Photo by Molly Sorge.

It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to one of the show jumping world’s greatest horses. Hickstead took Eric Lamaze to the absolute pinnacle of equestrian sport, from the hallowed grounds of Spruce Meadows to the top of the podium at the 2008 Olympics. He was a gold medal horse through and through, a true fighter and a horse who loved his job until the end. I don’t need to recount what happened – the whole equestrian world is reeling with the news. We feel for Hickstead, for Eric, and for the entire team. It’s always hard to lose a horse and partner, but having it happen so suddenly is especially painful. For now, we must take solace in the fact that Hickstead left us doing what he loved; and remember him for his victories. He was a bright spark in our world – unstoppable and bold – and he is gone far too soon.

I’ve Got Your Back

People outside the equestrian world might not understand why losing a horse like this is so tragic. It’s the old “it’s just a horse” argument. Beyond the fact that Hickstead was one in a million – not only for beating pretty much every other top jumper in the world but also for his will to win – he was special to Eric and the Hickstead team. My horse is special to me, and losing him would be heartbreaking. He’s not “just a horse.” He’s an animal that I spend almost every single day with. He gets me on a deeper level than most humans; there are times when I don’t even need to use my body or voice to tell him what to do – he just does it. He knows. He anticipates and listens and reacts, and sometimes I’m convinced we share a brain. When he looks at me, I don’t see an empty stare. There’s substance there; ideas and thoughts floating around in that head. And the most incredible thing about my horse (and I’m sure it was the same with Hickstead) is that he knows when we’re competing, and he works hard to win. When we enter the arena and the timer goes off, he’s suddenly a half ton of buzzing, bouncing energy, just ready to fight for the win. Every piston is firing as he clicks into some higher gear and we roar around the course. Some horses don’t get it; they plonk along and hop over the jumps. They punch in their time card and can’t wait to be done. Others, like Hickstead, live for the rush of competition. It’s their calling, and it’s so incredible to sit on an animal so full of life and power, just waiting to be told what to do, where to go, and how fast.

The hours and years of practice, the highs and lows of competition, the time we spend together – it all forges an incredibly close bond. We trust our horses to carry us safely over towering jumps, just as they trust us to guide them and care for them. Nothing is forced. If you think a horse is going to do something he really doesn’t want to do, good luck with that. Eric and Hickstead, and I and my horse, exist in a sublime balance wrought from trust and love. One cannot succeed without the other, and so it is understood that each half must give equally. The horse gives us his heart and his power, and we give them our love and our wisdom. Together, we form something beyond words – an unstoppable force that transcends any other experience in this world. That is why losing an animal like Hickstead is terribly heartbreaking; that is why losing my horse would be unimaginable. They become a part of us, some entity linked inextricably to our souls. Without that part, we are not whole.