CBC Sports

Amateur sportsHickstead was a national superstar

Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011 | 06:20 PM

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Canadian horse Hickstead, the stallion that helped Eric Lamaze win two Olympic medals in 2008, won more than $3 million in prize money and has his name attached to two Spruce Meadows CN International titles. (Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press) Canadian horse Hickstead, the stallion that helped Eric Lamaze win two Olympic medals in 2008, won more than $3 million in prize money and has his name attached to two Spruce Meadows CN International titles. (Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press)

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Hickstead was, after all, only a horse. But on a personal level, news of his death hits hard.  Sometimes, when you're a sports commentator you can't help but be a fan.
He was, after all, only a horse.

But on a personal level, news of Hickstead's death hits hard.  Sometimes, when you're a sports commentator you can't help but be a fan.  

This is one of those instances.

I was in the middle of broadcasting a curling match when I heard via text message from my producer that Hickstead was gone.  Perhaps because I had seen him jump in person at Spruce Meadows and because I had actually patted his head when interviewing his rider, Eric Lamaze, I felt a sense of sadness and loss when learning of his passing.

I knew that my colleague, Bruce Rainnie, who was calling play-by-play of the curling match, would feel the same way.  

Indeed, he was devastated.

"It was a privilege to have called this sport in the era of Hickstead and Eric Lamaze," Bruce told me when the curling was complete.  "How many Canadian athletes can you say are unequivocally the best in the World?  Together Lamaze and Hickstead were."

I can recall watching a live stream of the gold medal final from the Olympic equestrian centre in Hong Kong in the summer of 2008.  It was late at night in Beijing and I heard Rainnie's memorable description as Hickstead and Lamaze approached the final obstacle.

"No Canadian show jumper has ever won individual Olympic gold," Rainnie said and then paused.

"Until now!"

Two words that became the exclamation mark to a brilliant story.  The last fence was left standing and a moment of Canadian triumph had been captured in a land far away.

Over the years Eric Lamaze had struggled with his demons.  He'd been disgraced but vowed to make good again in particular to the people who stood by him in troubling times.

This unlikely, smallish stallion called Hickstead was his ride to the ultimate recovery.  As he accepted the accolades of the crowd at the moment of gold medal glory, Lamaze pointed to the great animal's head and heaped all of the praise on Hickstead.

The 'Michael Jordan' of show jumping

This horse was that good.

Sure, he won more than $3 million in prize money and captured the richest event in the sport, the Spruce Meadows CN International, on more than one occasion.  But all of those Grand Prix victories, the many medals won and all that cash could not eclipse Hickstead's true worth.

He was steadfast.  The horse that Lamaze and Canada would come to trust at the defining moment.  

Hickstead was a rock.

"For years this sport has been dominated by Europeans and Americans but they were the exceptions," Rainnie said of Hickstead and Lamaze.  "He was not an imposing stallion but Hickstead seemed to know that knocking fences down was a bad thing so he worked his ass off to get over them."

There is no doubt he thrilled millions of people.  He worked hard and he delivered the goods time and time again.  And then Hickstead died, his heart seemingly broken, on the field of play.

"He was the superstar of his sport," Bruce Rainnie figured.  "Along the lines of Michael Jordan I should think."

Forgive me for being a fan, but I think so too.  And I'm heartbroken that he's gone.  Having seen Hickstead up close and having followed his career, I feel confident in saying he will soon join show jumper, Big Ben and Kentucky Derby winner, Northern Dancer in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

Hickstead was that good and he was more than just a horse.

Actually, like the two horses I've just mentioned he was able to transcend sport and become something more than just good or even great.

Hickstead should be regarded as a national, sporting treasure for all time.


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