Hickstead and Eric Lamaze. © Cealy Tetley
Veterinary services immediately attended and attempted unsuccessfully to revive the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion. Hickstead was carried from the arena as the audience looked on.
"We finished our round, I circled and was leaving the ring, and he collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack," said an emotional Lamaze. "It is the most tragic thing that has ever happened. We had him until he was 15, and we had a great time together. He was the best horse in the world. We are all devastated."
An autopsy to determine the cause of death is scheduled in the coming days.
Hickstead was bred in The Netherlands by B. van Schijndel, in Kessel, and was by Hamlet and from the Ekstein mare Jomara. As a stallion, Hickstead was licensed for Hanover, KWPN, Oldenburg, OS-International, Westphalia and Rhineland as well as all Southern German and new German State Verbands. He was also admitted to the Hanoverian Jumper Breeding Program. An application has been made for approval by Holstein.
He had a 2004-born full brother named Hickstead II, who is registered with the Zangerscheide studbook in Belgium.
Competition was suspended at the request of riders, and Lamaze's fellow-competitors gathered in the Verona arena to pay their respects to one of the greatest horses of all time, and to support their colleague in his moment of loss with a minute's silence.
Organising Committee Veronafiere was fully supportive of the request of the riders not to continue the competition and expressed their affection and love towards one of the greatest horses in the history of the sport and his rider Eric Lamaze.
Foreign Judge Jon Doney said that a classification would be made on the horses who had already jumped, because at the time of the incident there had been four clear rounds. 21 horses had completed the first round.
Equine Canada and the Canadian Equestrian Team has extended its heartfelt condolences to Eric Lamaze and Torrey Pines Stables, the Fleischhacker family and Ashland Stables, and long-time groom, Delphine Roustan, on Hickstead's sudden passing.
"Hickstead and Eric have been one of equestrianism's most legendary partnerships," said Akaash Maharaj, CEO of Equine Canada and the Canadian Equestrian Team. "Our team, our sport and our country grieve with Eric, Delphine and the Fleischhacker family on the passing of one of Canada's greatest equine heroes."
Together, Hickstead and Lamaze brought Canada gold and silver medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, won a vast array of titles and championships and topped the global rankings.
"We will always be grateful for the time and triumphs we all shared with Hickstead," said Maharaj. "We know that generations of future equestrians will draw inspiration from his life."
FEI President HRH Princess Haya added her condolences to those that have poured in since news of the horse's death. "Hickstead really was a horse in a million and my heart goes out to Eric and everyone connected with this wonderful horse. This is a terrible loss, but Hickstead truly will never be forgotten. We were very lucky to have known him."
FEI Jumping Director, John Roche, said: "Shortly after finishing his round of jumping Hickstead collapsed in the arena and died. As yet the cause of death is unknown, but our deepest sympathies go out to the owners, to Eric and to all the connections of one of the greatest Jumping horses of all time. Hickstead's presence on the circuit will be very sadly missed".
Eric Lamaze and Hickstead leap to Olympic gold in 2008. © Kit Houghton
In 2010, he was named the World's Best Horse at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, after giving all four riders in the "final four" clear rounds. At the time, Lamaze said: "We already knew that he was the best horse, but now these three other riders know it for themselves."
In the German newspaper Handelsblatt, showjumper Marco Kutscher said of Hickstead's passing: "We are shocked. This horse was in the past few years the measure of all things."
Hundreds of fans have posted messages of condolence on Lamaze's Facebook page.
Canadian Stephanie Barsby said Hickstead was "truly a star."
"This horse has left hoof-prints in the hearts of the equestrian community all across the world. The gravity defying action of these two was just amazing and truly unimaginable. The impact this horse also had on the training and breeding of horses throughout all of Europe was just amazing as well.
"There will never be another one like him."
Britain's David Mcewen said: "You were one of the great combinations of all time ... I feel as though I have lost someone close. You have all our thoughts and hopes for a brighter tomorrow."
Tessa Balix said: "Hickstead was not only a horse, but an inspiration to every aspiring show jumper in the whole world. There is and will be that one great horse, that one champion you just click with, and as Eric did, take the world by storm. RIP Hickstead you truly are one of the greats. Never forgotten."
From The Netherlands, Jos van Dooren said: "I think we are in Holland all in shock specially in the area where Hickstead was born, it's terrible as rider to lose on this way one of the best horse there is. We think you're losing your best friend."
Kathe Roth said an enduring image for her was of Hickstead taking care of the other three riders at the World Equestrian Games Final Four last year. "How proud Eric must have been!"
"The profile picture on this page says it all: Eric's constant, never-failing acknowledgment of his partner, the wonderful little horse. As brokenhearted as we may be, it can't touch what Eric must be feeling. That gallant little horse just loved to run and jump, and Eric beautifully and skilfully indulged him."
Tribute video made by Meagan Reader earlier this year:
Eric Lamaze and Hickstead winning Olympic gold in 2008. © Kit Houghton