Recently retired Olympic gold medalist Nick Skelton has been presented with a special gift from showjumping venue Hickstead in recognition of his extraordinarily career.
Skelton, 59, who retired from the sport earlier this year, was invited into the International Arena on the final day of the Longines Royal International Horse Show on Sunday. During a special ceremony before the Longines King George V Gold Cup, spectators were reminded of Skelton’s many achievements within the sport – including his team gold medal at London 2012 and that unforgettable individual gold last summer in Rio on Big Star, who retired at the same time as his rider.
He was presented with 12 crystal glasses engraved with the dates and winning horses from his four King’s Cup wins, three Hickstead Derby titles, three British Grand Prix victories and five FEI Nations Cup winning team appearances at Hickstead.
“We wanted to give Nick something to say a heartfelt thank you for all the many years of enjoyment he has given showjumping fans,” said Hickstead Director Lizzie Bunn. “Nick has been such a vital part of the British Showjumping team and we will really miss watching his skill and brilliance in the arena. Looking back over his record here at Hickstead, there can be few riders who have or will ever match Nick’s achievements at the All England Jumping Course.”
When Skelton claimed individual gold at Rio, he became Britain’s first showjumping individual Olympic champion, as well as Team GB’s oldest gold medallist since Jerry Millner won in the shooting in 1908. His win at Rio 2016 marked an amazing comeback for a rider who had recovered from a broken neck some 16 years previously, and for a talented horse whose career had been punctuated by injury.
It had never been a secret that Skelton planned to retire when Big Star did, and in April came the news that had long been on the horizon but that most hoped would remain some way into the future – Skelton and his famous stallion were both calling it a day.
Skelton is one of a famous trio to have won three Hickstead Derbies in succession, alongside fellow London 2012 team gold medallist Peter Charles, and his Rio teammate Michael Whitaker (Ireland’s Eddie Macken went one better than the others by winning the Derby four times in a row).
Skelton’s first of three Derby wins came in 1987, when he produced the only clear to win on namesake J Nick, before he had back-to-back wins in 1988 and 1989 with the white-faced Apollo. The pair came very close to equalling Macken’s record fourth win in 1990, only to lose out in a jump-off against Joe Turi and Vital.
By the time of his three Derby wins, Skelton already had his name on the Longines King George V Gold Cup, winning in 1984 back when the class was held at Birmingham’s NEC. In 1993, its second year at Hickstead, Skelton won the King’s Cup again on Limited Edition, securing the victory with the only first round clear.
Two more King George titles followed, with Skelton winning in 1996 on Cathleen and in 1999 on Hopes Are High, the horse he just missed out on winning a team medal on that same year when the European Championships were last held at Hickstead. He came very close to lifting the King’s Cup a further two times when finishing runner up with the grey Russel in 2004 and 2005.
Skelton was also part of the winning British team in the home leg of the FEI Nations Cup on several occasions, including consecutive victories in 1992 and 1993 on Limited Edition, and in 2003 on Arko III and 2004 with Russel. The latter wins came just a few years after Skelton broke his neck in two places in a riding fall and retired for a first time – only to return to the sport and go on to be so successful at the very highest levels.
“The memory that sticks in my mind the most is in 1981 when Hickstead had three shows each year and I won the Grands Prix at each of them, and then there was my three Hickstead Derby wins,” Skelton said. “I have some great memories here, it’s a great showground.”
Looking back at Skelton’s stellar record at Hickstead, it’s little wonder that he describes it as a ‘very lucky place for me over the years’. He’s been lucky there, and showjumping fans have been just as fortunate to witness some of his greatest moments in the International Arena.