Ian Millar’s legendary mount Big Ben was posthumously awarded with The Hickstead Trophy during the Equine Canada Awards Gala on Feb. 7 in Winnipeg, MB.
To this day, Big Ben remains a household name in Canada and around the world, remembered for his incredible heart, boundless bravery, and captivating presence.
A liver chestnut Belgian Warmblood gelding, Big Ben was sired by Etretat. He was bred by Jacubus van Hooydonk of Belgium and foaled in 1976. Despite having a dam who was just 15hh, Big Ben grew to be 17.3hh, causing many people to believe he was too big to be a suitable show jumper.
He was brought to the attention of “Captain Canada” Ian Millar in 1983 while he was visiting a long-time friend, renowned show jumping rider Emile Hendrix of the Netherlands. Millar has stated he had an indescribable good feeling about the huge gelding the first time they met. Soon after, the Canadian Show Jumpers Unlimited Inc. syndicate was formed and Big Ben was purchased and imported to Canada that same year.
Millar’s intuition could not have been more accurate. Big Ben and Millar went on to become the first ever horse/rider combination to win two consecutive World Cup Final titles in 1988 and 1989. Big Ben was also Millar’s mount for three Olympic Games (in 1984, 1988, and 1992), and took home both Individual and Team Gold Medals from the 1987 Pan American Games.
Big Ben also represented Canada on more than 30 nations cup teams and racked up over 40 grand prix wins throughout his decade-long career. This included the 1987 Du Maurier International Grand Prix, which was the richest grand prix in the world at that time, and helped Big Ben become the first horse in North America to rack up over $1.5 million in prize money.
A true hero, Big Ben also overcame more than his share of adversity during his career. He faced two life-threatening colic surgeries and a major tractor-trailer accident, yet he persevered through all of these challenges, always coming back to international-level competition in top form.
In 1994 Big Ben retired from competition, but not before embarking on a final, sentimental tour across Canada. He was well known for his positive, kind nature, and was often seen greeting fans and admirers from his stall at competitions, and sometimes even signing autographs with a hoof print. In 1996 he became only the second horse in history to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
After enjoying retirement at the Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, ON, Big Ben passed on at the age of 18 in 1999. He has since been immortalized in numerous ways. He was the subject of an official limited edition Canada Post stamp in 1999. His likeness has also been captured as a Breyer model horse. Furthermore, in 2005 the Perth and District Chamber of Commerce commissioned a bronze statue of Big Ben with Millar aboard, which stands on display in downtown Perth today.
“We all always felt that we simply held Big Ben in trust for all his adoring Canadian fans and supporters,” explained Millar.
Equine Canada is proud to recognize Big Ben as one of the greatest show jumpers who ever lived by adding The Hickstead Trophy to his truly incredible collection of achievements.
Previously named the Equine Canada Horse of the Year Award, the title was officially changed to The Hickstead Trophy in 2012 in order to honour Eric Lamaze’s legendary mount and 2008 Olympic Champion, Hickstead, who passed away suddenly in the fall of 2011.
For further information on the full list of EC Awards and past winners, click here.