With the news of Nick Skelton’s retirement comes the realisation that we will never again see what, for me, was one of the best sights in competitive showjumping.
That was to watch Skelly enter the ring in a forward position, shoulders hunched, with a tight hold of the reins. You just knew he was totally psyched up for any challenge; whether it was to jump an almighty big course or beat what looked like an unbeatable time in a jump-off.
When you’ve watched Skelly as many times as I have, you know that his unbelievable track record of grands prix wins and two Olympic gold medals has been achieved by his planning, tenacity and never say-die attitude.
Some might say he’s been lucky to have had such an array of top class horses — Big Star, Dollar Girl, Arko, Apollo and Top Gun to name but a few. But that hasn’t been luck, because Nick’s always been as active outside the ring as he is in it. And over the years he’s found and looked after the owners who have supported and invested in him.
I have a saying that goes: “When you’re not fishing, you should be mending your net.” And no one epitomises that more than Skelly.
Nick’s individual gold medal on Big Star last summer in Rio undoubtedly captured the hearts of the nation as the public realised how much he’d been through with injuries and just what that gold medal meant to him. For his retirement to be covered by all major news channels proved it.
Despite there being fantastic prize money in showjumping nowadays, I have to say that most of the sport is in its own bubble. It’s as though we’ve given up trying to connect with a mainstream audience.
So much so that until recently, if you asked the man in the street to name a showjumper, he would still say Harvey Smith or David Broome. Now the first name on his lips would be Nick Skelton.
And Nick deserves great praise for that. He’s never shied away from an interview and has spent a great deal of time promoting our sport.
Skelly is very involved in racing. And as he’s never been one to do things in half measure, he’s built a stunning racing yard for his sons Dan, who trains, and Harry, a National Hunt jockey. Interestingly, Dan served his apprenticeship for the best part of a decade as assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, echoing Nick’s own early years with Ted Edgar. Tough regimes for both, but it’s a system that works.
I’ve had some great times and a lot of laughs with Skelly. When it comes to the business end, he has never suffered fools gladly. However, when the chips are down, there’s no better man to have at your side.
Retirement for a horse is exactly that: easy days or turned out in a field. But retirement for Nick is just the end of a chapter. Many people assume racing will become the largest part of his life. But I’m not so sure about that.
He’s still heavily involved in showjumping via his brilliant partner, American international rider Laura Kraut. And I believe the biggest part of his heart still lies with our sport.
It’s up to the top hierarchy of British Showjumping to encapsulate that, and not let the talents of this remarkable man drift away.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 April 2017