Legendary Canadian showjumper Big Ben has been posthumously awarded the prestigious Hickstead Trophy at Equine Canada’s Awards Gala.
Ridden by Ian Millar, Big Ben remains a household name in Canada and around the world, remembered for his incredible heart, boundless bravery, and captivating presence.
Equine Canada President Michael Gallagher and Faith Berghuis of Franklands Farm accepted the award of behalf of Ian Millar for Big Ben at the Awards Gala on February 7 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
A liver chestnut Belgian Warmblood gelding, Big Ben was sired by Etretat. He was bred by Jacubus van Hooydonk of Belgium and foaled in 1976. Despite having a dam who was just 15hh, Big Ben grew to be 17.3hh, causing many people to believe he was too big to be a suitable show jumper.
He was brought to the attention of “Captain Canada” Ian Millar in 1983 while he was visiting a long-time friend, renowned show jumping rider Emile Hendrix of the Netherlands. Millar has stated he had an indescribable good feeling about the huge gelding the first time they met. Soon after, the Canadian Show Jumpers Unlimited Inc. syndicate was formed and Big Ben was purchased and imported to Canada that same year.
Millar’s intuition could not have been more accurate. Big Ben and Millar went on to become the first ever horse/rider combination to win two consecutive World Cup Final titles in 1988 and 1989. Big Ben was also Millar’s mount for three Olympic Games (in 1984, 1988, and 1992), and took home both Individual and Team Gold Medals from the 1987 Pan American Games.
Big Ben also represented Canada on more than 30 nations cup teams and racked up over 40 grand prix wins throughout his decade-long career. This included the 1987 Du Maurier International Grand Prix, which was the richest grand prix in the world at that time, and helped Big Ben become the first horse in North America to rack up over $1.5 million in prize money.
A true hero, Big Ben also overcame more than his share of adversity during his career. He faced two life-threatening colic surgeries and a major tractor-trailer accident, yet he persevered through all of these challenges, always coming back to international-level competition in top form. In the trailer accident, two other horses died, and a third became unrideable due to its injuries. A fourth would never enter a trailer again.
In 1994 Big Ben retired from competition, but not before embarking on a final, sentimental tour across Canada. He was well known for his positive, kind nature, and was often seen greeting fans and admirers from his stall at competitions, and sometimes even signing autographs with a hoof print. In 1996 he became only the second horse in history to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
After enjoying retirement at the Millar Brooke Farm in Perth, Ontario, Big Ben passed on at the age of 18 on December 11, 1999, after two veterinarians informed Millar that her was suffering from a third, untreatable case of colic. He was euthanised at Millar Brooke Farm and is buried on a knoll overlooking the farm.
He has since been immortalized in numerous ways. He was the subject of an official limited edition Canada Post stamp in 1999. His likeness has also been captured as a Breyer model horse. In 2005 the Perth and District Chamber of Commerce commissioned a bronze statue of Big Ben with Millar aboard, which stands on display in downtown Perth.
“We all always felt that we simply held Big Ben in trust for all his adoring Canadian fans and supporters,” explained Millar.
Equine Canada is proud to recognize Big Ben as one of the greatest show jumpers who ever lived by adding The Hickstead Trophy to his truly incredible collection of achievements.
Previously named the Equine Canada Horse of the Year Award, the title was officially changed to The Hickstead Trophy in 2012 in order to honour Eric Lamaze’s legendary mount and 2008 Olympic Champion, Hickstead, who died suddenly in the fall of 2011.
• Margaret “Maggie” Murdoch was also honored posthumously with The Gold Medal Award, the highest and most prestigious of the EC National Awards.
It is awarded only when the EC President proposes a recipient to the EC Board of Directors, and receives approval by at least 75 per cent of board members during a vote.
Murdoch perfectly embodied the outstanding criteria of award, which includes providing long and outstanding service to EC as a builder of the sport both nationally and internationally.
“We, the Murdoch family, are so very proud of our Mom for her contributions to the equestrian sport, and to her community, as a mentor and as a mother to many more than just her seven children. She truly was a trailblazer within and beyond the equestrian sport,” said Murdoch’s daughters, Barbara and Margie.
Murdoch was involved with Equine Canada for over 60 years before passing away at the age of 90 in December of 2013 in her hometown of Orangeville, Ontario. She first became an EC member in 1952, and went on to become one of the most well respected stewards in Canada, and around the world.
After gaining credentials as an EC Jumping Judge in 1989, Murdoch added EC General Steward status for Dressage and Jumping to her resume in 1992. Before long, she obtained FEI Level 3 status as a Dressage Steward, as well as Level 2 Para-Equestrian Dressage Steward credentials. Additionally, Murdoch held the distinction of being the FEI Dressage Steward General for Canada for many years.
Outside of her active stewarding duties, Murdoch continually gave back to the equestrian community, generously providing her time and expertise as the Chair of the Dressage Canada Stewards Sub-Committee, Chair of the Canadian Para-Equestrian Committee (CPEC), and member of the Para-Equestrian Officials Committee.
Murdoch was truly an asset to equestrian sport in Canada, helping to raise the bar for safety, sportsmanship, and integrity. Her passion and involvement never faltered, and she continued to be active as a steward her entire life, including being appointed Dressage Steward of the 2013 Cornerstone Spring into Dressage competition last June.
Close family friend and FEI 4* dressage judge, Lorraine Stubbs, accepted The Gold Medal Award on behalf of Murdoch during the presentation at the EC Awards Gala.
Murdoch was the first recipient of The Gold Medal Award since 2009, when 2008 Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze, and Al Patterson, past President and long-time ambassador of EC were honoured.