As many of you in the horse world (and sports world for that matter) have probably already heard, the Olympic gold medalist stallion Hickstead died Sunday November 6, 2011. Immediately after completing an amazing round in the The Rolex F.E.I. Wold Cup with rider Eric Lamaze, Hickstead collapsed and was pronounced dead on the scene.
The death of such an incredible equine athlete like this always touches so many people; horse lovers and sports lovers coming together in understanding and mourning at what has been lost.
It makes me sad to think how loved this animal was, and how much he will be missed. And yet, are our demands of an animal’s performance partly to blame? I supposed such is the nature of striving to be the best, pushing your hardest to come out on top, and having what it takes to truly be the victor, no matter what the competition is, or whether you are an equine or human athlete.
While an autopsy will be conducted on Hickstead to determine the cause of death, Karyn Malinowski, the director of the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said, “The horse is a natural blood doper. When the horse does an athletic event, it will automatically dump tons of red blood cells into the bloodstream. It’s what makes the horse a fabulous athlete. And at the same time, because you have an increase, the blood does become thicker, and if the horse was prone to a weakened heart, it could have burst.”
What an ironic concept that the very thing that makes an athlete incredible, also has the ability to contribute to their breakdown. It sounds macabre to say, but I hope this is the case. It would mean that Hickstead died doing what he loves, giving his all, as he was made to do.
Rather than focus on Hickstead’s death (you can find plenty of that elsewhere) in the spirit of Equus Athletics and what we stand for, I’d like to focus on his amazing abilities and accomplishments as an athlete.
He joins other incredible equine athletes like Charismatic, Barbaro, and many others, who inspired and enriched the lives of so many by giving their all. Let this remind us of how much we love our own horses, what an incredible job they do for us everyday, and that legendary athletes are never forgotten.
To see a video of Hickstead in his glory at the 2008 Olympic games, click here.