Monday 18 April 2011

Andrew Nicholson | Live Chance Of Notching A Win At Badminton

"Badminton has an 'airy' feel about the place when arrive", according to Andrew Nicholson, "....whenever I arrive on the first day I get a different feel than from any other event....a good feeling....The riders are a little quieter, a little more serious....This is Badminton, the Wimbledon of Eventing"

I could say very similar things about his base on the edge of West Woods, as I arrive for a morning coffee with one of the most exciting cross country riders of our times. With stunning views across the hills of 'white horse country' near Marlborough in Wiltshire, his horses enjoy one of the most stunning vistas I've ever seen. As you enter the driveway horses poke their heads out of the windows of the American style barns - bright, alert and interested, yet relaxed and happy. This one of the busiest event yards on the circuit, with all the facilities an event rider needs. Like Andrew says 'you need good facilities to get the results'.

This New Zealander is as synonymous with eventing as Mark Todd is. He's been a member of the senior team as far back as 1984, just four short years after seeing his first British 3-Day Event at Badminton, when grooming for Mark Todd. Since then he has probably walked the Badminton course more times than anyone other than course designer, Hugh Thomas, and completed a record 29 times.

Favourite Year: 2004 - Lord Killinghurst
This year, Andrew returns fielding the 'strongest contenders he's ever had', including his individual WEG bronze medal winner, Nereo, who will be accompanied by Avebury whilst Armarda waits on the subs bench and will head to Luhmuhlen in June, if all goes to plan.

Many riders only dream of having this many proven 4* horses in their barn, but for Andrew this list does not stop at these three. With 10 or 11 running at advanced level, at least five of which have some 4 star experience, he has one of the choicest strings on the planet. The majority of his horses Andrew has produced himself, some as a by-product of producing "National Hunt stores" to sell onto racehorse trainers, but all as a result of hard work.

That hard work is paying off and over the last 25 years or so Andrew has collected numerous medals, of all colours, at either World Equestrian Games or Olympics (see Andrew's profile), and he recently picked up an Individual Bronze at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky aboard Nereo, a horse he thinks is currently a live contender for taking home The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials Trophy.

It would seem everyone, including Andrew, has their sights set firmly on the London 2012 Olympics as the next life changing goal. A key part of reaching that goal lies with a top performance at Badminton this week. Although his quiet yet confident demeanour gives little away, you can see the excitement in Andrew's eyes as he talks about each of his horses, the progress they are making, and his hopes heading towards London.

Avebury | 2011 Could Be His Year
Nereo seems like an obvious first choice for any major 4* or championship but Andrew explains Avebury "is a winner, but was a little inexperienced having gone up the grades very, very quickly, so I'm not stressed about the odd run out at a big event,  but I always thought this year he'd cope well at this level. He feels stronger and mentally fit - he's also an easy horse to ride". Last year Avebury had a run out at the Farmyard open corners, which as Andrew explains "isn't down to the fence, it's the surroundings. You were jumping towards a stand of spectators and a big sign, the horse's eye just gets drawn away from the fence for a split second, so does the rider's, it what makes Badminton, Badminton!"  Armada, by contrast "needs a '6 star' being such a big, powerful horse with a lot of engery, but he's an honour to ride."

And what does Andrew think of Badminton and his chances of turning the tables on history by winning the event this year? Watch this video to find out, there's a little more to the answer than the title above might suggest:

With the New Zealand team growing in strength and depth, despite having such a high quality string to choose from, Andrew is far from complacent about his slot on the team for London, especially with Blyth Tait making a return and a number of young riders he respects, like Jonathan Paget and Clarke Johnstone, snapping at his heels. It is, however, difficult to imagine the New Zealand team back at the top without such a talented rider as their key striker, and he clearly enjoys the big championships, "I got as much pleasure out of winning the team bronze at WEG as I did winning the individual bronze. Even before the event started there was a real buzz within the team, everyone was pleased to help each other, and some of the individual performances in the run up to WEG really lifted everyone's belief - like Caroline winning Burghley, just gave her a boost, and that rubs off"

His love of National Hunt racing is no secret, and 20 years ago Andrew may have told you he wanted to eventually train racehorses, but the sheer number of horses you need, and the amount of work that can generate, I sense has put him off the idea now. Andrew does, however, help Nigel Twiston-Davies out occasionally with a little schooling over fences and clearly enjoys galloping over the hurdle and steeplchase fences. Therapy perhaps for missing the long format? Not really, here's some thoughtful insight into his preference of the short format:

Will he follow in the foot steps of his compatriots, Mark Todd & Blyth Tait, by taking a 'career break'? I think not! There's clearly no slow down in the Nicholson camp, or any sign of a loss of appetite for the sport, and with such a high performance string of horses, who can blame him? On the subject of future career paths, by his own admission he'd make a terrible course designer, "I'd make things too hard or too easy, too easy probably", but he does seem to have an interest in coaching. Andrew is incredibly patient, and as you can see from these videos happy to spend time explaining things in detail. Qualities that will no doubt prove useful as a coach in years to come. I'm sure the lucky few, young foreign riders that get to work for him would agree, that would be an excellent second career, but for now we can enjoy watching Andrew tackle the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.

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