Nick Skelton: Lives are more important than sport *H&H Plus*


  • We had 48 horses down in Spain for the Sunshine Tour, but I had returned home for the Cheltenham Festival when the call came in that the country was going into lockdown and we had to get everyone home immediately. It was just a case of get yourselves out of there as quickly as you could, and we did.

    We’ve actually been busier than ever in the three weeks since – all the horses have been kept in work because it’s still too wet to turn them out and we just have no idea when shows may start running again.

    We’re very fortunate that the whole family lives within half a mile of each other and nearly all our staff – both for the showjumpers and at my son Dan’s racing yard – live on the premises so we can carry on as best we can and don’t have to travel any further than down the road. The only member of the team we’ve sent home is Big Star’s groom Mark Beever, who is diabetic, so is much better off to be holed up in self isolation, although I’m not sure he’s enjoying it much.

    My dad, who is 89, only lives next door to me but we insisted he also went into isolation, so he’s been at home for two weeks with his wife Janette and we take him his daily paper and his shopping.

    So everyone’s keeping going but we’re taking it very seriously, because this situation is very serious. We all have to do as we’re told and stay put; the sooner they shut absolutely everything down, the quicker we can all get going again.

    There’s talk of running premiership football matches behind closed doors just so we can get the season finished – well, to hell with that; people’s lives are more important than any sport right now.

    I remember well the shutdown for foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 and that was bad, but it was a piece of cake compared with this. It’s been great to see how people have pulled together but in the equestrian industry in particular, which has totally ground to a halt, I imagine people will go out of business.

    Dan has roughed off a lot of the racehorses but it’s been difficult because it’s been too cold and wet to turn them out yet, so many horses are going back to their owners and some of the staff have been laid off. They’re all great workers who love their horses but with no income coming in, it is tough.

    Finding a positive

    Postponing the Olympics was absolutely the right decision. For most horses, waiting another year won’t make too much difference. It’s the athletes such as gymnasts and swimmers that I feel sorry for – their competitive lifespan is so short and to have been getting themselves ready to peak for that one day only to have to let themselves down again and prepare all over again for another year’s time must be difficult.

    If there is one positive to come out of it though, I do get to be Olympic champion for an extra year!

    My partner Laura and I have certainly been watching a lot more television – Tiger King on Netflix has kept us hooked.

    I don’t think our kitchen has ever been used so much and the fridge doesn’t know what’s hit it. I’m pretty sure I used to have a much larger gin collection, too.

    Our local pub has obviously closed but you can order takeaways, which they leave outside for you to collect – so at least that’s our Sunday lunch sorted for the coming weeks.

    We’re very lucky to have good, hard-working staff who love their horses; they’re not going to abandon them. Right now, horses are proving the perfect tonic, giving us a purpose and something a bit more positive to think about during troubling times.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 April 2020