Even those who don’t know one end of a horse from another have probably heard that showjumping stars Nick Skelton and Big Star are retiring, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.
The announcement flooded across websites and social media and made mainstream TV. That’s important, just as it was when our dressage riders at the London Olympics wowed those who didn’t know a Piaffe from a pit stop, and the non-horsey world became aware of dancing horses.
It’s an irresistible story – the 58-year-old man who is lucky to be alive, let alone ride. In 2000, Nick fractured his first cervical vertebra in two places, an injury known as the hangman’s break, and was told that another fall could be fatal. In 2016, he and Big Star captured the general public’s imagination, and now they’ve done it again.
When asked to sum up why so many fell in love with his story, Nick was down to earth and disarming. “I think it’s the age factor,” he said. “Some old guy doing what I did ended up winning gold.”
As an afterthought, he added: “If you want something, and you fight for it, you will get it.” Many will say that’s not true, but if you’re realistic, it should be.
So let’s hope that the widely publicised retirement of Nick and Big Star will prompt a few more people to wonder if there might be something in this horse riding stuff, after all. If some of those aren’t in the first flush of youth, that’s even better.
Few people can power round huge showjumping courses when they’re Nick’s age – with apologies to John and Michael Whitaker, of course, who are slightly older. Whatever they’ve got, they should bottle it and sell it.
But just about anyone of any age can learn to ride, or pick up the reins after a long break. Don’t be worried about looking silly, because if contemporaries take notice, it will be in envy and admiration.
As for the partnership’s personal futures, there is a popular educated guess. Nick’s son, Dan, is a racehorse trainer in his fourth season and before that, spent nine years as assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls. What’s the betting that Nick will be spreading some of his expertise around his son’s already successful yard?
Big Star is set to concentrate on what stallions do. If you have a worthy mare and want to breed a Big Star baby, now could be your chance – just don’t get trampled in the rush.
Finally, there is still hope for those of us who don’t bounce as well as we used to. Nick might be hanging up his competition boots, but John Whitaker, who will be 62 in August and his 57-year-old brother, Michael, can still show younger riders how it’s done.
In the world of eventing, Andrew Nicholson, aged 55, is a name younger riders fear. So too is Sir Mark Todd, aged 61.
Remember what the man said. If you want it, and fight for it, you’ll get it.