Andrew Nicholson completed one of equestrian sport’s greatest comebacks by winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials less than two years after suffering a serious neck injury.
The 55-year-old New Zealander, who is based near Marlborough in Wiltshire, underwent an eight-hour neck operation and later revealed his surgeon had told him he could have been left paralysed following a cross-country fall at Gatcombe in August 2015.
But on his record 37th completion of world eventing’s premier four-star competition – a major test of dressage, cross-country and showjumping skills – Nicholson finally captured the elusive Badminton prize with his London 2012 horse Nereo.
Nicholson first entered Badminton 33 years ago, and he landed a record £100,000 winner’s purse by claiming just one showjumping time penalty during a thrilling finale.
That piled the pressure on reigning Olympic champion, world number one and Badminton title holder Michael Jung, who held second spot aboard La Biosthetique Sam after cross-country, but he had one fence down and had to be content with second.
Then overnight leader – Jung’s fellow German Ingrid Klimke – racked up a cricket score of 23 faults with Horseware Hale Bob, when a clear round would have meant Badminton glory, and she finished ninth as Nicholson moved from third to first.
Nicholson’s fellow New Zealander Tim Price was third aboard Xavier Faer, with another Kiwi – double Olympic champion Mark Todd fourth on NZB Campino and sixth on Leonidas II – and 31-year-old Lincolnshire rider Rosalind Canter was the highest-placed British challenger with Allstar B in fifth.
“It has been worth the wait,” six-time Olympian Nicholson said.
“I go to the big events nowadays, and if I have a live chance, I know it’s a live chance and I want to win. If you win, you feel like you have done what you went to do.
“I came here with that idea, but the feeling is 100 times better, having actually achieved it. I will enjoy it, I will ensure you of that.
“I had to keep on coming here to Badminton and taking my turn, although I did realise time was running out, especially 18 months or so ago after my injury.
“But I had a good season last year once I got up and running again. To win Bramham last year was a great boost to me, as it wasn’t so long before that I didn’t think I would ride again. Then to be second at Burghley last September, it felt like I won it.”
Nicholson also paid tribute to seasoned campaigner Nereo, adding: “Nereo is an unbelievable horse. He is big and strong, and he does it year after year. It’s special to do it on him. It is pretty emotional, and a great day for me.”