AS ANDREW Nicholson lay in a hospital bed just 21 months ago recovering from a neck injury that nearly cost him his life, few knew if he would walk again, let alone return on a horse to claim one of eventing’s most illustrious prizes.

But that is what happened for the 55-year-old on Sunday as he finally got his hands on a Badminton Horse Trials trophy that has eluded him during a career where he has claimed every gong going.

It was Nereo that delivered him the crown at the 36th attempt and New Zealand rider Nicholson, who is based in Marlborough, said it was down to the 17-year-old horse that he ever got back in the saddle.

“I’ve had Nereo since he was four years old and he has always been one of my favourites,” he said.

“He’s had to work very, very hard. It hasn’t been natural for him in dressage. Galloping and cross-country, he is a lovely galloper but he has a big stride so with the undulating ground, it is hard work for him but he happily does it all.

“When I was recovering from my neck injury, he and Avebury were the main reasons I had a go at riding again.

“It was important to have something to motivate you and it was those two.

“Once I started doing a bit of jumping, I contacted (trainer) Stephen Smith and he came down and helps me with my show jumping now.

“Between him and Wiggy (Nicholson’s wife) and my children (Lily and Zach) and the owners, we are a great team and to have Nereo in that team is unbelievable.”

Nicholson was in surgery for eight hours following his fall on Cillnabradden Evo during the cross country phase at Gatcombe in August 2015.

However, he was back in competition last season and after winning the Event Rider Masters at Barbury last summer, it was a second-placed finish on Nereo at Burghley that he realised he was back to his best.

“I had a good season last year, once I got up and running again,” he added.

“To win at Bramham was a great boost for me and that felt unbelievable for me because it wasn’t long before hand that I didn’t think I would ever ride again.

“Then to go and be second at Burghley, it was only second but I felt like I won it.

Those watching Nicholson’s cross-country phase would have noticed a reminder of that horror injury, with the Kiwi using the opportunity between jumps to shake his head but he admits that is something he has to get used to.

“It’s to loosen the muscles between my shoulder blades,” he explained.

“That’s why I didn’t come here last year. I thought I had to ride around still and when I got to the finish I was feeling fatigued.

“Then I thought, what the heck if I look like a headless chicken in between the jumps.

“When I know I have got to look left and right very quickly, I just (give it a shake) and it frees up the muscles because I have to hold my head differently.”