Nick Skelton on his Rio selection: ‘They’ll take us there on stretchers’

  • The six-time Olympian tells H&H why Big Star is the only horse he'll ride, what makes the stallion so special and why it won't be an easy track in Rio

    “Whatever they build, he can cope with it,” is Nick Skelton’s simple summary of his spectacular Rio ride Big Star’s ability.

    “I’ve jumped in Rio a fair bit, but the course-builder is Guilherme Jorge and it won’t be easy; they never are.”

    This challenge doesn’t phase the six-time Olympian.

    Big Star will be the first horse Nick has ever ridden at two Olympics.

    He trusts the stallion son of Quick Star implicitly and it was his belief in the horse that drove him back to the saddle following multiple injuries including a hip replacement in 2011 and a broken neck just before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

    “It was this horse that kept me going,” he says, following confirmation of his selection for Rio. “When you have a horse that’s good enough — and he’s amazing — then you have to keep going.”

    The horse, now 13, has had time off too.

    “He injured a tendon and had time off,” he continues. “But he’s 100% now — he jumped two clears in the grand prix at the weekend.

    “For a stallion, he’s so placid and intelligent. He loves to jump and rises to the occasion.”

    “Skelly” and Big Star would have won individual gold at the London Olympics if the format had been different. Moving into the final phase, all the points were zeroed, meaning horses who had had fences down were on a level with Big Star, who hadn’t touched a single pole.

    “He is the only horse I ride,” adds Nick. “If he had retired after his injury, I would have done too.”

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    So how does he feel about being on a team chock full of experience?

    “We’re old athletes, but what we’re not lacking is experience,” he says with a wry smile. “Luckily Ben [Maher] brings down the average age to 54.

    “They’ll take us there on stretchers at this rate! The doctors said I’d never ride again, but it’s what I do.”

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