Now the season has drawn to a close – EWW looks back to One of the greatest ever eventing athletes Sir Mark Todd, he shocked the equestrian community when he announced his retirement from the sport.
He went out on a high, winning the Nations Cup team event at Camphire International Horse Trials in Ireland alongside team mates and long-time friends Tim and Jonelle Price. His fifth placed individual result came with one of his most trusted partners over recent years, Leonidas II.
As the prize giving took place, it was down to Equestrian Sport New Zealand high performance eventing manager Graeme Thom to make the announcement to the gathered crowd who gasped with shock and astonishment as an emotional Todd looked on. But for the 63-year-old eventing legend it was not such as shock as he admitted: “I had been thinking about it for some time.”
Todd, who is one of the most successful event riders of all time, said he had initially planned to retire at the end of the season but changed his mind. “This has not been an easy decision and it basically came down to when and not if I would finish.Once I decided I was going to retire, I just wanted to finish sooner rather than later. I had three nice horses going to Camphire and was riding one of my favourites in the Nations Cup so thought it would be a nice way to end it all. To end up on the winning team with Tim and Jonelle has just been an added bonus.
“Having been persuaded back into training racehorses earlier this year I also found I wanted to spend more time on that and was not as focussed on the Eventing. I could foresee keeping both lots of owners happy was going to be increasingly difficult and I did not have the same enthusiasm to go Eventing. It is not just about the competition and unless you are 110% focused and driven towards that goal, you won’t succeed . . . and I certainly wasn’t. In fairness to the owners, horses and others hoping to get on the team, this was the best thing. I have been here once before but there will be no comeback this time.”
Todd previously called time on his eventing career after the Olympic Games in Sydney and returned to New Zealand. A little over eight years later, he announced his intention to return to international competition, which he did so with Gandalf, with the aim of competing in the 2008 Olympic Games.Todd refers to his comeback as a dare made over a glass of wine that then turned into a personal challenge. He then returned to full-time competition basing himself back in the UK.
During his illustrious career he has represented New Zealand at seven Olympic Games, including two Games where he rode on both the eventing and show jumping teams. With Charisma – who Todd refers to as ‘the one’ – he won back to back individual Gold medals and also won team Bronze in 1988, team Silver in 1992, individual Bronze in 2000 and team Bronze in 2012. In winning this medal he equaled the Olympic Record for the longest gap between the first and last Olympic medals, which was 28 years. In addition to his Olympic medals he has been on two Gold medal winning teams at the World Equestrian Games – 1990 and 1998, when he also won individual Silver with Broadcast News. He was also part of the Bronze medal winning team in 2010.
Todd, whose parents were not horsy but started riding as his grandfather had horses on his farm and borrowed a neighbour’s pony for him to ride, has four Badminton titles to his name. His first came in 1980 with Southern Comfort II. His rise up the leaderboard was extraordinary. The pair were 45thafter the dressage but a clear round on an influential cross country saw them leap to third. He clinched the title with
It would be 14 years before he won again when a catch ride on Horton Point gave him victory in 1994. He nearly won in 1995 with Bertie Blunt, on whom he rode a majority of the cross-country course with one stirrup – but they were spun at the final horse inspection. Yet they returned 12 months later to take the victory they so deserved. His final Badminton title came in 2011 on his return to the sport on board NZB Land Vision, making him the oldest winner of the event.
Todd has also claimed five Burghley titles. His first win came in 1987 with Wilton Fair, a year when he also took the runner up spot with Charisma. He followed this up in 1990 with Face the Music and again in 1991 with Welton Greyleg and 1997 with Broadcast News. His final victory came 20 years ago in 1999 with Diamond Hall Red.
Not only was he named the FEI’s rider of the 20thCentury, in 1988, he was announced as the New Zealand Sportsperson of the year and winner of the Supreme Halberg Award and inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.In the 1985 New Year Honours, Todd was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empireand he was elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1995 Queen’s Birthday Honours.Then in the 2013 New Year Honours, Todd was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to equestrian sport.
Looking back at his career he commented: “I am very fortunate. I guess the highlight of my second career was winning Badminton with Land Vision but one of the main highlights has been the people I have been involved with. I have worked with fabulous owners, wonderful sponsors, amazing people who have worked for us over the years and great trainers. It has been a real privilege to have been part of this team and this journey.”
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Dana Kirkpatrick paid tribute to Sir Mark. “No one has given more to equestrian sport than Sir Mark and the legacy he leaves is an inspiration to not just equestrians but to all New Zealanders. No one will ever forget where it all started with Charisma and the way he has carried on with such dignity and grace to remain at the top of the sport for so long is extraordinary. We take our hats off to his achievements and wish him all the very best but we won’t be letting him escape completely.”
Sir Mark who will now turn his focus back to racing. “The opportunity came up at the end of last year with the racing and I can’t keep going with eventing forever. I had initially thought I may stay on for one more Olympic Games but since I got back into the racing my attention has been taken away from the eventing and I was finding it harder and harder to focus on the eventing.
Todd has 10 race horses in work and his long-time owner Sir Peter Vela is still very much involved as well as some of his other owners. “I am training in the UK at the moment but we loved our time in Australia with Eminent so it is very possible sometime in the future we would love to take another horse down there. We will take it slowly – I am under no illusions it will be difficult breaking into the British racing scene but I would like to think we can have a crack.”
Todd’s decision to retire had been made with his wife Carolyn who he admitted would be far more relaxed about the racing game than she was with eventing. “It was very much a joint decision. It is a dangerous sport, and she worries, so she will be far more relaxed about this and has always loved racing. This is not a retirement but a change of direction, one in which Carolyn can feel more relaxed and I can follow a long-held passion.
Despite turning his attention to racing, the eventing world will not lose Todd completely. He added: “It has been an absolute honour to have been able to represent NZ on the world stage for so long and to feel the love and support back. I will still be involved in Team NZ in some way so it’s not a total farewell and I’m sure I will be involved in teaching time permitting. Thank you all for being a part of this and hope the next chapter has half as much fun and excitement.”