The 17-year-old Spanish-bred CDE chestnut gelding might have won Badminton yesterday (7 May 2017) with Andrew Nicholson — but he was once deemed an ugly duckling, and was nine before he resembled an athlete, says Julie Harding

1. It’s hard to keep track of his achievements

Deborah Sellar’s chestnut gelding has 2,931 British Eventing points to his name. Prior to yesterday’s Badminton win, he had won individual bronze at Kentucky WEG in 2010 and was runner-up at Burghley in 2011, the year he won the British Open at Gatcombe. He was individual fourth and won team bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and was the winner of Pau CCI4* the same year. He was third at Badminton and second at Burghley in 2013, and he won Barbury CIC3* ERM and was runner-up at Burghley in 2016.

2. He is an athletic horse

“History tells us that Nereo is a tough and athletic horse,” says Annabel Scrimgeour, who has assisted Andrew with his horses on the flat for eight years, often riding Nereo. She points out that his frame fits his limbs perfectly, a fact that has ensured soundness throughout his career. “The strong points of his conformation, such as the length and strength of his back, far outweigh any weaker areas. Some might say that by nature he is a little short in the neck, putting him at a slight disadvantage in the dressage, but this enables him to balance himself better when going across country.”

3. His conformation works in his favour

“Nereo has very good front limbs which are set close to the front of his body,” says Annabel. “His elbow is also very free from his body, which helps with the use of the shoulder, meaning that he finds the extended paces very easy. He has a big wither, which helps to keep his rider in the middle of his back. This means that Andrew sits behind the shoulder, giving Nereo freedom of movement. In some horses with a big wither, fitting a saddle is difficult, but this isn’t the case with Nereo because he is well muscled in the area.”

4. He has a big engine

“The back end is well muscled and you get the impression that he finds it easy to push — he has a big engine and it all comes from behind. You can see how strong he is around the stifle and second thigh. The distance from the point of his hip to his hock also helps with the power,” Annabel adds.

5. There’s hope for ugly ducklings

Andrew Nicholson first set eyes on Nereo when the chestnut was just two. He was visiting Ramon Beca’s Spanish farm and also checked out a three-year-old chestnut called Armada. Both were members of a dynasty of event horses bred by Ramon that had begun with Fenicio, whom the New Zealand rider had already been competing in the UK. Two years after Andrew’s visit to Spain, Nereo arrived in his yard, but far from being the attractive, well-honed event horse he is today, he resembled an ugly duckling. “Nereo was gawky,” says Andrew. “When I began eventing him a lot of riders wondered what on earth I was doing, but I told them that Nereo was going to be good,” he says. Nereo was nine before he resembled an athlete. “He wasn’t a classic shape, but the work I did with him over the years put muscle in places that caused him to change shape,” Andrew explains.

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6. He takes his work seriously

Nereo is similar to his siblings in some ways — he liked to buck when he was just broken — but he also has his own quirks. He’s difficult to catch, but in the field he enjoys playing with other horses, although he’s never bossy. He’s slightly shy and suspicious of new people, but when he is being ridden he takes work very seriously.

7. He knows his job

“Riding Nereo is like putting on an old pair of shoes,” says Andrew. “He knows his job so well. I look forward to riding him every day and he’s helped me to live the dream. For him to have won what he’s won, done the amount of events that he’s done and stayed sound is incredible.”

Don’t miss our full report from Badminton Horse Trials in the 11 May issue of Horse & Hound