Olympic Champion Showjumper Hickstead Dead in Italy; Superstar Collapsed After World Cup Round

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You may have a wait a moment for the video to load; please watch it before you read the rest of this article.

I wasn’t even going to turn the computer on this morning. There are leaves to be raked, errands to be done, work to be finished. A frantic week lies ahead.

But something said, “Turn me on”, as I walked past the table where my laptop lay.

When I went to my Twitter account, I couldn’t believe the words I read there. One of my favorite horses is dead in the prime of his life and at the height of his career.

Hickstead held many international honors. The one I remember best was when he made the Final Four at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last year. Under special WEG rules, the riders switched horses. Hickstead went clear for four rounds that night, under four different riders, and was voted “best horse” of the Games. (Alltech photo by Dirk Caremans)

Reigning Olympic champion showjumper Hickstead, ridden by Canada’s Eric Lamaze, collapsed today in the show ring in Verona, Italy during a televised FEI World Cup round. Because the event was televised, it is available on YouTube.

In a press release, FEI Jumping Director ?John Roche, said “shortly after finishing his round of jumping, Hickstead collapsed in the arena and died.? As yet the cause of death is unknown, but 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”.

To their credit, the FEI’s press release came out within hours of Hickstead’s death. It reads, in part:

“The fourth leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup? Jumping 2011/2012 series at Verona, Italy was stopped today following the sudden death of the stallion Hickstead, ridden by reigning Olympic champion and world number one Eric Lamaze (CAN).

“Drawn 22nd of the 39 on the startlist, the Canadian partnership had just completed Rolf Ludi’s 13-fence track with a single rail down in the middle of the combination when Hickstead collapsed and died.

“The competition was stopped 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.”

Note that Hickstead died after completing his round; he was not exerting himself at the time of his collapse. The timing of his collapse is important, since he could have badly injured himself and his rider if he’d collapsed during the intense indoor jumping round. While the end result is the same, it could have been worse.

Lamaze jumped off Hickstead when he started to collapse, and was able to pull the reins over the horse’s head as the horse went over on his side and, eventually, died.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Presumably, a necropsy will be conducted. Eric Lamaze’s Facebook page is spilling over with condolences already. Hickstead was a Canadian hero and won the $1 milion prize at Spruce Meadows twice. At the World Equestrian Games last October, finalist Hickstead was voted “best horse”. Lamaze and co-owner John Fleischhacker were awarded Owner of the Year for 2010 by the Jumper Owners Association.

It seems inconsequential now, but I calculate Hickstead to have been between 15 and 16 years old. He was a Dutch warmblood stallion by Hamlet, out of the mare Jomara. At the time of his death, he had been scored second in the world for 2011 in showjumping by the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) and FEI.

I struggled with what comes next. Out of respect for the great horse, I will not post the video of his death here, but it is at this link: Hickstead death on YouTube. It is not easy to watch. Please don’t push the “play” button if you don’t want to or are not prepared to see what transpired. Understand that he did go down on live television and a lot of people witnessed this on a Sunday evening at home. But if this tragedy can show anyone what to expect when a horse has a sudden and severe collapse caused by what is probably the equine equivalent of a “heart attack”, I suppose it is a valuable lesson if you are ever with a horse or at an event when this happens.

Watch it, or don’t watch it. It’s up to you.

I think we would all rather remember Hickstead high up in the air over the jumps; that’s where he belongs in our memories.

In life, Hickstead was nothing short of amazing. He took our collective breath away, time and again. His passing, and the way it happened, will have an impact on the sport, I am sure. He will leave a great empty place in the world of showjumping and in the hearts of his fans and admirers, especially in Canada.

What his televised death will mean to the world of horse sports is anyone’s guess, regardless of the fact that his death was sudden and probably not caused by any breach of FEI regulations or welfare standards.

Rest in peace, mighty Hickstead.




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