Leading international eventer Sir Mark Todd has announced his retirement – again – but there will be no comeback this time.
The New Zealand team stalwart is going out on a high, making the announcement after standing atop the podium for the Nations Cup competition at Ireland’s Camphire International Horse Trials. The Kiwi team of Todd and Tim and Jonelle Price beat Ireland on their home ground, with Italy third.
ESNZ high performance eventing manager Graeme Thom made the announcement at the Irish prizegiving, which was met with gasps from commentators and spectators at the event.
Todd arrived on the international stage at the 1978 World Championships in Kentucky. He then headed to Britain in 1980 with Southern Comfort, accompanied by Andrew Nicholson as groom, and won Badminton at his first attempt. He won again in 1994 on a chance ride, Horton Point, and in 1996 on Bertie Blunt. He has also won Burghley five times, in 1997 on Wilton Fair, in 1990 on Face the Music, in 1991 on Welton Greylag, in 1997 (taking the Open European title) on Broadcast News and in 1999 on Diamond Hall Red.
He won back-to-back Olympic titles in 1984 and 1988 on Charisma and won world team gold and individual silver on Broadcast News in 1998. In 2000, after winning individual bronze at the Sydney Olympics on Eye Spy, he retired to train racehorses. But he returned to Britain in 2008 to campaign for the 2008 Olympics, where he finished 18th on Gandalf.
Todd, now 63, is again turning back to racing and has 10 horses in work in Britain for owner Sir Peter Vela.
Earlier this year he took out his training licence and took time off eventing and when Eminent, Vela’s top racehorse, campaigned in Australia.
Todd said he had been thinking about retiring for some time. “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,” he said.
“I am training in the UK at the moment but we loved our time in Australia with Eminent so it is very possible some time 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.”
He said it wasn’t easy to make the final decision, but feels “hugely relieved” now.
“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 said he had initially planned to retire at the end of the current season but changed his mind. “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.”
The career of the FEI Rider of the 20th Century, who was knighted at Buckingham Palace in 2013, included competing at seven Olympic Games for New Zealand, including two where he rode in both showjumping and eventing. He won individual gold eventing medals in 1984 and 1988, and rode at several World Equestrian Games and was on two gold medal-winning teams.
Todd cites the highlight of his “second career” as 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.”
His decision was made with his wife, Carolyn, who he said 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.”
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Dana Kirkpatrick has 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.”
Images: Jan Milne, Mike Bain, Steph Freeman, FEI