At this weekend’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (4-7 September 2014), Andrew Nicholson has launched his new book ‘Focused’. Co-author Catherine Austen tells us what it was like working with Andrew, what she learnt from the experience and why you’ll want to grab yourself a copy.
Why did Andrew decide to do this book?
The last book about Andrew was published in the mid-1990s, and was more of a ‘how-to’ than about his life. So much has happened since then — he’s become one of eventing’s all-time greats — that it appealed to him to put it on record. He’s also a huge racing fan and was interested in the idea of working with Racing Post Books.
What was he like to work with?
Both Andrew and his wife Wiggy were great. Andrew was very professional about it. I spent a lot of early evenings at his house in the spring, and he was never late, always completely focused on what we needed to do and always very easy to deal with — even the day after a fairly disastrous Badminton. He has a fantastic memory for what horses were like even if he only rode them for six months 30 years ago. He made me laugh a lot, he’s got a very deadpan, dry sense of humour and sometimes I’d have to check whether he was joking or not, but you could usually tell by his eyes, which would light up. Wiggy has been really helpful with chasing up details, and made tons of brilliant suggestions, including the title!
Did you learn many things about him that you didn’t know before?
Yes, loads. I knew a lot about his competitive career during the time I have been working in equestrian journalism (2002 onwards) and the bare bones of what he did before that, but I knew nothing about his childhood, his early years in England and the stories beyond the statistics. I only knew what I had observed about his methods of finding and producing horses, and he was extremely interesting to talk to about a vast range of subjects. It was particularly fascinating to learn about his methods with young horses. Unlike a lot of riders, he is very forgiving of early mistakes and sees the ‘bigger picture’ if he thinks they have a lot of talent.
As someone who has been in this sport for quite a long time, why was the thought of writing a book with Andrew so appealing?
I think while eventing fans feel they ‘know’ him as a rider, because he has won so much and been around for so long, we don’t know very much about him as a person and about how he has reached the position he is in. He doesn’t ‘do’ social media, he doesn’t have a website and he doesn’t do many interviews with the press, so I was fascinated to find out what makes him tick. I admire him greatly as a rider — watching him go cross-country round the sport’s biggest tracks is an education in itself — and I admire how he has done it the hard way without financial support from family etc. I have interviewed him on many occasions at events, and he is probably the most interesting person to talk to about how to ride a course, aspects of its design and his own horses. Just don’t ask him a stupid question, like how old his horse is — he’ll tell you to look it up in the programme and switch off from you mentally. To get the best out of him, he needs to have a degree of respect for you, which is a great journalist education in itself and spurs you on to do your job better. He’s one of equestrian sport’s most interesting characters and I’ve long said that if I could write a book with or about someone, it would be him.
Why will people like this book?
I hope they will think it is a good marriage of words and pictures. We’ve looked at thousands of images and selected some really interesting ones — not just pretty shots of horses jumping fences, but ones that tell a story and show the progression he has made as a competitor and a horseman. I think he reveals a lot about his methods: how he selects horses, and how that has changed; what help he has had and how that has altered the way he does things; the truth behind certain events, like the London Olympics; how he has ended up with the exceptional team of horses he has now; what he thinks of the modern sport and its participants. He has written a brilliant introduction in which he reveals a lot about how he thinks. Andrew is a straight talker and doesn’t hold back when he thinks criticism is deserved and necessary. And I think his story is truly inspiring. He was a kid who liked galloping round on ponies; now he’s one of the very best eventers there’s ever been. He’s got there on sheer graft — there haven’t been any hand-outs, and he’s learnt the hard way from his mistakes.
As he says, anything is possible if you work hard enough.
Focused by Andrew Nicholson was published on 29 August by Racing Post Books, priced at £20. It is available from www.racingpost.com/shop and all good bookshops