Drama, devastating consequences, perseverance and overcoming the odds. It's everything a good movie should have. But this is no movie, this is Neville Bardos, a 16.1 hh chestnut Australian thoroughbred, who has galloped onto the world stage and into the hearts of horse lovers around the globe.
We first covered "Nev's" meteoric rise to fame last January
, when he was named USEF's 2011 Horse of the Year. It was a title he earned and then some, having cheated death twice to get there.
At just 3-years-old, the former racehorse was destined for the slaughter house when he was rescued by equestrian Boyd Martin. Martin told Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports.com
, the horse was cheap, half American and Australian (like Boyd) and had a "kernel of athleticism;" But $850 later said Martin, he thought he'd bought a lemon.
Bardos had a mind of his own and was quite the handful, but he had speed and tried hard. In Neville's first start on the event circuit in 2002, he dumped his rider at the second fence – Boyd's wife and German dressage equestrian, Silva Martin. It took 15 minutes to catch him so that he could finish the course.
As Martin wondered what he was going to do with the "raging lunatic," Silva Martin told Forgrave that she recognized how similar the pair was – "high energy and acting like they have ADD." The duo fed off each other, she said, and a bond was formed. In 2006, the gelding came into his own when he won the Coffs Harbour CIC**, and the Melbourne CCI** in Australia.
One year later, Neville was imported to the United States and placed 9th at the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI****, after which he was shortlisted for the 2008 Bejing Olympics. In the 2010 Rolex, the Australian gelding jumped five spots finishing in 4th place.
Then a fire in May 2011 almost killed the horse. Trapped in the burning barn for 45 minutes, the gelding was left with horrific injuries to his lungs and throat from smoke inhalation. When Martin led Neville out of the barn, the horse was gurgling and had burns across his body. Forgrave writes:
"According to Neville’s carbon monoxide levels, he should have been dead. But he just stood there, calm and sturdy."
That's when Martin said, "Right then I knew: This is one horse who will prove all the experts wrong."
And he did. Three months after his brush with death, in Sep. 2011, Neville Bardos was competing again. But not at any old level, the gelding traveled with Martin to England and tackled one of the world's most prestigious and difficult eventing competitions – the tough CCI4* Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Considered one of the six leading three-day events in the world, Nev and Boyd Martin, "Rocketed around the cross-country course clean and fast and finished seventh," said USEF
, beating out equestrian greats such as Zara Phillips. Just one downed rail, kept Nev from 4th place.
Now as just one of four horses shortlisted for the Olympics, the gelding is enjoying a great deal of pampering and care. Forgrave writes that Nev, "Has his own masseuse and chiropractor," and he's working with a horse psychic. "He gets five meals a day plus fancy horseshoes to help him jump better."
Who could not wish Neville Bardos well? This shining star epitomizes the very soul of the Olympic Games. It is the perfect venue where every four years, heart and fortitude creates unlikely heroes. And the gelding has both of those in abundance.
Of course, if wishes were truly horses ... brave "Nev," would already have the gold medal tucked firmly into his forelock.