Linda Norval, Tarryn Liebenberg, Annet Becker, Mark Todd, Reggie Purbrick, Lizzie Purbrick and June Wilmot
Linda Norval, Tarryn Liebenberg, Annet Becker, Mark Todd, Reggie Purbrick, Lizzie Purbrick and June Wilmot

Linda Norval, Tarryn Liebenberg, Annet Becker, Mark Todd,

Reggie Purbrick, Lizzie Purbrick and June Wilmot

(Photo : Summerhill Stud)


Only yesterday, we penned our piece on the multitude of international visitors passing our way at this time of year. Yet you’d have to say that a visit from a crippled Mark Todd, multiple Olympic gold medallist, and horseman of the century, is a rare item for the mantelpiece, in any terms. Reggie Purbrick (we can’t remember whether he is MBE or OBE) was host to Mark Todd CBE, and like our neighbour, the celebrated All Black Alan Sutherland, Todd was moving decidedly short in the one knee after a very close encounter with an elephant in Botswana earlier in the week. They were accompanied by British Olympian, Lizzie Purbrick, and the celebrated exponent of the art of dressage, June Wilmot.

Born 1 March 1956, Mark is a New Zealand horseman noted for his accomplishments in the discipline of eventing, voted Rider of the 20th Century by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.

He won gold medals at Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988) Olympics, the Badminton Horse Trials on four occasions, the Burghley Horse Trials five times, and as a member of New Zealand’s Eventing team he won gold medals at the World Championships in 1990 and 1998 (Rome), the European Championships in 1997, plus 20 or more other international events, and numerous other international individual and team titles. In short, when he was proclaimed Rider of The Century, it was a fitting compliment to one of the greatest horsemen the world has known.

In New Zealand he has been honoured as New Zealand Sportsperson of the Year and inducted into The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Mark was born in Cambridge, New Zealand, with a deep and abiding passion for horses; he rode at Pony Clubas a youngster and competed at local shows. His precocious talent was apparent from an early age, and he considered becoming a jockey but quickly grew too tall, which forced him into show jumping instead. Fellow New Zealand Team member, Andrew Nicholson, is quoted as saying “Mark can ride anything - he could go cross-country on a dairy cow!”

Thereafter, Todd moved to England where he mucked out stables and obtained use of horses for event rides. At his first attempt, in 1980, he won the Badminton Horse Trials riding Southern Comfort. Todd was a virtual unknown when he arrived, with fellow New Zealander Andrew Nicholson as his groom.

Todd became a popular sportsman in his home country, and some of the horses he rode also became well-known. Most notable was Charisma, the 15.2 hands (62 inches, 157 cm) Thoroughbred (with 1/16 Percheron in him) Todd rode when winning successive Olympic Gold Medals in 1984 and 1988. Charisma was retired to a Waikato farm after the Seoul Olympics but appeared with Todd for later public appearances including flag bearing at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland New Zealand. Charisma died aged 30 following complications from a broken shoulder.

Todd finally retired from international competition following the 2000 Sydney Olympics and returned to live in New Zealand.

He moved to Rivermonte Farm near his home town of Cambridge in Waikato to breed horses and concentrate on several business ventures, including the manufacture/retail of harness and other tack. His Thoroughbreds enjoyed racing success, including wins in the Wellington Cup and New Zealand Oaks, and he was connected with two Hong Kong champions. He remained closely involved with the administration of eventing, acting as coach for the NZ Olympic Eventing Team at Athens in 2004.

He however, could not be kept away for long, and on 25 January 2008 it was announced that Mark Todd was to make a return to the sport eight years after he first retired in Sydney, at the urging of the “fishing kings” of New Zealand, the Vella brothers, who own New Zealand Bloodstock.

While Mark Todd may have scaled every height in the game, his crowning moment probably came this year. At 56, he has just won the Badminton Horse Trials title, 31 years after his first victory in the event. Has there ever been his equal? We doubt it.