World Cup qualifier abandoned after death of Hickstead
The Rolex FEI World Cup qualifier in Verona was abandoned midway yesterday following the sudden death of the world's most famous show jumping horse, the 15-year-old stallion Hickstead, which collapsed in the arena after completing the first round.
During his spectacular career, the Dutch-bred multiple champion clinched individual gold and team silver for Canada's Eric Lamaze at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong.
In an unprecedented display of solidarity and support, the competition was abandoned at the request of the remaining 17 riders, and Lamaze's fellow competitors entered the arena on foot to pay tribute with a minute's silence before the hushed capacity audience.
Some of the world's top professional riders, including three-time World Cup champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum from Germany and Switzerland's Beat Mandli, wept openly following the shocking incident.
It appeared that Hickstead suffered a swift and fatal heart attack, just moments after jumping the last fence on the 13-obstacle course.
Fourth into the ring, Niall Talbot had two fences down with Nicos de la Cense, and another 18 horses jumped the track before Hickstead and Lamaze set off on what would be the final trip of their career together.
Talbot produced a great performance from his promising 10-year-old to win Saturday's feature event, the 1.50m Prix SNAI.
Meanwhile, it emerged over the weekend that Horse Sport Ireland's (HSI) show jumping team manager, Robert Splaine, has requested the use of Army Equitation School horses for civilian rider Billy Twomey in the lead-up to next year's Olympics.
Splaine said that Twomey and Denis Lynch are currently holding individual qualifying spots through the Olympic rankings list, but that Twomey's resources are depleted due to lack of form from his string.
Olympic qualification closes in February, so he is only seeking assistance from the Army in the short-term in order to bolster Twomey's position and hold onto the second qualifying spot.
"It's a unique and extreme situation, but I want to do all I can to get two riders to London. I'm asking the Army for any help they can give us -- if they can't do it then that's fine, I know it's a big ask," he said.
Both HSI and the Equitation School declined to comment over the weekend.