Listen carefully before Team GB’s Nick Skelton and Big Star enter the arena and you will hear a distinctive — and very distinguished — neigh. For such is the 13-year-old stallion’s enthusiasm for the job that he whinnies as soon as he spots a fence.
“We’ve talked about it so many times – Big Star’s almost saying ‘OK, let’s get it on with it!’” says his proud owner Gary Widdowson.
“Every time he goes in the tunnel to the arena, as soon as he sees the jumps, he gives this full stallion-like neigh. It shows there’s a bit more to Big Star – he just loves what he does. You can tell – he’s always got his ears pricked, too.”
Another of Big Star’s unique attributes, reveals Gary, is the way he moves.
“If you watch him in the ring, he really pounds the ground,” he says.
“He comes round the corner, Nick’s holding back this runaway train, he’s striking the ground as he goes to the fences, then he throws himself in to the ground as he jumps. The vets have said the amount of pressure he puts down as he moves is way more than any other horse.”
Gary, his wife Beverley, daughter Hayley and grandson Oliver were all in Rio to cheer on Big Star, who they call “part of the family”, alongside their second Team GB horse Cassionato, who is ridden by Michael Whitaker.
Nick and Big Star were part of the British team that won Olympic gold in London 2012 and fulfilled their ambition of adding an individual medal to their bustling trophy cabinet in Rio.
“Nick said that he didn’t think Big Star had ever felt better,” says Gary.
“So many riders have said to us ‘If I can’t win the Olympics, I hope Nick and Big Star do’ – it just shows the esteem in which he’s held among them.”
The full interview with Gary Widdowson was published in Horse & Hound (Friday 12 August, 2016).