New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson was fortunate not to be paralysed after a fall last year.
And last weekend the five-time Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials winner and triple Olympic medalist finished second at Burghley, riding Nereo.
He took time out from the event to talk out about his recovery and what it means to be back competing at the top of his sport.
Burghley 2016 was won by Australia’s Christopher Burton and Nobilis 18, with Nicholson’s compatriot Jonelle Price third on Classic Moet, and her husband, Tim, fourth on Ringwood Sky Boy.
Burton said: “Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that I would win Burghley. I’d walked past all the plaques on Winners’ Avenue – all these old boys with their names on them! – and thought it would be nice to have my name there too.”
Andrew Nicholson may not quite count as an “old boy”, but he is 21 years older than Burton and he admits that he is not back to full strength after breaking his neck 12 months ago. “You don’t know how special this is,” he told the television cameras.
And it was particularly appropriate that this result should come on Libby Sellar’s 16-year-old Nereo, three-times a runner-up at Burghley, a winner of World and Olympic medals and a one-man horse with which the Kiwi genius has particular affinity.
Of the cross-country, Nicholson said: “Nereo doesn’t really like it at Burghley, because he’s a long-striding horse and finds the undulations difficult, but he always does the job.
“I’ve got a soft spot for him. I’ve taken him all round the world and he always comes up with the goods.”
Nicholson was also pleasantly surprised to find himself the recipient of $US20,000 for leaping into third place in the FEI Classics series, an astonishing achievement considering he has only competed at two CCI4* events this season – he was fifth at Luhmühlen in June.
Additional reporting: Kate Green
Final results at Burghley
1 Christopher Burton/Nobilis 18 (AUS) 30.2 + 3.2 + 16 = 49.4
2 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 35.2 + 12.0 + 6 = 53.2
3 Jonelle Price/Classic Moet (NZL) 48.5 + 1.6 + 4 = 54.1
4 Tim Price/Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL) 38.9 + 6.0 + 12 = 56.9
5 Cedric Lyard/Cadeau du Roi (FRA) 46.0 + 13.6 + 0 = 59.6
6 Bettina Hoy/Designer 10 (GER) 34.5 + 19.2 + 8 = 61.7
7 Oliver Townend/Samuel Thomas ll (GBR) 53.4 + 9.6 + 0 = 63.0
8 Caroline Powell/Onwards and Upwards (NZL) 37.8 + 21.6 + 5 = 64.4
9 Sir Mark Todd/NZB Campino (NZL) 42.2 + 16.8 + 8 = 67.0
10 Kristina Cook/Star Witness (GBR) 52.9 + 12.0 + 4 = 68.9