September 20 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
The ecstatic Norfolk owners of a horse whose rider jumped his way to an Olympic gold medal spoke this afternoon of their pride, happiness and a dream-come-true.
Gary and Beverley Widdowson were at Greenwich Park yesterday to watch their stallion Big Star live up to his name and carry rider Nick Skelton to victory as part of Team GB’s first showjumping gold in more than 60 years.
Mr Skelton and Big Star won a dramatic jump-off against the Netherlands in the team event to clinch the gold, realising a seven-year dream for the Widdowsons, owners since 2008 of the 1,600-acre Kelling Hall estate, near Holt.
“We were euphoric - so pleased and so proud to be a part of it. It had yo-yoed - silver, gold, silver - and it was absolutely wonderful when it was gold,” said Mr Widdowson.
“We ended up in one of the local pubs in Greenwich and it turned into a bit of a street party - all of Greenwich came out to help us celebrate.”
Mr Widdowson, 54, said he and his wife would “without a shadow of a doubt” be at Greenwich Park again tomorrow to see if Big Star and Mr Skelton could pull off the double by winning gold in the individual competition.
The couple bought Big Star, whose stable name is Henry, five years ago after a tip-off from Mr Skelton’s partner who had spotted his potential while at a show in Holland.
“We had a 24-hour option on him so we flew out immediately. We had had scouts out around Europe to find the best young horse possible and we bought him specifically with London 2012 in mind,” added Mr Widdowson who said that he had “virtually grown up” with Mr Skelton and the other GB riders whom he had got to know in his youth when he was also a showjumper, representing England in the 1970s.
The search was part of a quest which the Widdowsons had embarked on to try and help Britain win gold at the Olympics.
Big Star, now nine years old, had gone on to win championships over successive years and Mr Widdowson said he had turned down many attractive cash offers for him.
“We lose so many horses to foreign owners - in Russia and Saudi Arabia - and we wanted to do our bit to keep the best in Britain,” he explained.
Big Star was the youngest competitor in the Olympics team but had the character and maturity of an older horse.
He had not been at all fazed by the excitement and roar of a 27,000-strong crowd and was the only horse to clock up a 100 per cent clear-round total at this stage of the competition.
“He’s calm, very powerful and becomes electric in the ring,” said Mr Widdowson.
“Nick is the only one who’s ever ridden him and has his complete trust. Nick says he’s the best horse he’s ever ridden - the best horse in the world - and it gave him the courage to say, despite his young age, ‘let’s take our chance with him in London.’ That decision paid off and this is the culmination of that dream.”
The Widdowsons, whose fortune was made in the metal recycling business, own another horse, Carlo 273, who is Mr Skelton’s reserve mount at London 2012.
Mrs Widdowson was last month named Owner of the Year by the Federation Equestre Internationale and International Jumping Owners Club because of Carlo and Mr Skelton’s outstanding performance in 2011 and 2012.
Mr Widdowson joked that following Big Star’s success, Holt’s postbox should perhaps be given a makeover as part of Royal Mail’s pledge to paint red postboxes gold in the UK home towns of London 2012 gold-medal winners.
He added: “We are proud to be part of Norfolk, even though it’s only been our home for the past four years.”
Yesterday’s triumph was a fairytale ending for Mr Skelton whose career nearly finished in tragedy when he fell off his horse in 2000 and broke his neck in two places, immobilising him for five months.
Speaking after his medal win, Mr Skelton said: “It can’t get better than that. It was just brilliant. We had to get stuck in to the jump-off – I said to the guys we needed to go out there and win it.
“I’ve waited 54 years for this, so you can certainly say it was a long time coming. I’ve had a few misses in my time, but finally we got there.
“We lost it, we won it, we lost it and then finally we won it back. Without this crowd we could never have done it. People said that riding in an Olympics at home would add pressure, but it was totally the opposite. This has to be my greatest moment.”