THE BIG INTERVIEW: NIGEL COUPE
Craig Salmon talks to Preston showjumper Nigel Coupe, who won the prestigious Hickstead Derby on Golvers Hill last month
Fancy a game of cowboys and indians,” Nigel Coupe asked his elder brother.
‘Go on then,’ said Jason as the pair of siblings dashed around the back of their childhood home in Brindle, near Preston.
Climbing aboard their little pet pony, who was stabled on a piece of spare land, the brothers whiled away the hours having fun.
Little was Nigel Coupe to know at the time, but the time spent messing round with Jason on horseback – or rather ‘ponyback’ – was to have a significant impact on the rest of his life.
Fast forward 40 or so years, Coupe is now regarded as one of his country’s finest showjumpers.
A serial representative in competitions for Great Britain over the years, he accomplished his greatest achievement last month when he won the prestigious Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby.
One of the most famous showjumping classes in the world, the iconic event is said to make heroes of its human and equine stars.
Coupe has spent the past three decades trying to conquer the world famous course, and finally achieved his dream on Irish gelding Golvers Hill – nicknamed Ricky.
As he reflected on arguably the defining moment of his career, the 46-year-old former Billinge High School pupil smiled as he remembered his formative years growing up at home.
“We basically had a little bit of land around the back of our home in Brindle.” recalled Coupe, who is a keen Preston North End fan.
“My dad Ken got us a pony one time,and that was it. Me and brother, we just started riding horses and ponies.
“I wouldn’t say it was something which was ‘in the family’.
“My dad didn’t really introduce me to the sport.
“We just had that bit of spare land and I used to ride the pony, my brother did.
“We would play cowboys and indians in the summer months and that’s how it all developed really and I started riding.
“All of a sudden, I got a little trailer and we started going to a few shows.
“I would go to a few riding clubs like at Longton and I would do well in those sort of competitions.
“As I got older, I got a bigger pony and that’s how I started to get into showjumping.”
Nigel – who runs a livery yard as well as teaching jumping and riding at Holster Farm Stables, in Samlesbury – admits that he thought his ambition of winning at Hickstead was perhaps always going to be beyond him.
However, around 10 years ago, he acquired Golvers Hill and after many years of painstaking training, the horse is at the peak of its powers.
A second placed finish at Hickstead in 2015 was followed by this year’s glorious success.
“It’s been a long journey which culminated in winning the Hickstead Derby,” he said. “Over the years, we have had a bit of success, but like any person in any sport , there’s also been a few low points as well.
“I went through a period of not having many good horses.
“My job is a bit like a Formula One racing driver.
“Fernando Alonso is in a McClaren at the moment, he’s a great driver but he’s nowhere to be seen at the front of the queue because of the car.
“In showjumping, we are reliant on having a horse which has got the ability.
“And in Golvers Hill, I have got one. We seem to be hitting quite a bit of good form at the moment .”
At Hickstead, Coupe and Golvers Hill produced a wonderful display. They were foot perfect producing a clear round to go straight to the top of the leaderboard.
The 16th to go out of 25 competitiors, it looked like the pair had done enough to win as no other rider was able to go clear – that is until Harriet Nuttall, on A Touch Imperious, went out near the end
Going out third from last, she forced the contest into a jump-off with a faultless round.
With tension at fever pitch, Coupe thought he had blown his chance when he had the Derby rails down after the water.
However, requiring a clear round to pip her rival, Nuttall also had the rails down and it was the Preston showjumper who went around quicker to get his hands on the iconic Boomerang Trophy.
“It’s amazing really,” said Coupe, who has a sonHarry (12) and twin nine-year-old daughters Isabelle and Olivia.
“It’s always been a competition that I have wanted to win, but I probably thought I was never going to win it.
“But with Golvers Hill, I had been knocking on the door for a couple of years .
“We knew he could do the course, but it was just a question of would we be able to do it on the day?
“It turned out to be our day, although it was quite a nerve-racking occasiobn with the jump off.
“I was until Harriet went the only one to jump clear and generally only one usually does that.
“There’s not been too many occasions when there’s been two who jump clear.
“It got down to the final three and I was still the only one to go clear so at that point you’re thinking about winning.
“When Harriet jumped clear, I was a little bit disappointed, but then I said to myself, ‘I am going to have to win it in a jump off’.
“When there is just two of you, anything can happen.
“Sometimes you need a bit of luck and it was definitely on my side that day and we came out victorious.
“I want to enjoy the win, but hopefully next year, we can go back there and win it again.”
Having secured one of the biggest prizes showjumping has to offer, Coupe has set his sights on appearing on the biggest stage of all – the Olympic Games.
Despite the fact that he will be approaching his 50th birthday when Tokyo 2020 takes place, age is certainly no barrier to competing at the highest level in showjumping.
Coupe watched on in awe at Rio 2016 when Nick Skelton famously – and emotionally – claimed gold at the grand old age of 57.
“The trouble in my job is a lot can happen with horses and the next Olympics are in three years’ time,” said Coupe.
“That’s not a long time away in the grand scheme of things – it will soon come around.
“But every year up until the Olympics there is a major championships.
“We have got the Euros this year, the World Championships next year and then the Euros again the year after – then it’s the Olympics.
“The aim is to try to get selected for one of these major championships and if I could do that and ride for my country, that would be very exciting.
“I suppose the ultimate dream for me is to compete at the Olympics.
“You try not think about it too much, but I suppose we are knocking on the door and if we are still around in the squads over the next few years, who knows?
“The great thing about the sport, it doesn’t matter how old you are, or whether you are a man or a woman.
“Everybody is on an equal footing.
“You look at Nick Skelton who won won gold in Rio at the age of 57. He proves it.
“You do have to keep yourself fit, mentally and physically. Nick kept himself in great shape and it paid off for him. He is certainly somebody who I look up to.”