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As well as sharing the honour of being New Zealand’s most decorated Olympian, Mark Todd was voted FEI Event Rider of the 20th Century by the International Equestrian Federation, deserved recognition for a glittering three-day eventing career spanning five decades.
A pioneer of three-day eventing in New Zealand, Mark Todd has long been passionate about horses. Though he wanted to be a jockey in his childhood years, he grew too big and turned his attention to show jumping instead. Blessed with an ability to ride horses of all shapes and sizes, he eventually took up eventing and formed part of the first New Zealand team to contest the world championships in Lexington, USA, in 1978. Unfortunately for Todd, his horse Tophunter suffered an injury in the cross-country event.
Riding Southern Comfort, Todd turned in a stunning display at the 1980 Badminton Horse Trials in England, winning the most prestigious competition on the eventing circuit at the first attempt. He went on to become the best rider in the sport, winning competition after competition and partnering Charisma to successive individual Olympic titles at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, where he also won a bronze in the team event.
The Kiwi rider maintained his place at the top by winning Badminton again in 1994 and 1996, recording a record five wins at Burghley and helping New Zealand win team gold at the World Championships in 1990 and 1998, when he also won pocketed individual silver. He also carried his country’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Games in 1992, and at the end of the decade the FEI named him the greatest event rider of the 20th century.
After competing at his fifth Games in Sydney in 2000, where he helped his team win the bronze medal, Todd announced his retirement from competitive riding. He returned to New Zealand to breed horses before reappearing at the Athens Games in 2004 as coach of the country’s eventing team. Unable to remain out of the saddle any longer, he returned to action and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games, where he rode Gandalf to 17th in the individual competition, helping New Zealand take fifth in the team event.
Despite being the wrong side of 50, Todd won Badminton yet again in 2011, and went on to earn selection for his sixth Olympic Games in London, where he teamed up with Jonelle Richards, Jonathan Paget, Caroline Powell and Andrew Nicholson to win his fifth medal, a bronze, in the team event behind Germany and Great Britain. As well as producing a number of training videos, he has also written several books, the latest of them an autobiography entitled Second Chance, which relates the story of how “the greatest equestrian of the 20th century” made his “stunning comeback in the 21st century”.