Spruce Meadows offers Calgarians a place to grieve over Hickstead
The sun warms the ground of the empty International Ring at Spruce Meadows. It's hard to believe that just two months ago the stands were filled with nearly 90,000 people as Canadian rider Eric Lamaze and his horse, Hickstead, won the $1-million CN International Grand Prix.
It's even harder to believe the "superstar" stallion is no longer with us.
Hickstead, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood, suffered a heart attack in the ring during a competition in Italy on Saturday, Nov. 6. He collapsed following his four-fault round to the surprise and shock of everyone in attendance, particularly his rider Lamaze, the current No. 1-ranked rider in the world.
"Seeing Eric and Hickstead compete together was truly something phenomenal," said fellow Canadian show-jumper Jonathan Asselin.
"It was a bond that I don't think I've seen in my lifetime."
Asselin rode on the Canadian team with Hickstead and Lamaze on several occasions, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the efforts of Lamaze and Hickstead brought Canada an individual gold medal, the nation's first in the sport in 40 years. The reigning champions also brought home a silver medal in the team event.
"It's a heart-wrenching bit of news that we got on the weekend and I think every horseman felt a terrible loss," said Asselin. "It was hard to swallow."
Spruce Meadows' senior vice-president Ian Allison has known both Lamaze and Hickstead for years and said their partnership seemed meant to be.
The duo's relationship began after Lamaze took a tour through Europe to find a new horse. Not wanting to come home empty handed, Allison said Lamaze settled on the little stallion. As Hickstead was rather small for a show-jumping mount, Allison said Lamaze's hopes were not especially high for the horse.
"He [Lamaze] found out quickly that what he [Hickstead] lacked in scope and size ... he made up for in heart, character, chemistry with Eric, his athletic ability and his motor," said Allison. "Eric recognized his specialness, appreciated it and never took it for granted."
Hickstead spent the last seven years at the top of the sport, winning prestigious awards such as "Best Horse" at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY.
Allison pointed out that Spruce Meadows is one of the only places in North America where Hickstead has competed. Each year, many Calgarians watched Hickstead throughout summer tournaments and he established a large, dedicated fan base. Allison said many people were easily able to see the bond between Hickstead and Lamaze. He added that Lamaze, in particular, was always one to pay respect to the horse.
"Eric was always the one pointing at the horse [after a great round], as if to say, 'Aren't I so lucky to be sitting on this?'" remembered Allison as he looked at a photo of the pair.
To commemorate the champion, Spruce Meadows has set up a tribute area in front of the Spruce Meadows Riding Hall for fans to come pay their respects and sign a condolences book for Lamaze.
Allison said it was only natural for Spruce Meadows to do something in memoriam of the horse, as the venue was the only place many had a chance to see the stallion perform. Allison also added there will be further tributes next summer when the riding community, including Lamaze, unites again at Spruce Meadows.
One of many fans who came to remember Hickstead at the memorial was Calgarian Nicole Guillemet.
She recalled the times she saw Hickstead compete at Spruce Meadows, most recently at the Masters tournament in September.
"I'll never forget this year, when he finished at the Masters and [Lamaze threw his hat up] and he kept showing off Hickstead [by pointing at him]," she said.
Lisa Roberts, a self-proclaimed horse lover, also came to pay tribute.
"I'm here to acknowledge that Hickstead was just the greatest and I'm so sorry for Eric to have lost his fantastic horse," Roberts said. "It breaks a person's heart. He was on top of the world."
The memorial is available to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until Nov. 13.
- By ROXANNE BLACKWELL