First aired on Ottawa Morning (29/11/11)
In equestrian events, the bond between horse and rider is a special one. That point was driven home last month when Canadian rider Eric Lamaze, a world and Olympic champion, lost his cherished mount, Hickstead, when the horse died suddenly while competing at an event in Verona, Italy.
Lamaze wasn't the only one who mourned the "superstar" show-jumper. In a recent interview on Ottawa Morning, Dr. Helen Douglas, equine veterinarian, horse owner and author, described her reaction. "As a horse lover, it was shock. I felt upset for a week, sort of chemically altered, as we do when we suffer a personal loss. The loss of Hickstead was very personal to every Canadian horse lover."
In her latest book, Horse of a Lifetime, Douglas brings together the stories of people who have formed a special connection with a particular horse. "I started off with one good story, decided there must be many, many good stories like that," she explained. "I went across the country to find stories of those special horses. And they weren't always what you'd expect. It could be an Olympian speaking, or sometimes the most poignant, touching stories were [about] backyard horses."
That starting point of "one good story" involved a horse called Ocean City, which was in bad shape when an Ottawa-area couple bought her. "Probably the next step for her was the meat wagon," Douglas said. "And they brought the horse back to prime and to jumping successfully and showing. And then they discovered that her bloodlines were connected to an Olympic blood line." They sold the horse for a large amount of money, but the new buyers didn't come around to collect Ocean City for six months, so there were further twists and turns to the story, which Douglas chronicles in her book.
What makes a horse special? According to Douglas, it's not necessarily great talent or beauty. It comes down to having an emotional connection with the animal. She brings up the case of a personal friend, Jody, who passed away recently. "The story there is what she did for Jody's family, what she did for Jody during her illness and her fight with breast cancer, what that horse meant to her as a person and to her family."
Douglas, who describes herself as "a non-athletic person," credits horses with giving her the opportunity to participate in sports. "I could compete on a show team. And I could run and jump and fly...so horses allowed me to be part of a world that I wouldn't have been able to," she said.
Douglas also spoke of Shirley Thomas, the first woman who rode for Canada. In 1954, when Thomas was just 18, she went to Europe to compete as a member of the Canadian show-jumping team. "She had two horses, one was a beautiful thoroughbred named White Sable. But the other one was the horse she chose as her favourite," Douglas said. That horse, known as Revlon's Princess Midas, "did the most for her, even though it wasn't her fanciest or her most beautiful."
Horse of a Lifetime
by Helen Douglas
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From the publisher:
"Horse of a Lifetime examines the unique bond between people and horses, chronicling sixty special relationships between Canadian horsemen and women and their most significant and beloved equine friends. Dr. Helen Douglas, an Ottawa Valley equine veterinarian and lifelong horsewoman, travelled from coast to coast across Canada to interview horse people about their connection to their favourite horse. Compelled to share with others the remarkable stories of these Canadians and their "horse of a lifetime," Dr. Douglas describes each person's passion and appreciation for that one special animal they have loved more than all others.
Through these touching narratives and beautiful colour photographs, a picture develops of what horses contribute to people's lives. From backyard pets to high-performance athletes, from every province and discipline, these wonderful animals have offered the gifts of their trust and partnership. Each unique story reveals the depth, variety and rich history of contemporary horsemanship and horse sport in Canada...."
Read more at General Store Publishing House.