‘The rates bill was halved if you ran a stud…’ – Andrew Nicholson on breeding three-time Burghley winner Avebury

  • How often does a rider decide to start a “stud” to decrease their rates bill and end up with a triple five-star winner? That’s what happened to Andrew Nicholson when he bred three-time Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials winner Avebury.

    “I bought his mother at the racing sales – the horses in and out of training sales – I used to go to them regularly and buy anything in my price bracket, which was pretty low,” says Andrew in an interview on episode 117 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

    “His mother had run on the Flat and over hurdles without any success. She was a nice-looking grey mare, smallish. They were all bought without a vet certificate and you took your chance. I think the day I bought her, I bought six altogether.”

    The mare was called Memento when she was eventing, but she raced under the name Bairn Free – and things didn’t get off to a good start for her in Andrew’s yard.

    He remembers: “The next day my vet came in and had a look at their eyes and listened to their hearts, watched them trot up and down, just to see what sort of damage we had picked up. Memento had very bad cataracts in her eyes so straight away I was thinking I’d lost my 700 quid or whatever I paid for her. But I started riding her, she was lovely to ride and I did four events on her. She won a novice on a 13 or 14 dressage and was a very nice jumper.

    “Then suddenly I got hit with a big rates bill for stabling and they said to me if I was a stud, my rates would be altered. I was riding the stallion Jumbo at the time. So I said to the rating officer, if you come back in a year’s time I’ll have a foal. So that’s what I did with the mare – put her in foal to Jumbo and Avebury turned up, and they halved the rates.”

    After she had Avebury, Andrew gave Memento to Mark Chamberlayne. She is the granddam of the Chamberlaynes’ home-bred Dreamliner, the recent British national champion under Oliver Townend.

    Andrew sold Avebury to a friend of his wife Wiggy as a showjumper after he’d broken him in, then bought him back two years later and “the rest is history”. In the ownership of Andrew’s long-term owners Mark and Rosemary Barlow, he won Burghley in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and also scored six victories at current four-star (then three-star) level including four at Barbury Castle Horse Trials.

    “He’s a strange horse to do so well at Burghley when Burghley is a difficult galloping track and they have to be good stayers – he’s quite small and quite stocky and yet he used to go round Burghley inside the time as if he was going for a hack in countryside,” says Andrew.

    “The ups and downs made him concentrate a bit more and after the first minute on the flat, he’d get to the ups and downs and feel like the turbo had kicked in and he was happy as could be to be back there. He was quite a little thinker and very clever, so whether the rollercoaster feeling made him feel he was at an amusement park, I’m not sure!”

    Andrew says Avebury’s third Burghley win was the most special.

    He says: “For any horse to win a five-star event three times is very, very impressive and for it to be Burghley where it is a proper workout for them, I was just so proud of him and what he had done for me, for the sport and the Barlow family.”

    Hear more from Andrew Nicholson about his early rides at Burghley Horse Trials by tuning in to episode 117 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here, or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

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