Nick Skelton is about to stage a show jumping comeback, following his retirement from the sport in February last year as the result of a serious injury. At that point he had said that he would not be alone in giving up his competitive career on medical advice; he would never even ride a horse again.
The latest change of direction, which 44-year-old Skelton announced yesterday, was prompted by two factors: scans on his injured neck and an eight-year-old bay stallion called Arko III. The horse, owned by John Hales, was regarded as a bright prospect for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 when Skelton started riding him two years ago. The rider's hopes for Arko have been rekindled by his decision to take up the reins again.
After breaking a vertebra in his neck as the result of a fall in 2000, one surgeon told Skelton that another fall could prove fatal. Another had been more hopeful, so Skelton returned to him for two recent scans. These revealed that the damaged ligament has grown back on the bone.
"I'll compete with three or four of John Hales' horses this year, I need to concentrate on bringing them on," Skelton said. "They're not ready internationally, so I'll only be riding in this country. If the horses are ready to go abroad next year, I'll go with them."