The tale of ‘Nipper’ — the WW2 survivor, who made jumping history aged 19

  • While this year’s Longines FEI Nations Cup series is on hold, a trawl back through the competition’s vast history reveals some endearing equine tales — not least that of a 160cm black gelding, originally named Honduras but later known as Nipper.

    In London in 1937, Honduras was the winner of the King George V Gold Cup for Capt. Xavier Bizard, a rider from the French Cavalry School at Saumur. The Frenchman was a showjumping star of the time with a formidable record of success on Nations Cup teams.

    Honduras was then handed over to another rider, Amador de Busnel, and the pair won the grand prix of Brussels in 1939 before the onset of World War II brought everything to a halt.

    The gelding was captured during the German occupation of France along with the rest of the German team horses near the town of Beyreuth in Bavaria in 1945 and, after the war ended, he was shipped to the United States in August of 1946.

    He reappeared on the competition circuit — having been renamed Nipper — with Lt Col Charles (“Chuck”) Symroski in the saddle and competed across America and Canada before returning to Europe in the spring of 1948 to compete at a number of shows in the lead-up to the London Olympic Games for which he was selected as the US team’s reserve horse.

    Nipper and Lt Col Symroski were part of the US Army showjumping teams that won the Nations Cups in both London and Dublin that year, with the victory in Ireland making history as the first time a US side had lifted the Aga Khan Cup (pictured top), the first time a non-European team had taken the title and the last time an official US army team would compete at the Royal Dublin Society showground. New York-born Eamon De Valera, then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and later President of Ireland, presented the trophy to Lt Col Symroski and Nipper alongside Capt JW Russell riding Airmail, Col JF Wing with Democrat and Lt Col CH Anderson riding Riem.

    Nipper/Honduras would meet his old friend Capt. Bizard one more time in London that year with the Frenchman accidentally coming across his former partner, who he had thought was long dead.

    The story goes that when Capt Bizard told the Americans that the gelding was actually 19 years old, they were really surprised.

    In the end, Nipper wasn’t called into action for the one-round Olympic contest, which proved to be a marathon after heavy rain caused the going to be very slippery — just three of the 14 participating three-man teams completed with Mexico winning gold, Spain taking silver and Great Britain claiming bronze.

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    Following the Games, the US army team was disbanded and replaced by a civilian side. Although unconfirmed, it is believed that Honduras/Nipper returned to USA to live out his days on the family farm of three-time Olympian Jimmy Wofford in Kansas, whose parents accepted all the remaining mounts for retirement following the mechanisation of the cavalry.

    > With special thanks to the FEI and Olympian and coach Jimmy Wofford.

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