The day Nick Skelton went down in history

When you think of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, you inevitably think of Scott Brash. To date, the Briton is the only show jumper who can call the coveted trophy his own for three consecutive victories. This triumph was denied to his compatriot Nick Skelton, but his name is also forever linked with the Rolex Grand Slam. In 2013, at the CHIO Aachen, he and his Big Star were the first to enter the now illustrious list of winners of the Rolex Grand Slam tournaments. We spoke to the now 65-year-old about Big Star, his affection for Aachen and the significance of the Rolex Grand Slam for equestrian sport.

What do you do nowadays? Do you still work a lot or are you enjoying your retirement from the sport, spending time relaxing? 

No, no. I spend a lot of time coaching. Helping Laura (Kraut, his partner. Note from the editor) and the students. I took on a new job this winter with the Rein Family from Canada. They have a lot of horses and I manage that.


In 2013 you were the first rider to win a Major after they became part of the Rolex Grand Slam series. Tell us about the memories you still have of the class and your victory here in Aachen?

That was a very special day in 2013. Winning Rolex’s first Grand Slam event. That was special. And I had to wait 25 years to win in Aachen again. I remember the crowd very well. I have always great memories of Aachen. Because for me Aachen is the best show in the world. It is like Wimbledon or the Masters in the golf sport for me. A special place. I´ve been lucky enough to win the Grand Prix four times. The first time I won it was in 1982. Then, I won it in 1987 and 1988. And then I had to wait until 2013.


How important is the Rolex Grand Slam series for the equestrian sport in your opinion?

It is very important. It is probably the best series, really! It is a great concept and very important for our sport. You have two outdoor and two indoor events, that makes it probably a little bit more difficult. Because sometimes you have horses that are better indoors and some are better outside. The prize money is very good too. This is what the sport needs. The sport needs big prize money to bring it in line with all the other sports, like tennis and golf.


Scott Brash is the only rider who has won the Grand Slam to-date – do you think anyone else will achieve this feat?

It is difficult. But that´s the beauty of it. It is very hard task to accomplish. But look at McLain Ward. He has won two now. He is looking forward to Aachen for sure. I mean it is difficult, yeah. But with a special horse like Azur or King Edward (the horse of Henrik von Eckermann) – for example – it is possible. These are very special horses. I wish I still had Big Star jumping. The Grand Slam would be the first thing on my agenda!


You are Aachen’s record champion with four victories – together with Piero D’Inzeo – do you think this record will be broken one day?

You have to be young enough to win the first one, you know? I was 25 when I won it first time. It took a long time. But I mean, all records get broken in sports. It will possibly happen. But it is very nice to be that one person who has achieved it and I am very honoured. And as I said: For me Aachen is the best show in the world.


Big Star really was a “Big Star” – he always enjoyed the courses and was almost unstoppable. He is 19 years old now. What is he doing today? Is he enjoying his retirement?

He is good. He is in Belgium breeding at the moment. At the stables of Axel Verlooy. I am in Mexico right now and I will go back in a couple of weeks and see him.


You won Aachen in 2013 with Big Star as well as two Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016. Was Big Star your best horse ever?

Yes. I think he was the best horse I have ever had. He won so many Grand Prix. He is a very special horse. He really liked the atmosphere in Aachen and he was a very fast horse.


You have won so much in your career. You were Olympic Champion, European Champion, have won Aachen four times. Would you say that your career was perfect and complete?

Yeah. I am very happy with what I achieved and I think it is complete. The only Grand Prix that I didn´t win was Rotterdam. I was never lucky enough for that. That is the only one I wish I had won. But I didn’t. In 2013, after Aachen Big Star got injured, so I couldn’t go to Calgary for the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam series. I won eleven Grand Prix. Four in Aachen, four in Calgary, one in Geneva. It is a pity the Grand Slam wasn´t already being staged when I started. I would have been richer now. (Laughs)


Is it actually difficult to come to Aachen as a spectator? Or does it tingle sometimes when you are here?

No, no. I am fine with it. I had my time and I am very happy with what I achieved. I am just happy to be in Aachen and watch the jumping. It is always a great show. There are a lot of good horse and rider combinations this year. Laura could win it too with Baloutinue. That is our aim. The horse is jumping very well and Aachen will suit him.

The photo shows Nick Skelton and his Big Star in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2013. (c) Arnd Bronkhorst/CHIO Aachen

The photo shows Nick Skelton and his Big Star in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2013. (c) Arnd Bronkhorst/CHIO Aachen