Andrew Nicholson set for another busy eventing season - as his horse Asis becomes As Is
Andrew Nicholson with As Is
The 2017 British eventing season has got underway and the competitions now come thick and fast. In two competitions so far, leading New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson, who is based near Marlborough, has ridden in thirteen classes.
Nicholson came to England aged 18 and has been eventing here for thirty-plus years. The sport has, Nicholson says, 'changed an awful lot': "It's much more commercial. The positive side of that is that horses are much more valuable - buying and training them brings rewards. That's where the money is."
He has recently sold Qwanza to Rosemary Barlow, who owned the late and very great and very popular grey Avebury that Nicholson rode to so many successes.
"Competition gets harder every year." Nicholson told Marlborough.News. "People are training a lot harder. And the younger ones are getting much more experienced! It's probably harder to win a prize in a novice class than in the top classes."
After his comeback following a serious fall in 2015, which could have left him paralysed, Andrew Nicholson won his fifth Barbury title in a row.
He is delighted that the Barbury International Horse Trials will be back this July - surviving the recent change in ownership of the Barbury Estate. Will he be going for his sixth title in a row? "That's the idea!"
Back this year at Barbury will be the second running of a leg of the Event Rider Masters (ERM) series. The ERM began last year bringing some Formula-One pizzazz, live TV coverage and much bigger prize money to the somewhat conservative sport of eventing.
This year they have dropped one of the British venues and introduced two legs on continental Europe: one at Wiesbaden and the other at the Haras de Jardy equestrian centre west of Paris. Nicholson has not decided whether he will compete at these - since his accident he is not travelling as much as before.
AndrewNicholson thinks spreading the series to Germany and France will be good for the sport: "Not enough good Europeans turned up here last year. They'll turn up at Wiesbaden with their A-teams riders - the ERM needs top riders turning up with good horses."
Nicholson currently has eighteen horses at his stables. Nereo - second in the 2016 Land Rover Burghley four star and starting the season 'fit and well', Jet Set IV and Teseo are the lead horses. Swallow Springs (third at the Blenheim Palace International CIC three star) has now qualified for CCI three star. As have Urma BK and Byrnesgrove First Diamond.
He has bought young horses from two breeders in Spain and goes regulalry to see their new foals. They break them in and he brings them up through the qualification rounds. Amongst Nicholson's seven younger horses are Zacarias - they won a section of the Intermediate class at Tweseldown on March 9 - and As Is (fourth in one of the novice sections.)
...and with Jet Set IV - plus carrotAlso from Spain, As Is - a seven year-old recently sold to the owner of Nereo - has had a change of name. Last season he was Asis - a name that seemed to confuse commentators, who thought his name was a plural word that started with a long 'ar' sound or, alternatively, came out as 'Isis'. So he is now a definite As Is.
Nicholson has not yet resolved the issues between himself and the New Zealand high performance programme - issues that kept him out of the country's team for the Rio Olympics. But the Tokyo Games are only three years away and there is a new team at Equestrian Sports New Zealand.
How does Nicholson view the changes being made to the rules for Olympic eventing competitions - especially the reduction from four to three horse-and-rider teams? It should, he says, make for more exciting competitions."
Till now the horse and rider combination with the lowest score or who have been disqualified or withdrawn have not counted in the team's score: "What other team sport is there where an athlete's score isn't counted?
Doesn't happen in relays. The last rider in a team should be as capable of winning the medal as the first. An Olympic games is an Olympic games - these things matter."
But he does not think that the Olympic Committee's rationale for going to teams of three is right - they want to encourage teams from more countries to compete: "That's crazy - let's have more teams that aren't up to it!"