Until last year Nigel Coupe was a name that had not been heard on the international showjumping scene for some time. It was at Hickstead that together with Golvers Hill, a horse bought for showing, Nigel reminded the world of his talents, by winning The Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead, one of the most iconic showjumping events. Since then he won Cock of the North and the Horse of the Year Show Grand Prix plus the Leading Rider award. “I’ve had a good spell since the Derby” he says humbly.
“Winning the Derby was amazing. I’ve grown up watching it, so to win it was a bit of a dream. It all seems a long time ago now but coming here as defending champion and seeing myself in the Hickstead magazine from last year, brings it all back” he says on the eve of this year’s Hickstead Derby.
Nigel is now 47 years old but first entered The Derby 28 years ago. Although he competed at Hickstead as a boy on 12.2hhs, so the historic venue is a special place for him. He took a 10 year break from riding in The Derby until 2015, when he finally had a horse suitable. The Irish bred Golvers Hill (aka Ricky) who Nigel half owns, was bought by his other owner as a four year old and started life as a Working Hunters. “We got to the stage that he couldn’t do both and I always rated the horse as a jumper so we decided to concentrate on the jumping. He’s my best horse now” Nigel says of the 15 year old. Ricky who is by Ricardo Z out of a Clover Hill mare, has been consistent on all his three Derby attempts. Finishing second on his first attempt in 2015 and fifth in 2016 before the big win.
So what makes a perfect Derby horse? “They need to be brave and careful. Definitely not spooky and not afraid to take something on. Irish horses are notoriously good at the Derby and I think they often last a bit longer than some of the others” he believes. “In the old days people jumped their best horses in The Derby, now they go for the bigger prize money in the Global Champions Tour. Then again some horses would not suit the small GCT arenas, like at Monte Carlo which is on the same weekend, just as Hickstead suits certain horses more than others.”
With an experienced horse like Ricky, Nigel would not do much specific training for The Derby. “I practice more when they are younger and definitely when they do their first Derby. With a more experienced horse, they know what to expect so you don’t need to train so hard. But I do jump through a Dyke a few times and practice some ditches.”
Nigel runs a 50 box commercial yard in Prescott, Lancashire. Like most professionals, he has to make a living from training and livery as well as producing and selling horses. “Unfortunately I don’t have 5 Grand Prix horses to win big prize money on and decent horses fetch good money, so it’s a balancing act.”
Last year’s Derby success has been life-changing for Nigel, who has been knocking on the door of international stardom for many years. He has made several appearances on Nations Cup Teams and was a mainstay on the British youth teams winning several medals at Junior and Young Rider level.
“Winning the Derby did open up new opportunities and I have had new owners come on board and sponsors approach me. It increases your profile and has definitely brought me more of a following on social media.”
And the dream… “I try not to have dreams but in the long-term I want to build up a better string of horses and keep enjoying it. In the short term? I want to win The Derby again tomorrow” he smiles.
Written by Ellie Kelly