Eric Lamaze and Hickstead were competing in the World Cup Grand Prix in Verona, Italy, on Sunday, November 6. Upon completion of their round at approximately 3:25 in the afternoon, the pair were walking out of the arena when Hickstead suddenly collapsed and died. The competition was halted at the request of the riders, and Lamaze’s fellow competitors gathered in the Verona arena to pay their respects to one of the greatest horses of all time, and to support their colleague in his moment of loss with a minute’s silence.
Under FEI regulations, any equine death at an FEI event must be investigated and a post mortem undertaken. The findings listed the cause of death as a catastrophic rupture of the major blood vessel, the aorta, which led to heart failure. Hickstead was 15 years old.
Hickstead (Hamlet – Jomara x Ekstein) was born March 2, 1996, bred by Jan van Schijndel in The Netherlands. The Dutch Warmblood stallion was owned by John Fleischhacker’s Ashland Stables and Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable, and had been paired with Lamaze since he was purchased as a seven-year-old.
Hickstead’s accomplishments in the sport of show jumping are legendary. The pair’s last major victory was on September 11 at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, AB, when they won the $1 million CN International for the second time in their career. In the past five years, they had always finished in the top five in this event. Individual gold and team silver medalists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Lamaze and Hickstead won individual bronze at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY, and team silver and individual bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, BRA. They won many major grand prixs during their career together, earning over $3.7 million in total prize money.
The world will miss Hickstead, widely acknowledged as the best show jumping horse of his era — truly the “horse of a lifetime.”
Just three days after the death of Eric Lamaze’s superstar jumping stallion, Hickstead, the rider held a media conference at the Toronto offices of his lawyer and personal friend, Tim Danson. A subdued Lamaze, his voice breaking with emotion at times, discussed Hickstead’s death, reflected on his career with the stallion and speculated about his future without his Olympic gold medal-winning partner. Here are the highlights from that press conference.
What happened on the day of Hickstead’s death?
It was an international show in Verona, in Italy, that I’ve been part of before. Hickstead jumped very well the first day, jumped very well the second day and actually jumped very well the last day and just as he finished the round, he just collapsed. He made sure I was okay, and fell beside me. Everybody, the staff that were in charge, were very quick to respond and make sure that he was attended to, to the best of their ability.
Were there any prior indications that there was a problem with Hickstead?
He had a veterinarian that looked at him two or three times a week. You can imagine a horse like that had the best care in the world. He was very healthy. I think this is just a fluke thing that can happen to any human or horse. He was in very, very good health, jumping very well in Verona. This was always a horse we protected. If he was not in great shape, we always backed down. There were some injuries along the way, but we always gave him the proper rest.
What about the bond between you and Hickstead?
Anybody that’s ridden a horse at our level knows what these horses do for us is incredible. They become part of our family, they really change our life. It’s a sport that we choose because we love it, but it’s a sport that we chose because we also love the animal. It’s not like breaking a hockey stick or a tennis racquet. We become very close to these animals and have great respect for what they do for us. A horse like Hickstead changed my career.
What was he like when you first rode him?
When we just purchased him, we weren’t so happy with him. He was a very difficult horse and we had to work very hard at bringing him along. He did not like the water obstacles, he was very spooky. There were many times I gave up and thought this was never going to work. When we bought him, we knew the talent he had, but we thought his character would stop him from being a great horse. We persevered and when we had a taste of victory, he really loved it and it made him better every single time.
How long did you expect to be able to ride him?
I think for sure he had one more year in him. He was a horse that was competing on an international circuit at a very high level. Another Olympics wasn’t out of range for him. I wouldn’t have taken him unless he was in the best of shape. He was a horse that you would have loved to have retired and given him a retirement ceremony as he deserved.
How does this impact your preparations for the Olympics in London in 2012?
We all have to take a step back … I will do anything I can to help Canada win another medal, but we have until December 31 to acquire a new horse for the Olympics. I have wonderful owners and great support. It’s not easy to find a horse of the calibre of a Hickstead. I think we made a great team together. I know I have the support behind me to make it possible and for me, it would be a dream come true to ride at another Olympics.
How many Hickstead foals are there on the ground and how many doses of frozen semen are still available?
(Lamaze defers the question to Frances Berger, who handled Hickstead’s breeding queries, who says there are about 100 Hickstead offspring on the ground worldwide and 50 doses of semen, all in Europe. None will be available in North America.)
What about the revenue lost from future breeding opportunities?
The money is not relevant. He had earned enough from competing ($3.73 million). He wasn’t a great breeding stallion, as physically it was hard to collect him. It was something we planned on doing once he retired.
What was your favourite memory of Hickstead?
