Showjumper Nick Skelton and his brilliant partner Big Star have bowed out for the final time in a moving ceremony at Royal Windsor Horse Show this afternoon (Sunday, 14 May).

The all-conquering combination of 59-year-old double Olympic gold medallist and the Widdowsons’ 14-year-old stallion left the Castle Arena in front of a huge and appreciative audience, which included The Queen.

“I have always stated that when Big Star finished I would too,” said Nick. “This sport has given me more than I could ever have hoped over the past 43 years and it is such a difficult decision to make, but I’m not getting any younger and it is nice for the two of us to end on the highest note possible.”

Over the past four decades, Nick amassed Olympic, World and European Championship medals, won the Hickstead Derby three times, the Calgary grand prix four times and was appointed a CBE for services to equestrianism in the 2017 New Year Honours.

His fellow riders have paid some touching tributes to the Olympic champion’s outstanding achievements and longevity in the saddle.

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“Nick will be hugely missed, after all he’s done for his country,” Scott Brash told H&H. “Not many athletes can say they’ve achieved so much and set so many records, which I think will prove unbeatable.”

Michael Whitaker, with whom Nick rode on countless teams, said: “He’s had a great career and he couldn’t have gone out on a better note — it took two years of planning but it all came together for him at the Rio Olympics.”

Commentator and former rider Steve Hadley added: “I’ve been commentating for 40 years and the only times I’ve got emotional live on air were in London and Rio. In London it was the emotion of the whole team succeeding, then in Rio, it was the enormity of what Nick had achieved on his own. I hesitate to use the word genius, but I’d say Nick, John and Michael Whitaker have it in spades on a horse.”

>>>Don’t miss our exclusive interview with Nick Skelton in a special tribute issue of Horse & Hound (out on Thursday 18 May) where he also reflects on the defining moments from the past four decades and pays tribute to his many great horses. You can also enjoy reports on all the action at this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show — it’s a real collector’s item!