Tuesday 12th of October 2021
Showjumping

Nick Skelton Returns

It was an emotional celebration in the local pub for the Skelton family when show jumper, Nick Skelton returned home on Sunday with an individual Gold around his neck.

© Jon Stroud Media

© Jon Stroud Media

The Gaitpost’s Eleanore Kelly caught up with Nick in Rio, the day after his Olympic win as well as his son Dan who revealed just what this has meant to all of them. 

Nick Skelton may be a recent hero in our eyes but to his two sons- both highly successful in their own right, through good times and bad he has always been a hero. As soon as the victory had been confirmed, Nick could be seen speaking on the phone to his two sons NH trainer Dan Skelton and jockey Harry Skelton but he confesses they all struggled to get the words out for emotion. 

The 58 year old who holds the record as the oldest British gold medalist in 108 years, the oldest ever in Olympic Equestrian history and the oldest medalist in Rio 2016 said:

“I was so overwhelmed, I was fairly speechless. It was such a feeling to finally get here and at my age.”

Dan reveals:

“Dad didn’t say a lot. He was in disbelief, we all were. I wished I’d been out there now but we all watched it from home and by the end, everyone was in tears. I think my daughter Florence thought her Dad must have gone mad. Harry was in hysterics and couldn’t speak for about half an hour. After everything dad’s been through, his career has cost him a broken neck, a new hip and all those hours and travel, the effort he’s put in is unsustainable. This meant so much to all of us. When you want something so much and it actually happens, it leaves you without words.. It was magical”. 

Nick admits:

“It’s been pretty emotional for all my team. My groom Mark has been in my team for 30 years and he works with this horse nine hours a day.” 

Nick battles with pain on a daily basis to an extent that would put an end to most athletes careers: Broken legs, shoulders, a hip replacement and after breaking his neck in a fall in 2000, Doctors advised him never to ride again on risk of a fatal injury. After receiving his medal, Nick used a set of steps to climb back into the saddle.

“I’ve got chronic back pain so getting legged up is painful and I have a metal hip on my left side so I can only get on a horse like this.” 

Both Nick and his sons made little secret of the fact that it is his heroic stallion Big Star that has kept him going.

“He’s an incredible horse. I’ve ridden more horses than I can remember but this is my horse of my lifetime and would be the horse of anyone’s lifetime. He’s just a “Big Star” and he absolutely loves what he does. He always lets out a little neigh before he is about to go into the ring, before any round and Friday was no exception. He’s a very placid horse all the time, almost lazy outside the ring. That’s until he gets a jump in front of him and then he’s immediately on the ball.” 

“I’ve felt good all week because I have such belief in my horse. That gives you a lot of confidence. He has been out here for a week and jumping some days and not others, that can make a horse quite anxious and he has felt really fresh. He was a bit rusty at the beginning because he was off for two years. The last competition he won was Aachen in 2013. In London it was the other way around and it went wrong on the last round. In Rio he has just got better and better.” 

In a nail biting jump off- the equestrian equivalent to a penalty shoot-out, Nick was the first of six riders to make it through to the final stage. Nicks says:

“I didn’t really feel the pressure. I prefer to go first, it puts pressure on the other riders and forces them to make mistakes. It was only when I had jumped, the nerves set in and I found that I couldn’t watch the others so I just kept checking the scoreboard.”

Dan says he draws similarities between the horse and his dad. He says: 

“They are both very talented but also very physically fragile and have been off for a long time with injury but made this amazing comeback on the day when it mattered the most. When they had the fence down earlier in the week, I knew he could do it because Big Star never has fences down. In London and Athens all the luck came and went in the early part of the week whereas in Rio, the horse had a few blips earlier which helped his jumping for the big day.” 

Nick is adamant that this will be his last Olympics but has no plans to retire yet.

“I’ll keep going until Big Star is ready to stop. We will probably be out again in a few weeks time at a show in Belgium. I don’t feel sad. I know it’s coming and I’ve only been riding this horse for a while now but it will happen. My body is not in the best shape to cope with this anymore and to be honest it can’t get any better than this can it.”

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