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Sunday morning of the Spruce Meadows Masters. For me it’s a day that’s comparable to Christmas, and as I hurried off to take in the day’s action I couldn’t help but feel a little tug on my heartstrings.
Hickstead wouldn’t be able to defend his title as champion of the 2011 $1,000,000 CN International, and in hindsight his incredible win becomes even more remarkable, knowing that was the last time his fans would see him compete on Canadian soil.
As a Calgarian I have many great memories of Spruce Meadows. Some of them even involve competing there myself and even winning the odd class in the hunters. I remember as a young girl when my dad, using his only day off, would spend the day watching show jumping with me and then have to put up with my incessant horse chatter for the next month.
So many fond memories, but one of the top ones comes from just last year when Hickstead, oh and his rider, Eric Lamaze, too, won the CN International for the second time in their career.
It was of course Eric and “Stix”, as Hickstead was affectionately called, who had to physically clear the hurdles set in the ring, but the record crowd of 90,000-odd people held their breath, shuddered, gasped, and cheered every jump as that little stallion carried all of us over every jump without a problem, and clinched the victory for himself, for Eric, for Canada, and everyone in attendance. Disney couldn’t have written it better.
Victory in the 2011 CN International. Photo ©Spruce Meadows Media Services
I of course was a big fan, I’d watched them for years – most notably from some acreage in the middle of nowhere with a dial up internet connection when they won the individual gold at the Beijing Olympics. I sat alone in the farmhouse and actually cried at their victory; for all it represented as a partnership and everything that had been overcome to get to where they were.
I’ve heard the Canadian anthem played many times in the winner’s circle, but I never heard it played the way that it was in the 2011 International victory ceremony, when people actually sang it at a loud, proud, and audible level.
Patriotism isn’t something that Canadians seem to do very well, and Canada is often mistaken as a misguided extension of America. For a man originally from Quebec, (the province that threatens separation from the country) and for a European bred horse to bring unity and patriotism to Canada is not an irony lost on me, but to be in the stands that day and to hear the deafening cheers, the stamping of feet on the grandstand, to see the exuberant victory gallop, and to hear the anthem sung, and people wipe tears from their eyes was truly a moment I won’t soon forget as a horse loving Canadian.
So I felt sadness knowing that Stix wouldn’t be passing through the Clock Tower of the International Ring on this particular Sunday. But lets remember; Spruce Meadows never fails.
On the Sunday of the Masters, Spruce Meadows held a tribute to Hickstead where they unveiled a nearly life sized bronze of the jumping stallion. It was touching to see the look of shock on Eric’s face when it was announced that he and Hickstead would be inducted into the Spruce Meadow’s hall of fame – an honor not handed out to just anyone.
Having won twenty FEI competitions with Hickstead in the International Ring alone, Eric said, “Spruce Meadows was one of Hickstead’s homes, especially this arena, so to have this statue here is very fitting.”
It was a moving moment when Eric gave a heartfelt, emotional, and eloquent speech thanking Spruce Meadows, the Southern family, and of course the fans who he felt “made so many fences be possible from your cheers.”
Eric Lamaze wipes tears from his eyes during the Hickstead tribute. John Fleischhacker stands on Erics's right and Linda Southern on Eric's left
Eric also thanked John Fleischhacker and the Fleischhaker family, his long time supporters and owners of Hickstead: “I would like to thank the Fleischhackers for providing me this horse and keeping it with me for all these years,” he said. “I can’t promise that we’ll ever find another one.”
I’m not sure Stix is replaceable either, but seeing the emotion on Eric’s face nearly a year after his passing, I know he’ll never be forgotten.
Hickstead, back in the International Ring