Anyone even remotely familiar with Herringswell Stables knows that Icabad Crane is and always has been very special to the entire team. He earned his reputation first as a hard-knocking stakes winner on the racetrack, but in his second career as an event horse under the tutelage of Olympic champion Phillip Dutton, Icabad has become a bona fide celebrity. Named “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” at the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) in 2014, Icabad was recently dubbed by RRP founder Steuart Pittman as “the most famous OTTB in the world.”
You’ll get no argument from us. But it’s perhaps his latest role – away from the spotlight – that has been Icabad’s most meaningful.
This year has been one of profound change for the Dutton family. On December 22, 2016, Evie Dutton’s oldest daughter, Lee Lee Jones, suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall at their True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pa. Thankfully and happily, Lee Lee continues to progress and improve. Understandably, however, the road has been paved with countless challenges and adjustments.
Evie, a gifted horsewoman in her own right, had spent 2016 developing a young horse whom she had just begun competing that fall. Needless to say, her focus shifted entirely to her daughter’s constant care after her injury.
“I didn’t ride for nine months,” Evie said. “It was emotionally a little bit tough for me. But I wanted to mentally embrace it again. It’s something that I love, but since Lee Lee’s accident I just didn’t have the desire to do too much riding. And I thought if there is any horse that I would want to ride it would be Icabad. So that’s how it started. We go out for hack, do a little flatwork. That’s what I’ve been doing with him. I only come out a couple of days a week if that, considering Lee Lee’s schedule. But every day he shows up and is a very straightforward, kind, hardworking guy. It’s been a lot of fun for me to work with him again.”
Icabad had been competing quite successfully with the Dutton’s daughter Olivia, but he remained at home at True Prospect when she headed to Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Va., in September. Now 12, he remains in training under Phillip’s guidance, spending six days a week in flat and fitness work with minimal jumping at this point.
“We want to keep him physically and mentally happy without pushing him beyond where he is in his training,” Evie said. “I only have maybe half an hour in the tack a few days a week, so we go out and it provides me with a mental and physical break, and I’m getting some exercise too. I go to therapy with Lee Lee five days a week, so it’s a great outlet for me and I think Icabad is enjoying it too. He is such a special horse. He’s solid, smart, lovely to ride…he has a great attitude and every day he just wants to do his job and do it well. Together it’s been really nice for us.”
“What Icabad is showing is that he can be the kind of horse who’ll be whatever you want him to be. He can also be a bit of a teacher and kind of schoolmaster for somebody coming into the sport. And now, it’s obviously been a difficult time for Evie with Lee Lee getting hurt on the horses. She doesn’t blame the horses, but it’s been a difficult transition to get back into riding,” Phillip said.
“But she felt it was important and she wanted to do it for herself, and she has obviously loved to ride all her life,” he continued. “It needed to be on a horse that was going to give her the right experience. Obviously she’s quite shaken up because of everything we’ve been through about the risks involved, so we wanted a horse that was going to be pretty understanding to that. She’s not only gotten over that reluctance to ride, she just looks forward to it whenever she gets the chance to do it now.”
When his schedule allows, Phillip joins Evie and Icabad for a hack around the farm and a few minutes of personal time together.
“Sometimes we’ll ride out on the farm and talk about our plans, what we’re doing to the farm…it’s nice even though it doesn’t happen that often because he’s so busy,” Evie said.
“There’s always stuff going on; we’re always trying to expand and improve the facility,” Phillip added. “The ideal way to do that is to be able to ride around the venue and see what it’s like from the horse’s point of view and vantage point. Whether that means just changing a fence line, a jump, whatever adjustments need to be made.”
Phillip had a mishap of his own on September 21 while cross country schooling a young horse at home. The fall resulted in a broken clavicle, three broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He underwent surgery to repair the clavicle a few days later, and last weekend he returned to action at the Ocala Jockey Club International Three Day Event. Three of the six horses he competed finished in the top five in their respective divisions.
“The horses went really well and Phillip felt really well physically,” Evie reported. “That first competition back is always a bit of a hurdle, but he was really happy with it all. It’s a nice way now to end the year. Everyone is going on their breaks and getting let down, and they’ll be ready to start 2018 with a bang.”
Thanksgiving took on a very literal meaning for the Duttons in 2017, and Icabad has proven himself a cherished member of the family.
“He’s an extremely wise animal, and I think he’s got a good sense of the feeling of the person up there,” Phillip said. “He doesn’t come in with his own agenda; he senses what’s appropriate at the time. If that’s to be nice and gentle and enjoy a hack out, well he does that. He’s just a superstar, and he really brightens up Evie’s day.”
**Since so many of you have inquired, below is the link for updates and the GoFundMe page set up for Lee Lee Jones.