches and water. But even those aspects have improved considerably.
“I just started to cover the bases on what’s going to be difficult over the weekend. i.e. the water and the ditches. I was pleased that he handled it really well. They are more unnatural for any horse, for a horse to be brave and just gallop into water. He’ll have a jump into water on Saturday, which will be a new component. He’s actually pretty good with both ditches and water now.”
Dutton has said it several times before: Icabad Crane is doing as well as anyone could expect at this stage. But when asked for a more formal evaluation and assessment, he opened up about what the horse – and this rather unusual experience – has brought to the table.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse that tries as hard as he does. That part makes you want to say ‘well you’ve got him on your side’ – so even if he lacks a little bit of the movement and all that. A lot of times you are better off with something that works with you rather than something that’s brilliant but it’s a battle every day.
He’s a good careful jumper. In show jumping he might still have a rail down, but it’s only because he’s green. But he’s got great self-preservation. Even if he gets himself into trouble, or if I get him into trouble, it’s like he’ll grow another leg and get us out of trouble.
Now on the flat, he’s actually very correct, which is good. A nice walk, a nice, even, two-beat trot, nice big canter. He’s got a nice mouth; he reaches for the bit. So he doesn’t do anything wrong on the flat. Overall, he’s got the tools. He’s a fraction on the small side, and when you talk about scope – that’s ease of doing things – it’s not that easy for him to lengthen the trot or jump a big fence. He’s trying pretty hard. A bigger, rangier horse sort of just steps over it. So for him it’s a little bit harder to do everything because he’s a bit more compact.”
It’s easy to see differences in Icabad Crane over these past few months. He’s dead serious about his work, always. His carriage is more sophisticated. He’s less student, more partner to Dutton now. Wiser, focused, confident.
His “rock-star status” makes the people connected to the horse smile. Icabad Crane was a fan favorite on the racetrack, so it’s not really surprising that he has such loyal devotees in this new career.
“It’s unusual in our barn for a horse to come in as green as this. They get fan followings as they progress and become more experienced and successful,” Dutton said. “But seeing a following like this for a horse that’s come in green, well that’s very unusual. There is still a lot in front him; he’s not even close to his potential yet.
He’ll probably be the greenest horse in the field so we don’t have any great expectations on Saturday, but as long as it’s a good experience for him I’m going to be happy at the end of the day.”