I think there are moments where he was unbeatable. In the Olympics at Beijing, he was unbeatable. In Aachen, he was unbeatable. There were times when he was just that good.
How does this setback compare to others you’ve had?
I’ve accomplished a lot of goals that I wanted to accomplish in my life thanks to Hickstead. Hickstead made my career in the sense that now I have fantastic owners that support me, I get to go to the best shows in the world and have many, many friends in the horse community … There will not be another Hickstead, but we will try to find another horse that suits me very well and can help Canada at the Olympics. That’s really the last goal in my career, to do another Olympics. After that, I’d like to see some younger riders that are part of our team try to achieve what I have done.
What did you feel about the recognition you got at the Royal?
It’s pretty emotional for me. I knew why the people were clapping. It was a very, very special horse that was exciting to watch. I think he did everything for the people who were watching him. He enjoyed a loud crowd. So I think it’s very well suited the way the people reacted. They can make as much noise as they want. I am just here to remember Hickstead and I was honoured.
What about the reaction of your peers who have said he was the best horse in history?
I think he is the best horse in history. There have been a lot of great horses and it’s hard to say who’s the best of all of them, but I think any great North American or European rider will concede that he was the best horse in the world. There may not be another one like him. I hope any rider will have the chance to experience what I experienced on such a horse, because it does change your life and your career. I thank all the riders from around the world, my European and North American friends who were so supportive and made the decision not to continue the event in Verona, and all the people I have received emails from. Everyone loved that horse.
“Hickstead and Eric have been one of equestrianism’s most legendary partnerships. Our team, our sport and our country grieve with Eric, Delphine and the Fleischhacker family on the passing of one of Canada’s greatest equine heroes. We will always be grateful for the time and triumphs we all shared with Hickstead,. We know that generations of future equestrians will draw inspiration from his life.”
~ Akaash Maharaj, CEO, Equine Canada and the Canadian Equestrian Team
“Hickstead really was a horse in a million and my heart goes out to Eric and everyone connected with this wonderful horse. This is a terrible loss, but Hickstead truly will never be forgotten. We were very lucky to have known him.”
~ HRH Princess Haya, FEI President
(Spruce Meadows created a commemorative tribute area in front of the Spruce Meadows Riding Hall where fans could pay their respects and sign a condolences book for Eric Lamaze)
“We have been touched by the outpouring of emotion and respect that has come in from around the world since Hickstead’s untimely passing and are happy to do this for his fans and for Eric. We will also plan to salute Hickstead next season at Spruce Meadows when Eric and the rest of the international show jumping community can be with us.”
~ Linda Southern-Heathcott, president, Spruce Meadows
“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. Hickstead’s presence on the circuit will be very sadly missed.”
~ John Roche, FEI Jumping Director
“The sudden loss of any horse, but especially one with the character and history of Hickstead, is a shock to everyone, but our thoughts are especially with Eric Lamaze and John Fleischhacker at this difficult time.”
~ Graeme Cooke, FEI Veterinary Director
Show director of Jumping Verona, Eleonora Ottaviani, emphasized how the Veronafiere organizing committee agreed with the decision to cancel the balance of the competition in Verona, ITA. “We welcomed with absolute approval the request of the riders not to continue the competition. It’s a gesture of due respect to a horse that has made history in equestrianism the last few years.”
“Hickstead set the standard. We didn’t beat him very often. He was a remarkable horse. He was unique. In my opinion, Hickstead was the best horse who ever lived in the sport.”
~ McLain Ward
“It was a sad, sad week with the news of Hickstead, who was in my opinion one of the best of all time. It’s not just the people who were close to Eric and Hickstead — it’s the whole horse community throughout the world. Everyone is touched when you lose a horse of such caliber. To name such a prestigious grand prix here (at the Royal Horse Show) in his name is the right thing to do, and I think everyone will take great pride in that and try to win it in years to come.”
~ Yann Candele
And some thoughts from our fans on Facebook:
“He was the winner of the first horse show I ever watched.”
~ Jayme Phibbs
“One of my favorite Hickstead moments was during the last round of the Olympic individual jumpers. I had been watching at work on the computer, which is on our client’s site. Our client’s boss is also a horse person; I ran to her office to watch the round with her on her large TV. Once he cleared the last fence, we jumped up and started screaming very loud! I guess it’s not every day you hear screaming coming from the boss’s office — and it’s not usually something you want to hear!”
~ Jessica Barnes
“He was to show jumping what Gretzky was to hockey. What Michael Jordan was to basketball. He was arguably the biggest superstar of the sport ever.
The little stallion with the huge heart, whose heart failed him in the end.
RIP Hickstead. There will never be another like you, and it was an honour and a privilege to witness the magic you and Eric constantly created.”
~ Amy Maltman