Top horse named after showground

IT is appropriate that the famous showground at Hickstead, West Sussex, shares its name with one of the most famous and successful showjumpers of modern times.

Ever since the All England Jumping Course was first founded in 1961, the name Hickstead has been synonymous with showjumping. But these days, the showground has to share it with another showjumping great – Eric Lamaze’s phenomenally successful stallion.

The Canadian stallion is an Olympic gold medallist and has amassed more than $4,000,000 in prizemoney – a figure that shot up following Eric Lamaze and Hickstead’s recent victory in the $1,002,259 CN International Grand Prix at Calgary, Canada.

So how did a certain 16hh superstar come to be named after a venue in West Sussex?

Hickstead, a Dutch Warmblood by Hamlet out of Jomara, was born in 1996 in the Netherlands. He was bred by Jan Van Schijndel, who originally christened the colt ‘Opel’, and described him as ‘very fancy but not very big’.

He was later sold to the late Rinus de Jong when he was four months old, then as a two-year-old he was sent to Conny van Stokkum’s yard. Conny noticed his incredible jumping talent, and prepared him for Dutch Riding Horse and Pony Studbook (NRPS) approval.

It was van Stokkum who changed Hickstead’s name from Opel, as Ellen Van Guyse from the Stephex Stables in Belgium explained: “When he got approved as a stallion, his name had to start with the same initial as his father’s name, which was Hamlet. The owner was always a big fan of the show, so she decided to call the horse Hickstead.”

After his approval he covered about 40 mares a year, and then was sold to the sponsors of Gerard Franssen as a six-year-old. Franssen’s son Tim initially took the ride, noting the stallions enthusiasm for the sport – and the pair quickly progressed from 1.20m to 1.35m level. Interest in the stallion also grew, and several riders expressed an interest in buying him, only to back out because of Hickstead’s relatively diminutive size.

It was at this point that Hickstead’s route to fame was truly set. The stallion was sent to Stephan Conter’s Stephex Stables, and Canadian rider Eric Lamaze visited the yard during a European ‘horse shopping’ trip. Lamaze had initial concerns about him, feeling the stallion was too expensive to be able to produce and sell on, and too small to make a speed horse.

Having passed, the rest of Eric’s shopping trip proved unfruitful so he came back and tried the stallion once again, and was eventually persuaded to buy him.

The pair immediately began to notch up good results in Grand Prix classes across Canada and the United States, winning the $20,000 1.50m classic in Wellington, Florida, in Spring 2005. The following year, they helped Canada to victory in the CN Nations Cup at Wellington, as well as winning individual bronze and team silver at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2008, they made their Olympic debut – putting in an incredible performance to win individual gold and team silver, and leading Hickstead to be named FEI Show Jumping Horse of the Year.

Having conquered the Olympics, the next step was the world championships – and in 2010 the pair won an individual bronze medal at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. Hickstead was also awarded ‘Best Horse’ after going clear for all four riders in the final round.

The compact stallion with the incredible jump has not only amassed millions in prizemoney, he’s also in demand as a sire.

Eric Lamaze’s decision to buy him has truly paid off, as he explained to one Canadian magazine: “When he was nine years old, I thought I had a good horse, but I could never have predicted what he’s done. I think he’s the best horse in the world today.”