The Canadian equestrian community was left reeling Sunday after the sudden death of Hickstead, the legendary stallion that helped Eric Lamaze win a pair of Olympic medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Hickstead died during a World Cup event after collapsing to the ground and writhing in pain inside a packed arena.
Veterinarians attempted to revive the horse but its lifeless body was later carried out of the ring as stunned fans at the Rolex FEI event looked on. Hickstead was 15.
“We finished our round, I circled and was leaving the ring, and he collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack,” said an emotional Lamaze. “It is the most tragic thing that has ever happened. We had him until he was 15, and we had a great time together.
“He was the best horse in the world. We are all devastated.”
The Canadian partnership had just completed the 13-fence course with a single rail down in the middle of the combination when the horse fell ill, the International Equestrian Federation said.
The competition was abandoned at the request of the riders. Lamaze’s fellow competitors gathered for a minute’s silence.
“As yet the cause of death is unknown, but our deepest sympathies go out to the owners, to Eric and to all the connections of one of the greatest jumping horses of all time,” said FEI jumping director John Roche. “Hickstead’s presence on the circuit will be very sadly missed.”
Hickstead earned more than $3-million in prize money during his career.
“Hickstead was without question the most dominant show jumping horse on the planet,” said Equine Canada chief executive officer Akaash Maharaj. “Absolutely without question.”
Lamaze, from Schomberg, Ont., won individual gold and team silver aboard Hickstead at the 2008 Games. He had been riding Hickstead, owned by Ashland Stables and his Torrey Pines Stable, since the horse was seven.
They won several championships together and also topped the global rankings.
“It was an extraordinary partnership and indeed in our sport today it’s a legendary partnership,” Maharaj said. “Not only because individually they are such great athletes, but together there was no one in the world who could catch them.”
Maharaj added that watching Lamaze ride Hickstead was a “sublime experience.”
“Both Eric and Hickstead obviously trusted each other implicitly,” Maharaj said. “Whereas many other riders would have approached Hickstead with a great deal of caution — and even fear — and attempted to contain and manage his power.
“Eric had total confidence in the horse and therefore was willing to in essence release the horse and allow him to attack the course.”
Lamaze rode the brown Dutch warmblood stallion to victory last September in the $1-million CN International at the Spruce Meadows masters tournament.
“I know him very well, and he wants to jump clear just as much as I do,” Lamaze said of his mount after the victory. “I don’t come to Canada very often — I only come here to Spruce Meadows in the summer and then back for the masters, so to win here is very special.
“He is the best horse in the world, in my opinion, and for him to show it here to his Canadian fans is great.”
They also teamed up to win team silver and individual bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio.
“Hickstead really was a horse in a million and my heart goes out to Eric and everyone connected with this wonderful horse,” said FEI president Princess Haya. “This is a terrible loss, but Hickstead truly will never be forgotten. We were very lucky to have known him.”
Source: Globe and Mail