Toronto, Canada – Number one ranked show jumping rider in the world Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, ON, held a press conference on Wednesday, November 9, in Toronto, ON, to discuss the death of his Olympic gold medal partner, Hickstead.
Lamaze and Hickstead competed in the World Cup Grand Prix in Verona, Italy, on Sunday, November 6. Upon completion of their round, the pair were walking out of the arena when Hickstead collapsed and died. A necropsy, performed before his remains were cremated, confirmed his cause of death as an acute aortic rupture causing heart failure. Hickstead was 15 years old.
“As he finished the round, he just collapsed and sort of fell beside me,” recalled Lamaze, who owned Hickstead in partnership with John Fleischhacker’s Ashland Stables. “It is hard for me to remember second by second, but I believe he collapsed in a way that he made sure he did not injure me in the process. The staff in charge there were very quick to respond and made sure he was attended to to best of their ability.”
Lamaze continued, “He was in great shape; he had a veterinarian that looked at him two or three times a week. As you can imagine, he had the best care in the world. He was in very good health. It is a horse that we protected; if he wasn’t in great shape, we really backed down and gave him the proper rest. It is a fluke thing that can happen to any human or horse.”
Of the impact Hickstead had on his life, Lamaze noted, “What these horses do for us is incredible. They become part of our family. They really change our lives. It is a sport we choose because we love it and it is sport we choose because we also love the animal. It is not like breaking a hockey stick or breaking a tennis racket. We become very close to these animals and we have great respect for what they do for us. We are in the limelight with them. A horse like Hickstead changed my career. For me, it meant everything.”
Lamaze, who is based in Brussels, Belgium, made the difficult decision to compete as planned at the Royal Horse Show, held as part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, in Toronto, ON, in tribute to Hickstead. On Tuesday evening, November 9, he rode in the international show jumping competition with Herald 3, a horse owned by Carlene and Andy Ziegler of Artisan Farms. Upon entering the Ricoh Coliseum for the first time, Lamaze received a heartfelt standing ovation.
“I am here for the Canadian public and I am here to honour Hickstead; that’s why I came,” explained Lamaze of his decision to maintain his schedule and compete at the Royal Horse Show. “Hickstead was a special horse that was exciting to watch, and he loved a loud crowd. Being such an international horse, Hickstead didn’t get a lot of time to come to Canada. The people who are going to come to the Royal will get a last chance to remember him. If I would have stayed back in Europe and not come here because I wasn’t feeling great about riding, I don’t think he would have gotten the recognition that he has received already and is about to get. I am here to remember Hickstead.”
Under Lamaze, Hickstead’s accomplishments in the sport of show jumping were incomparable. The pair’s last major victory came on September 11 in front of 89,632 show jumping fans when they won the $1 million CN International for the second time in their career at the Spruce Meadows “Masters” Tournament in Calgary, AB. Lamaze and Hickstead competed in the $1 million CN International for the past five consecutive years, always finishing in the top five.
“I think there were moments that he was unbeatable,” said Lamaze. “In Calgary this year, he was unbeatable. The Olympics in Beijing, he was unbeatable. In Aachen, Germany, he was unbeatable. There were times when he was just that good.”
In addition to winning Individual Gold and Team Silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Lamaze and Hickstead earned Individual Bronze at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and Team Silver and Individual Bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games. They won several major grand prix titles in the sport of show jumping, including Calgary (2007 and 2011), Geneva (2008), Aachen (2010), La Baule (2011), and Rome (2011).
“There have been a lot of great horses, but I think any rider in Europe or North America will concede that he was the best horse in the world. There maybe won’t be another one like him,” said Lamaze. “I hope all riders get a chance to experience what I experienced on such a horse. It changes your life and your career. All the riders around the world have been so supportive. I have received so many e-mails. I think everybody loved that horse.”
Bred by Jan van Schijndel, Hickstead (Hamlet – Jomara x Ekstein) was born March 2, 1996, in The Netherlands. Lamaze had ridden Hickstead, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion owned by John Fleischhacker’s Ashland Stables and Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable, since purchasing him in 2004 at the age of seven. Hickstead earned over $3.7 million in prize money during his career and was widely acknowledged as the best show jumping horse of his era.
“It was a horse that was competing on an international circuit at a very high level, and another Olympics was not out of range for him,” said Lamaze, 43. “I would not have taken him if he wasn’t in the best of shape. For sure he had one full year in front of him, and then as a breeding stallion after that. It is a horse that you would have loved to retire, and give him a retirement ceremony like he deserved. But it was not meant to be.”
Lamaze concluded with great emotion, “This is probably the hardest thing for me to say, but I really want to thank everyone who participated in Hickstead’s career. All the staff that took care of him, all the riders that rode him over the years, all the veterinarians that took care of him, all the people that were involved in shipping him around the world, all the blacksmiths - anyone who had anything to do with Hickstead. They all made a big difference. I want to thank them very much.”
Photo: Olympic Champions Eric Lamaze and Hickstead. Photo Credit – Cealy Tetley, www.tetleyphoto.com