A Tall Order? Not if Your Name is Todd
RELEASE: May 27, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Louise Parkes
It had been in the back of his mind for some time, but it was while enjoying a few social drinks with friends over the Christmas period that former eventing super-star Mark Todd decided he would give it a go.
He had retired from the sport of eventing in 2000 after a glittering career, but was missing the excitement and kept thinking about making a come-back. Not just an ordinary come-back, however, that just wouldn't be his style. He set himself the challenge of qualifying for this summer's Olympic Games in Hong Kong and, in just a few short months, he has achieved his ambition and attracted massive publicity for both himself and the sport he so enjoys.
It wasn't without reason that he was hailed as the greatest rider of the 20th Century by the FEI. Mark Todd's results were astounding. The New Zealander burst onto the scene with victory at Badminton, arguably the toughest three-day event in the world, riding Southern Comfort in 1980 and what followed was something very special indeed. He was five-time champion at the notoriously tough Burghley fixture, winner of the 1997 Open European title, and Team Gold medalist at both the 1990 and 1998 World Championships. At Olympic level, he secured back-to-back Individual Gold at Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul four years later with his beloved Charisma, and he took Team Bronze at Seoul and Team Silver in Barcelona in 1992. In the year of his retirement, he claimed Individual Bronze at the Sydney Olympic Games, but it wasn't only his medal collection that earned this man the highest of accolades - it was his exceptional horsemanship.
Some people achieve great things through hard work, commitment and determination and riders are no different to other athletes when it comes to that. But in equestrian sport there is the added dimension of creating a special relationship with an animal and persuading them to also give their all. Todd could do this with just about every horse he rode. Team-mate Andrew Nicholson once said of him, "Mark can ride anything – he could go cross-country on a dairy cow!" - although the talented Kiwi was usually mounted on something a little more appropriate...
His ability was second to none. One of the crowning moments of his career came with his cross-country ride with Horton's Point to win at Badminton in 1994. It's difficult enough to tackle fences of Badminton's magnitude with everything as it should be, but Todd cruised around most of the course with only one stirrup that afternoon in an incredible display of balance and brilliance.
By the time he visited Badminton as a spectator earlier this month, his 2008 Olympic challenge was well underway, but he was already joking that he sometimes wondered what he had started. "It really did begin as a bit of fun but everything has just fallen into place," he said. First came the horse, in the shape of Gandalf, a 10-year-old gelding who won Richfield CIC*** last year. "I heard about him in the New Year and went to Auckland to see him and really liked him but I thought - this is all too easy so it probably won't pass the vet." Of course, Gandalf, who had been competed by Angela Lloyd, passed with flying colours and arrived in Mark's yard at the end of January. It was a bit like calling his bluff.
The next step was for the new partnership to get to know each other and the first big target was set for Puhinui three-day-event in March. Mark would need to satisfy all the usual qualifying criteria to be eligible for Hong Kong, so victory there saw the next piece of the jigsaw slip into place. Asked in Badminton if he was having any second thoughts about the journey on which he had embarked he said, "when I gave up Eventing I never thought I would do it again and I've hardly been involved at all in the sport, but now that I'm back I'm as enthusiastic as ever and really enjoying it - and Gandalf is a very good jumper, and very honest, so I'm really enjoying him too