Andrew Nicholson suffered a brutal denouement on his last journey to compete at the Badminton Horse Trials in 2015.

He and mount Nereo were the overnight leaders heading into the showjumping. Three dropped rails later they had finished sixth.

Like the pole vault's bar, athletics' hurdles or cricket's bails, eventing thrives on broken barriers to punish its participants' flaws.

Rival William Fox-Pitt triumphed after going clear on Chilli Morning. Nicholson passed him on his way to the arena as the echo of a British ovation roared out the entrance. He had to pull Nereo away once as he guided him towards the theatre. Nicholson was left lamenting what might have been after his record 35th completion of the annual four-star event.


"I'll have to come back," he said at the time. "There's not much point being suicidal about it, it's done. William's horse is fantastic, he rides it beautifully and deserved to win."

By August 9 Nicholson had broken his neck at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park.

A shattered vertebrae was the difference between maintaining his vocation or tetraplegia.

His mount Cillnabradden Evo failed to clear the last cross-country fence. Nicholson heard a pop as he fell. He got up, realised the horse was fine, and eventually wandered back to his lorry in preparation for his next ride.

Similar accidents to the cervical spine paralyse 98 per cent of sufferers and destroy the lives of a few more when the delicate but mandatory surgical procedure goes awry.

He was saved because the vertebrae's explosion released the pressure on his spinal cord. He got up, walked around and didn't show the usual devastating symptoms.

In short, Nicholson's recovery has been miraculous; a spine-tingling story. Just over a year later, and with only subtle changes to his riding technique, he finished second at Burghley.

Nicholson returns to ride 17-year-old gelding Nereo for a fifth time at Badminton, alongside 14-year-old debutant mare Qwanza on whom he has finished fifth and seventh respectively at fellow four-star events in Luhmuhlen and Kentucky.

Nicholson said his riding mindset had not changed.

"I've had a good build-up on experienced horses. Qwanza's quite a small mare, but when she's right she's very competitive. Badminton's at the top end of her ability. If we get a top 10 finish we will have done well, whereas I'm expecting Nereo to change things around for me and hopefully win."

Former competitor Eric Winter is the new course designer after Giuseppe Della Chiesa's three-year tenure ended at the Duke of Beaufort's estate in Gloucestershire.
Nicholson has been impressed.

"It's his first time doing a four-star course and I think he's done a good job. It's big, difficult and more old-fashioned, but will cause an awful lot of trouble, which is bold.

"Walking the course I noticed other riders were concentrating. Their minds weren't wandering off, whereas sometimes they can start getting bored and talk about other things. They were focused, which I think is a positive thing.

"I definitely wouldn't want to be a course designer, but he [Winter] hasn't gone for the soft touch. He's waded in and made it a proper test. It should be exciting for riders, spectators and television viewers."

Nicholson said the world No.1 and defending champion Michael Jung is the rider to beat on La Biosthetique Sam FBW.

"I enjoy watching riders like him. He's a top horseman and professional sportsman. It's not just a case of him getting on good horses at big events and doing it. He must do the hard yards at home and that shows when he comes to big competitions."

The dressage begins overnight.

New Zealanders at Badminton
Jesse Campbell - Kaapachino
Dan Jocelyn - Dassett Cool Touch
Andrew Nicholson - Nereo, Qwanza
Tim Price - Xavier Faer
Blyth Tait - Bear Necessity V
Sir Mark Todd - Leonidas II, NZB Campino