Tag Archives: show jumping

Hickstead

Canadian athletics and the world of show jumping lost a superstar last Sunday.  The great Hickstead died during competition in Verona, Italy November 6th at age 15.  His big heart just gave out it seems.

Hickstead 2006 Capital Classic-wikicommons-222fjbHe and rider Eric Lamaze became heroes of Canadian sport, even for those not interested in show jumping.  Especially after they won individual gold and team silver for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, everyone knew their names.

Both of them fought great odds and have the kind of rags to riches stories that we all love.  Hickstead was a small horse by show jumper standards, but he put every ounce of determination he had into every jump.  He was a joy to watch, back hooves stretched behind him as he cleared fences and water jumps.

To those too young to remember Ian Millar’s Big Ben, Hickstead is the epitome of show jumping beauty.  To those of us who watched Big Ben jump, even if we were only watching him on television, Hickstead became a worthy successor to that big beautiful horse.  And Eric Lamaze has joined Captain Canada himself, Ian Millar, as horsemen we admire and are proud to call our own.

Hickstead made me cry many times.  Watching him fly way over fences, seeing the Hickstead jumping at 2008 Olympicsexpanse of air between him and the obstacle.  Crying with happiness that he did it and crying in awe of his beauty.  Crying with relief when he’d complete a round safely and with no faults.  Crying at the pride on his face and on Eric’s when they’d finish, and the obvious connection between the two of them.  Then last Sunday, hearing the news of his death and crying for the loss of such a great horse.

He was getting up in years for what he was doing and Eric was aware of that, not over-pushing him and saving his strength.  He also wasn’t planning to retire him and I’m glad for that.  Hickstead clearly loved jumping.  He died doing what he loved.  We should all be so lucky.  Goodbye, Hickstead.  Watching you gave me great joy.

Show Jumper

Coming up fast to the fence, feeling the muscles gather beneath you, crouching low over Ian-Millar-and-In-Style,-winners-of-WEF-Challenge-Cup-Round-7the horse’s neck, then springboarding into the air. Sailing over the rail, touching down on the other side, horse and you regaining balance and cantering on. The exhilaration of flying. One time I did this.

I had no business jumping, in fact had no plans to. I was taking English riding lessons at a large stable. Lessons consisted of riding around in small circles, learning balance and control. I liked it; just being on a horse’s back was enough for me. I had many different teachers, all young women who had ridden since they could walk. The horse was often different too. They wanted you to learn to ride any horse.

One week, only one teacher was there. The others were at a show or something. She had never taught me before. Maybe she was bored, tired of watching incompetent people ride in circles or, with it just being two of us, felt like having some fun. She said, “do you feel like jumping?” I stared open-mouthed and said “I don’t know how to do that.” She shrugged and said “up to you.” I said ok. I’d never ridden that horse before either. He was a good choice. He knew what he was doing.

Jumping

Show jumping sequence over fence, DelawareI was like a floppy sack of potatoes on his back on the first jump. I’d chickened out several times leading up to that; getting to the jump, then losing my nerve and pulling him up. I daresay he was fed up with me and probably as surprised as I was when, finally, I let him keep going.

I remember the power surge as he prepared to jump. But I don’t remember the actual jump. I closed my eyes to keep my heart from stopping. I reopened them when we landed on the other side, both of us in one piece and me still on his back.

Then I wanted to do it again. That time was perfect. I made myself keep my eyes open 2008 Olympics poster, Eric Lamaze and Hicksteadand experience it. Riding Pegasus. It was bliss. I was Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze rolled into one.

Third time, I unbalanced myself. He jumped straight, but I came off to the left. He circled around and stood looking at me. My teacher thought maybe that should be the end of my lesson for the day. So I got back up on him – always get back on the horse – and rode around a bit.

After the Jump

I took him to the barn, took his tack off and groomed him. Then I went to my car. Standing beside it, I had no idea where I was. The barn didn’t look familiar and I didn’t know how I got there, or why. After a few minutes of concentrated thought, I remembered my lesson, the jumps and the fall.

The next week, I had a familiar teacher. She didn’t mention jumping and I didn’t tell her about the week before. I kept taking lessons, but never jumped again. My time as Captain Canada was over. But it was worth every second of terror and the concussion to fly that one time.