Nick’s groom Mark Beever, partner Laura Kraut, son Dan and Big Star’s owners Gary and Beverley Widdowson were among those forming a guard of honour for the showjumping legends’ retirement ceremony.
The Queen and Prince Philip were in the audience as footage and stills from Nick’s stellar career were played.
“When you came back from your broken neck and took Arko to Athens, that was amazing,” said compere Nick Brooks-Ward. “For you to go on and win team gold in London and individual gold in Rio says to us here at Royal Windsor: you are the greatest showjumper the world has ever seen.”
Asked whether he knew from the time Big Star won the British Showjumping six-year-old championship in 2009 that he would be an Olympic gold medal-winner, Nick replied: “From the day I bought him when he was five, I had that in my mind.
“He’s the most amazing horse. He won all the six-year-old finals, went on to London – and the one thing this horse has never done, he’s never let me down.”
“Neither have you, Nick,” said Mr Brooks-Ward. “Trust me.”
Nick’s younger son, jockey Harry, was unable to attend due to racing commitments but sent a message to his father that was read out:
“Dad, I’m so sorry I’m not there, but when I asked you if I should go racing today or come to Windsor, you said, go and do your job and try and ride some winners.
“I thought, that’s what has got you to where you are, your hard work, dedication and determination. My first great memory of you in the ring was when Dollar Girl won the World Cup final in 1995. You went through so much from then to Rio 2016, and when you finally reached your childhood dream to take individual gold was the best day of my life. I am the proudest son alive and so glad you’ve stopped at the top. I hope I will make you as proud as I am of you one day. See you later, love you, Harry.”
After some of Nick’s many successes were listed to the crowd, the Olympic champion thanked his owners, sponsors, staff and fellow competitors.
“I’m very grateful to them, and very proud of what I’ve done,” he added.
“I’ve represented my country more than 180 times and been very proud of every moment. I’d do it all again if I could.”
Nick swapped his Team GB jacket for tweed and removed the saddle, and the saddlecloth in which he and Big Star had won Rio Gold, then was joined for a final unmounted lap of honour by his mounted team-mates John and Michael Whitaker and Scott Brash.
As Auld Lang Syne was played, stallion and rider made their way around the arena – with some bucking from Big Star – to tumultuous applause.
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“The greatest showjumper the world has ever seen, and the greatest horse for Team GB,” said Mr Brooks-Ward. “Nick Skelton CBE and Big Star!”
>>>Don’t miss our exclusive interview with Nick Skelton in a special tribute issue of Horse & Hound (out on Thursday 18 May) where he also reflects on the defining moments from the past four decades and pays tribute to his many great horses. You can also enjoy reports on all the action at this year’s Royal Windsor Horse Show — it’s a real collector’s item!