Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo at WEG. Photo by Jenni Autry,
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo at WEG. Photo by Jenni Autry,

We’re delighted to welcome William Micklem as EN’s newest guest blogger. He hardly needs an introduction, having sourced Biko, Custom Made and Giltedge for Karen and David O’Connor; bred High Kingdom and Mandiba; and invented the Micklem bridle — just to name a few. Visit his website here for much more.

So here’s a question for all eventing team selectors and high performance leaders. You have the current world’s No. 1 rated international rider with one of the best strings of four-star horses in the world, a rider who was fourth individually in the last Olympics and finished off the season in 2014 winning Burghley CCI4* for the fifth time. Would you want him on your current high performance squad, or would you exclude him over a few “hot” words following the World Equestrian Games last year?

In a staggering case of cutting off your nose to spite your face, Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ) have excluded Andrew Nicholson from the new high performance squad and the training, support and funding provided to these riders. Near Queenstown in New Zealand is the highest bungee jump in the world. It gives a free fall of 8.5 seconds, and that would be all the time most of us would need to decide that Andrew should be on the New Zealand high performance squad for 2015.

We all know New Zealand and New Zealanders to be down to earth, sensible, practical and laid back individuals, but it seems that his exclusion by those in ESNZ would suggest that some have gone through a transformation that leaves us all the poorer and shows New Zealand equestrianism in a bad light on the world stage — petty, short sighted and mean spirited.

We are all poorer because eventing is a small sport on the world stage, and we need our few “stars,” from all countries in the world, to shine and succeed and bring our sport to the attention of a wider audience. Yes, this is not a life and death matter, but nothing about this situation is going to help Andrew perform better or the team be more successful. It’s about core values. The very existence of ESNZ is to help make the team successful, but their actions here do little to show that they have remembered this.

I have not spoken to Andrew about this situation, but it is clear that he was keen to move on and rejoin the squad after his previous withdrawal in October following the problems at WEG. “If I don’t put myself forward it’s sort of a dead end, isn’t it? I feel like it’s only right that I take that positive attitude because they have been happy to listen to me.” ESNZ interim chief executive Vicki Glynn has denied he was being punished in some way for his criticism but what other explanation can there be?

It is worth looking at his criticism and crime. Was he guilty of horse cruelty? Violent behaviour? Actions likely to damage the sport of eventing? NO! He was simply guilty of caring about his horse and wanting it to have the best possible care. Yes, in the process, he probably sounded off to a New Zealand official or two and was less than polite … Well, has anyone listened to our representatives and politicians in almost any country in the world?!

Robust communication is understandable when people care deeply about something, and is it not commendable to care deeply about a horse that has done 11 four-stars, was the world’s best event horse in 2013, and has taken Andrew to two World Championships and an Olympic Games, including being third individually at WEG in 2010, first at Pau, twice second at Burghley and third at Rolex? Who would not expect nothing but the best for such a horse?  Who else would not get emotional, particularly after the mud and sludge of WEG?

Andrew is also a six-time Olympian, a quite extraordinary achievement. Without doubt, both Nereo and Andrew have earned the right to be treated as equestrian heroes, and not just in New Zealand but in the whole equestrian world. This is why the actions of ESNZ leave them looking like the villain of the piece.  This is why most in the sport feel that at the very least he deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.

It is also worth looking at Andrew’s life as an eventer. What did he do on New Year’s Day? Take a day off? No, he rode horses throughout the day. Usually 10 horses! Just as he does most days, despite being 53, and has done for the last 30 years. I don’t know Vicki Glynn, but I doubt that she or few others can match Andrew’s commitment to the cause of eventing.

Last year, he rode a string of 19 horses in over 150 competitions, and he does this, just like William Fox-Pitt, because he wants to be the best. Not because he wants to be a millionaire or famous, but because he wants to be the best in his sport — a great sport that needs heroes and needs its heroes to be treated with the greatest respect.

In 1991 in Luhmühlen, a first time three-star rider, Sarah Slazenger, was struggling to cope with saddling her mare for cross country with over two stone of lead (the days of 11 stone, 11 pounds minimum weight), having weighed in and been temporarily deserted by her coach and future husband William Micklem!

She had never spoken to Andrew before and didn’t seek his help, but he saw her dilemma and came to her aid, even giving her a leg up in the process. I would suggest that ESNZ now need to give Andrew a leg up back on to the team and show the leadership and common sense that they probably write about so glowingly on their CVs.




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