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.
He 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 expanse 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.