Hickstead, that never-to-be-forgotten jumping machine, was a surprisingly small horse, standing at just 16hh.
The Belgium-born Dutch warmblood stallion was widely regarded the best show jumper of his era, winning both individual Olympic gold and being named the World’s Best Horse for his performance at the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Overall, he won more than $4 million during his career.
Hickstead and his rider, Eric Lamaze, won Canada’s first individual equestrian gold medal at Beijing in 2008, as well as helping the team to a silver medal, becoming household names in the process.
Two years later, Hickstead was 14 when he lined up in Kentucky for the World Games, and he sailed through the first four days of competition in supreme form, finishing at the top of a star-studded pack before tackling the Final Four on the fifth and last day.
This unique aspect of WEG used to decide the individual show jumping medals, whereby the top four riders would swap horses for four final rounds – it has since been discontinued. While it was a huge crowd-pleaser, it didn’t necessarily reflect the competition’s best horse, because although one horse might jump all four rounds cleanly, the medal went to the rider who had fewest faults on all four horses.
In addition, it was a gruelling effort; with 10 obstacles in the final track, it added another 40 jumping efforts per horse. This brought their tally to 115 jumps in nine rounds over five days of competition.
The individual gold medal went to a very deserving Belgian rider Philippe Le Jeune, who guided all four horses around the course without a fault. Silver went to a surprised Abdullah Al Sharbatly, and bronze to Eric – but the real hero of the event was Hickstead.
The superb stallion, who had once been unruly, unsellable and wittily described as ‘undersized and overexcited’, carried each of his four partners through a flawless round. He was the only horse to do this. His last rider was Phillipe, who threw his arms around the stallion’s neck when he dismounted.
Hickstead was named World’s Best Horse that evening, and the title came as no real surprise to Eric Lamaze. “I think I knew that before today. Now these other three riders know it for themselves.”
Tragically just over a year later, at a competition in Verona, Italy, Hickstead collapsed shortly after finishing a round and died of an aortic rupture.
Earlier this year, it was announced that he and Eric are to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2021.