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Eric Lamaze and the Death of Hickstead

"It's fair to say there certainly isn't another Hickstead in the world, and that will be a misfortune for Eric," said Akaash Maharaj, the CEO of the Canadian Equestrian Team.


 

Lori Ewing
08 November 2011

The Globe and Mail
 

TORONTO - Their bond was a gold-medal partnership years in the making — and practically impossible for Canadian equestrian Eric Lamaze to duplicate.

When Lamaze's horse Hickstead collapsed and died at a competition Sunday in Italy, it left the world No. 1 show jumper mourning his longtime teammate. He also could be without an Olympic-calibre mount less than nine months before the London Games.

Much like an ice dancing duo that is suddenly down one skater, finding a new partner could be an impossible task. It certainly won't be as easy as simply writing a cheque.

The 43-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., is faced with either purchasing a horse by January to meet citizenship rules, or riding one of his own horses that might not yet be Olympic-ready.

Either way, Lamaze won't be bringing a horse like Hickstead to London.

“It's fair to say there certainly isn't another Hickstead in the world, and that will be a misfortune for Eric,” said Akaash Maharaj, the CEO of the Canadian Equestrian Team.

Much like a human athlete who must be a citizen of a country for a required period of time before representing that country in the Olympics, a similar rule applies to horses.

“A horse can only represent a country at the Olympics if he has been owned by his country or a citizen of his country for the requisite amount of time,” said Maharaj.

The 43-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., is faced with either purchasing a horse by January to meet citizenship rules, or riding one of his own horses that might not yet be Olympic-ready.

Maharaj can't see Lamaze purchasing a horse however, as there wouldn't be enough time to develop any kind of teamwork.

“The ability to perform under pressure is as much a product of the relationship between a horse and rider as it is the raw skill of either the horse or the rider,” Maharaj said.

The legendary stallion that carried Lamaze to gold and silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Games died during a World Cup event Sunday after collapsing inside a packed arena in Verona.

In a statement, Lamaze said the 15-year-old horse had died of an apparent heart attack. Maharaj said the cause of death won't be known until an autopsy is completed, likely at a veterinary hospital in Italy.

Lamaze is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday in Toronto, according to his lawyer Tim Danson.

Lamaze rode Coriana van Klapscheut at the Pan American Games last month in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they finished 11th in the individual jumping and were part of the Canadian squad that finished fourth in team jumping. The nine-year-old horse, one of numerous horses Lamaze owns at his Torrey Pines Stable, won three European Grand Prix titles last May.

Hundreds of fans took to Twitter on Monday to pay tribute to Hickstead, while numerous memorial videos were posted on YouTube, including one showing the horse's death that had over 100,000 views.

Spruce Meadows, the show jumping venue in Calgary, has created a commemorative tribute area where fans can pay their respects and sign a condolences book for Lamaze. Equine Canada posted a condolences page on its website.

Hickstead collapsed after he and Lamaze had just completed the 13-fence course with only a single rail down. While horse deaths in the sport aren't unheard of, Maharaj said they're extremely rare.

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Hickstead wasn't considered old in the sport — Ian Millar's famous mount Big Ben was retired when he was 18, and was euthanized five years later for an untreatable form of colic.

“Hickstead was very much at the top of his form, in the late prime of his life, but nevertheless in the prime of his life,” Maharaj said. “His death was sudden and entirely unexpected.”

Maharaj said had it not been for Lamaze, Hickstead likely never have had the career of a champion.

The horse's breeders and owners originally offered the horse to the U.S. equestrian team, which wanted no part of the temperamental animal, who was also small for a jumper.

“That combination meant that he could not find a home in the United States,” Maharaj said. “Eric's decision to take him on was something of a leap of faith, but it was obviously a leap of faith that Hickstead repaid in spades.

“One of the reasons they worked together really well was that, rather than attempting to contain or change Hickstead's style, Eric had enough confidence in the horse and in himself to simply allow the horse free rein to attack the course in a manner of his own choosing. Similarly, Hickstead had enough confidence in Eric that he clearly understood that Eric would not put him in a situation that he could not handle.

“That mutual trust was the basis of their success. They really did have a very special bond.”


















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