Hickstead and Lamaze: A Big “Ask” Answered
Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alberta, hosts two of the most renowned, challenging equestrian events in the world. Yesterday, I watched the BMO Financial Nation’s Cup (France won though Canada was a close second), and today, I watched the CN International Cup. Sixteen-year-old Hickstead, called the Wonder Horse, and rider, Eric Lamaze, who brought gold home to Canada from the Olympics (up to then, I’d thought the highest medal was bronze; that’s what Canada usually wins) and is the Number One rider in the world…let me say that again…in the world, won the CN with nary a thought. As I watched Hickstead in the BMO and again today in the first round, I thought: ”this horse knows exactly what he’s there to do, knows exactly what each jump requires…and then just does it.” I was gratified to hear Hickstead’s owner say in an interview, “…he was a stumblebum in the early years…and now, it’s like he says to Eric, ‘just sit there and be a good boy, and I’ll take care of it.’” Then, when Eric accepted the trophy (and the cheque) for the CN today, he too stated: ”Hickstead is an amazing horse…basically, I just let him go…he knew exactly what he was doing…and I didn’t even feel that he’d lost a shoe towards the end of the second round…he didn’t falter.” You’ve gotta imagine Hickstead’s thoughts evolving in the nine years Lamaze has been his rider. At first, he must have thought: ”…um, okay, so you want me to jump these funny-looking fence things. I can do that…but geez, they’re high.” And then, after the umpteenth competition: “…oh, I get it. I can’t let my feet touch the rails cuz if they touch the rails and the rails come down, we lose…right? Okay, now I really get it.” So now, the first thing you notice when you compare Hicks jumping to many other jumpers is that he not only curls his front end, he curls his hind legs as if he were a kangaroo, a hare or a rabbit! HE KNOWS! The goldarn horse KNOWS! He eyeballs each jump and calculates–calculates, I say–how to jump that fence, oxer, liverpool–whatever. And, according to media reports, he loves his fans, wants to show off, and, from what I have seen of him, is virtually bombproof. How many humans can you say all that of, eh? Another media-generated report states that Eric leaves Hickstead alone for months at a time, lets him just be a horse in a pasture while Eric tries out newbies…so Hicks gets the best of both worlds and is ready to jump whenever Eric calls on him (although if you watch Hicks jump, you can tell it’s something he thinks is fun and challenging, regardless of his rider).
Deb Harper, natural horse trainer and rehabilitator (which really means problem-solving horse communicator), taught me on my recent visit to Abbotsford, BC, that we “ask” things of horses: can you do this? do you want to do it, and if I make you feel safe enough, will you do it for me just because I want you to? These are called “asks”. I must say that what every single equestrian event rider asks of his/her horse is a “big ask”: can you win the trophy (and the $) by jumping incredibly scary, difficult, challenging and absurdly high fences just because I ask you to? And it’s obvious that horses like Hickstead think on it a bit, and then say, ‘okay…I like you and I trust you. I’ll do it…and I’ll make both of us look good…and in the meantime, I will show you who I am…I will reveal myself to you.’ Thus spake the Wonder Horse, following in the wake of Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Big Ben, and Lukas (and I’m sure there are millions of others all over the world). There is something almost religious in these horses’ self-revelation, as in the apostolic renunciation: ”I renounce all others and will follow you,”… a huge renunciation for a herd animal who, most often, sees man as predator. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in equestrian show jumping, but one thing I have noticed: there is not one horse involved under the age of five, five being the age when a horse has developed enough sinewy body and leg strength to sustain what’s asked of him, whereas in horse racing, horses two and three years old, ages at which the legs are not fully developed, are thrust into races that cripple them before they’ve reached maturity. Now that, as you might say, is a really big “ask”, and one that begs for change (Eight Belles and Barbaro would thank us). Bravo, Eric for appreciating both the intrinsic and the transcendent value of one who acts as your mount but who really is your full and accomplished partner. You know it…he knows it…and by gum, the whole world knows it. Hats off to Hickstead (and to Eric, who knows how big the “ask” is and admits how blown away he is by how big Hickstead’s “answer” is!). For more info, click here to goto the Ottawa Citizen article.