After seven Olympics and one team gold medal, Nick Skelton has won the individual gold in show jumping riding “the best horse that I’ve ever had or likely ever will,” Big Star. Skelton is the first British rider to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics and, at 58, is the oldest equestrian to win the gold.
The crowd favorite won a six way jump off. Peder Fredericson (Sweden) won the and Eric Lamaze (Canada) the bronze.
Skelton’s win today on Big Star is quite a comeback story — for both horse and rider. Skelton retired in 2000 after a fall that broke two his neck in two places and damaged a ligament. Doctors told him that another fall from a horse could be fatal. His retirement lasted a year, then he was back in the saddle. He started competing again two years after the accident.
He had a hip replacement in 2011, but that didn’t stop him either. In 2012, he and Big Star were part of the gold medal winning team at the London Olympics but only finished fifth in the individual standings.
Big Star, a 13-year old Dutch warmblood stallion has been sidelined with injuries since 2013 when he won his last Grand Prix event. Even Skelton described him as “rusty” when they came into the Olympics. For the past two years, Skelton has nursed the stallion back to health. So to ask the stallion to jump a course of this height and at such speed, was an act of faith.
“I always knew in the back of my mind, if we could get him right, he could do this.
“He’s an absolutely amazing horse. You can trust him. He wants to do it. He has all the right attributes. He’s the best horse that I’ve ever had.
“I’m so pleased for him. He has worked so hard. This is for him.”
Skelton, who is in chronic pain from his injuries, says Big Star is the only horse he still rides. He will retire when the stallion does, he says.