Last year, I went to the World Equestrian Games. If anyone has read these posts, they will know that I not only thoroughly enjoyed myself at them, but they inspired me to get back into horses.
I am very happy to be back home with horses.
A Canadian rider, Lamaze, rode a big stallion named Hickstead to the Individual Bronze medal in show jumping at the Games.
This past week, Lamaze and Hickstead were at an international competition in Italy. Hickstead had just completed his initial round when he staggered and went down. The rider stepped out of the stirrups, of course, totally astonished at what had just happened. He was unhurt. He stepped to the front of the horse, reins still in his hand, possibly to allow the horse to get back up. He is totally flummoxed, he has no idea what to do now.
There are plenty of videos, but I will describe it: Hickstead staggered to the right, collapsed, allowing Lamaze to step out of the irons. You can see the expression on Hickstead’s face. It is so sad. He was dying. He collapsed and tried hard to keep his head up, but to no avail. His head slowly touched the ground and his legs began to jerk. But that was just nerves: Hickstead was already dead.
He was then surrounded by people, one man apparently tried to lift the horse back up. His legs thrashed and kicked, but it was obvious, he was dead.
How very sad to see something like this. We see Thoroughbreds die on the track more often than I ever would like, but a show jumping ring is far closer to a live audience. In addition, a race horse dies due to a break down, and that’s more heart wrenching for this horse lover’s emotions than seeing Hickstead die. It was obvious he’d had a heart attack.
It was the slow, gentle death that wrenched me so hard. When a TB is put down on the track, you are grateful, for you know the horse was suffering, in shock and pain, and it’s the merciful thing to do. But when a tall, handsome show jumper just lays down and dies, there’s something far more poignant. It was more…dignified. The hopelessly optimistic part of me begs, isn’t there something we can do? The pragmatic realist that I am says, no.
We have all heard the tales of horses keeping on to the bitter end, making sure their rider is okay before finally succumbing. But to actually see it is a very hard thing indeed.
I doubt Hickstead suffered. His face was one of confusion and…acceptance. There was no fear, no pain. That, if nothing else, is a good thing.