- Inspiring an overwhelming feeling of admiration.
It’s an adjective we can throw about a bit, but it is hard to find a more fitting one for the great Avebury. His achievements reached such a height that no one would dream of setting out to emulate them. That in itself is pretty awesome.
How on earth would you even begin to plan four consecutive wins of the Barbury Castle CIC3*, arguably the most competitive competition at its level in the world? If you figure that bit out, then add in three consecutive wins at Burghley, generally accepted as the toughest event in the world! Even take his early years, three CCI wins at one-, two- and three-star in his first three seasons as an international event horse. Awesome Avebury.
Avebury won his first ever international at Tattersalls CCI* back in 2007. He went on and did the Tatts double, winning the CCI2* the following year, while also slotting in a 4th place at the Le Lion d’Anger 7-year-old Championships in between. As an 8-year-old he had his first visit to Barbury, very much his local event as he was born, reared and lived his entire life just a stone’s throw away. He produced his first ever dressage test in the 30s at the Barbury CIC2* in 2008 and went on to finish 2nd.
Avebury produced enough at one- and two-star level for people to notice that Andrew Nicholson had a new emerging star, but his transition to three star, finishing 5th at Boekelo age 8, and winning Saumur the following spring, put down an early marker of just how special this boy could be.
A cheeky 20 penalties in his first international three-star at Chatsworth was easily forgivable, and although dislodging Mr Stickability takes some doing, the fact that Avebury did so in his first four-star as a 9-year-old was also something that his fans would be happy to brush under the carpet as well.
His 10 year old season is probably the one which, in hindsight, makes us love Avebury so much.
His jockey wouldn’t be one to back down from a challenge, so his next international appearance after his Pau dismount was Badminton, and a wet one at that. If he had kept a clean sheet on cross country day he would have won Andrew his first and only Badminton title, given his 44.3 dressage and clear round on the final day. But he didn’t. Instead he slipped in a cheeky 20 penalties and set a trend for the season. If someone was brave enough, they might have said that Andrew had bumped into himself in equine form, talented but stubborn … but then no one is that brave!
After the Badminton that could have been came the Barbury that could have been. He had such a lead going in to cross country that the only person that could stop him was himself. He couldn’t resist a quick glance-off at a skinny in the quarry and ‘Buddy’ was starting to gain fans based solely on his personality. Buddy has been one of the very few this decade that has been able to stop Andrew from winning the Barbury Castle CIC3* (he currently has five consecutive titles!).
Hartpury produced a clear within the time on the cross country and a 2nd place finish, but another 20 at Burghley in 2010 meant that Andrew and Avebury had faulted on the cross country in four of their last five internationals. The season was over, but it had been a very troubled one. The homework that went on in the winter of 2010 must have worked. We saw Avebury at three internationals in 2011 (Badminton, Barbury and Burghley) and he was clear across the country every time. However, his finishing scores that year were all in the low 50s, and that meant no wins and no top fives.
That 2011 season, while not making headlines, did turn the corner and it gave Avebury a foundation from which to plot his rise to stardom.
By the time he won his first Barbury in 2012, he hadn’t won an international in over three years. But there was something about that win that seemed to open the floodgates, not only for Avebury but also for Andrew. Barbury was his local and it was a big deal. Teams prep for championships every year there and it is one of very few internationals that attracts a field in the hundreds year on year. He had lost the title on both Avebury and Lord Killinghurst, when taking a seemingly insurmountable lead in to the final phase but picking up 20 penalties on both occasions. Andrew had a reputation as a brilliant event rider, but there was something left to prove. He could do things that other riders couldn’t dream of, but he hadn’t won a four-star in 12 years.
It was appropriate that Avebury broke that trend, and it was appropriate that it was at Burghley. Andrew and Nereo had finished 3rd at WEG in 2010 and 4th at the Olympics in 2012, and they remain his best placings at major championships. Until Burghley in 2012 Andrew had been brilliant, but he had been beatable. However, the first of those three Barbury-Burghley doubles in 2012 with Buddy set off a dominance in the sport that saw him rise to become the undisputed world number one. Andrew won six four-star titles in just three years. He did it at four different venues on four different horses. In the same spell he won 14 internationals in total at they were all at three- and four-star level. In 2013, he set a record for the highest number of world ranking points ever achieved (643 points).
Most of Avebury’s stats are hard to get your head around. He won all of his last four internationals, and seven of his last 10.
That includes three Burghleys, three of his four Barburys and a British Open — a horse that wins one of those would be considered a horse of a lifetime by most. Through his career he was a wonder kid, a cheeky teenager, a prolific winner, a four-star superstar, and now he leaves us as a legend of the sport. He will probably mean more to his family than we will ever know, but from the outside, he seemed to ignite something in his rider that was nothing short of special.
While we are all thrilled by a winner, and while we admire an equine athlete that achieves the unachievable, it takes something extra special to become a horse that a nation can fall in love with. So thank you Buddy for thrills you gave us. A sport needs its heroes, and you were certainly one of ours.