Nick Skelton and Big Star during the 2016 Olympic Individual Final. Ph. Erin Gilmore
Should it come as any surprise that the ultimate comeback pair rose to the top of the Noelle Floyd Best of 2016 Rider and Horse categories? Certainly not, after their history-making performance that stole the show at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The story of Great Britain’s Nick Skelton and Big Star is well recorded; the 58-year-old rider who in 2002 made a comeback to the sport after recovering from what could have been a career-ending injury: a broken neck sustained in 2000. At his sixth Olympic Games in London 2012, he won team gold and didn’t expect to top that moment.
And Big Star, the 13-year-old Dutch stallion (Quick Star x Nimmerdor) that had been Skelton’s partner in London, hadn’t won a class since 2013 after being plagued by injury that kept him out of consistent competition.
But on August 19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, none of that mattered as the world watched Skelton and Big Star jump flawlessly through three rounds of the Olympic Individual Final to win the individual gold medal.
“I always knew in the back of my mind that if we can get him right again that he could do this,” Skelton said in a rush of emotion after the medal was placed around his neck. “He is an absolutely amazing horse.”
The pair added another high point to their year during the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in September in Barcelona, Spain. While Germany won the Final, Skelton faced off with Marcus Ehning in a breathtaking jumpoff to secure the runner’s up spot.
Skelton’s story isn’t over as long as Big Star is competing, although he withdrew the stallion from competition at December’s Olympia Horse Show due to another minor injury. Time will tell to see if we see this pair in the grand prix arena again.
Skelton’s fame in Great Britain afforded the sport of show jumping with broad-based exposure and appeal in 2016. He was nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the year and came in as the third most popular athlete, and on December 30, Skelton was honored by his home country with a CBE, Great Britain’s order of chivalry that rewards major contributions to arts, sciences, welfare and sport.
How They Ranked in the Vote:
2016 Rider of the Year
Nick Skelton 48% – 1,432 votes
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson 21% – 620 votes
Eric Lamaze 16% – 476 votes
Daniel Deusser 8% – 244 votes
Christian Ahlmann 8% – 237 votes
2016 Horse of the Year
Big Star 51% – 1,401 votes
Casall ASK 34% – 924 votes
Ursula XII 10% – 286 votes
Zeremonie 3% – 72 votes
Chesall Zimequest 2% – 60 votes