Nick Skelton – Great Showjumper – Horseman and Character
This week should have seen the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the completion of the Equestrian part of the Games. As we have all been cruelly denied our four year fix, we look at four years ago when the then 58 year old Nick Skelton of Great Britain took the individual Gold Medal. All we can hope is that the re-scheduled Games do actually happen in 2021, but as things stand in the world today, sadly there is no guarantee.
Showjumping is a relatively new equine sport and was first seen at an Olympic Games in 1912. It came about after wealthy land owners were encouraged to put up enclosures to their land to keep their estates and animals fenced in. However, with all these ’enclosures’, horse riders and hunts were unable to pass easily between one area and another, so they started to jump their horses, hence the birth of showjumping.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson and more about Nick Skelton and his Olympic Games experiences. Nick is one of the best equestrians the world has ever known. He was born in 1957 in Warwickshire in England. He was educated in Coventry – that is when he turned up for school. He started to ride, almost before he could walk and first sat on a pony at eighteen months of age. The pony was a Welsh Mountain pony called Oxo who actually lived to an enormous age of 39, and who incidentally also taught both Nick’s sons to ride as well. When he was 14, Nick Skelton went to work part time for the very well-known showjumpers of the time Tim and Liz Edgar.
Once he was allowed to leave school with absolutely no qualifications, he started at the Edgars full time. There he learned his craft and started to take riding seriously. In 1975, Nick was chosen as a team rider for the British Junior European Championships, but his horse went lame shortly before the event, but even with that setback, he was able to substitute it for another, Everest OK, upon which he won Individual Gold medal. After his success, he rode far more of the Edgar horses, and in 1978, on Lastic, he jumped a record 7 foot 7 inches, a record that has thus far never been broken.
In 1985, Nick Skelton started out on his own. He took with him one horse, Apollo, on whom he won several championships including World Cup Qualifiers in New York and Toronto before winning the Hickstead Derby twice on the horse in 1988 and 89.
He also won several Grand Prix with Apollo including Aachen and Dublin. Nick continued to win many international Grand Prix and was an integral part of the Great British show jumping team year in year out. His next big ride came when he rode Dollar Girl, a horse he particularly got for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He and Dollar Girl had a disappointing Olympics, but the pairing did win the World Cup Final in Gothenburg in 1995. Life for Skelton before 2000 was successful and good, but in September of that year, he fell and broke his neck which in 2001, forced his retirement. However, made of strong stuff and having a neck and head full of steel, and feeling better Nick started to ride again. Before his fall, Nick had been riding a horse called Arko III and as he started to ride again and regain his confidence, he took Arko to the National Championships of GB where he won in 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, Arko and Nick won six international Grand Prix including Lucerne, Rome and Spruce Meadows.
They also won The Global Champions Tour in Estoril in Portugal and World Cup Qualifier in Leipzig. The huge disappointment for the pair however, was the 2004 Athens Olympics, when they were individual leading showjumpers until the last round when sadly ‘the wheels came off the truck’. They ended up with nothing to show for their valiant efforts. Skelton’s other big ride at the time was Russell, upon whom he was not quite so successful but he did win the King George V Gold Cup (Grand Prix) at Hickstead in 2004.
Running out of horse power, despite his injuries, Nick was still as ambitious and full of guts as ever. He found and started new rides, Big Star and Carlo 273 thanks to his long-time friends, Gary and Beverley Widdowson who owned the two horses. Carlo won the St Gallen Grand Prix in Switzerland and the equivalent in La Baule in France, and Team and Individual Bronze medals at the 2011 European Championships. However, he was well outshone by his stablemate Big Star. In 2012, Nick could do no wrong and cemented his position as a true equestrian great. He won the Grand Prix in both Hamburg and Antwerp before winning a Team Gold in the London Olympics together with winning an individual Bronze Medal. As his year ended, he was awarded an MBE for services to equestrianism.
After the London Olympics, Nick Skelton rather disappeared from view. However, he still had not got his Individual Gold medal, and his competitive streak was not going to let him retire until he had that under his belt. Also, he just might have the horse, Big Star, to satisfy that elusive ambition? In 2016, the last Olympic Games, held in Rio, Nick Skelton appeared for the seventh time as again he was selected to represent his country. Great Britain ended up in twelfth place in the Team event, but Nick was going well as an individual. In the first two rounds, Nick and Big Star were clear and again in the third round. There were six left to go for the final jump off and Nick was the first to go. He completed a blistering clear which put pressure on the other five. Eric Lamaze representing Canada was the final jumper, and a clear in a faster time would see him win – however, he just clipped the penultimate fence, thus giving Nick Skelton the Gold medal he always wanted. Eric Lamaze won bronze and Peder Fredricson representing Sweden won the silver. Finally, in 2017, it was confirmed that both Nick and Big Star had retired. Big Star remains in the care of Nick in his retirement.
Nick Skelton retired with a huge list of achievements. He represented Great Britain in no less than seven Olympic Games, six World Championships, fourteen World Cup Finals and nine European Championships. He won a total of twenty one medals of which seven were Gold medals.
Nick’s private life was as eventful as his professional one. For a start, he had several major injuries, the broken neck in two places about which we have already mentioned. Add to that, a hip replacement, two cartilage replacements and a shoulder replacement to boot!! Unlike most Olympians, Nick enjoyed visiting pubs, where on occasions he had to be expelled from over exuberance. He often had differences of opinion with several of other riders, including the abrasive Harvey Smith and even his old boss Ted Edgar. His marriage ended up in a very messy divorce after he was caught having a holiday affair in Mauritius. He was even conned by an offer to ride a Melbourne brothel owner’s horses for 1 million pounds; until the said brothel owner was sent to clink for five years having been found guilty of fraud.
Now retired, Nick helps his two sons, Daniel and Harry, who are both making an increasing name for themselves in National Hunt racing. Daniel is a successful trainer and trains from next door to his father’s farm and Harry is becoming a very successful National Hunt Jockey. He lives with the well-known American showjumper Laura Kraut. In 2017, Nick was given a further award for services to equestrianism – a CBE.
The editor Bernard Simpson has been involved with horses and the industry for over 40 years. Together with his wife, he bred many flat racehorses including some which were Royal Ascot winners. He is also experienced in equine media using video, photography and journalism. Bernard currently lives in Wiltshire. He and guest authors now present this blog and hope you like our articles.
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