Horse breeders are riding high after Olympics gold

Olympic champion Big Star, is owned by Gary and Beverley Widdowson. Also pictured is Kelling Star. P

Olympic champion Big Star, is owned by Gary and Beverley Widdowson. Also pictured is Kelling Star. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Horse breeders from north Norfolk were riding high this week after returning home from Rio – where they watched their star stallion strike gold in the Olympics – to discover their story could be made into a film.

However, they revealed they almost retired him after he broke down following his success at the games in London four years ago.

Gary and Beverley Widdowson, of Kelling Hall, near Holt, made history by becoming the first owners to have two horses in the same team at the Olympics.

While Big Star carried rider Nick Skelton to victory in the individual event in Brazil after a six-way jump-off, stablemate Cassionato, ridden by Michael Whitaker, had to bow out early with a stomach bug, despite qualifying.

Mr Widdowson, who was watching ringside in the Deodoro Arena last week, said: 'It was unbelievable, we were euphoric. You dream about it but you don't really think it's going to happen.

'The Olympics is the biggest event for any athlete and, with the calibre of jumps, this was considered to be the hardest individual event there has ever been.

'We were there jumping every fence with him. The pressure was incredible because he was always thought to be one of the favourites but that just adds to the pressure.

Most Read

'There was a big debate over whether he should go because he hadn't really jumped competitively for three years. Ever since London he has been injured. Twice he has come back and twice he has broken down and we thought, 'Shall we call it a day, shall we retire him? No, let's try once more'.

'And then this time it was Rio or bust. He was considered potentially to be the best horse in the world beforehand, that's why he got picked to go, even though he hadn't gone through all the trials process that all the other horses had; now we know he is.'

While Big Star lives in Warwickshire, he is a regular visitor to Norfolk and will retire here. The successful breeding programme at Kelling Hall will ensure that when he does there are more Stars waiting to take his place.

Referring to Cassionato's qualification, Mr Widdowson, who thanked the local community for its support, smiled: 'We could have had the silver as well.'

Comment – Page 30

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter