10 Unforgettable Olympians: Charisma

In the final of our series on New Zealand's most memorable Olympic horses, we take a look at the most unforgettable of them all

Mark and Charisma lead from start to finish at Seoul
Mark and Charisma led from start to finish at Seoul (Image: NZHP library)

Rider: Mark Todd

Los Angeles, 1984

Seoul, 1988

Members of our first Olympic eventing team, winners of our first-ever Olympic equestrian medal – gold! – and repeat winners four years later, Mark and Charisma are a class apart.

Charisma was 12 at Los Angeles, and owned at the time by Fran Clark and Woolrest International. A 15.3hh, dark brown thoroughbred cross, bred by Peter Williams in Masterton, he had been with Mark since 1983. His sire, Tira Mink, was a full TB; his mother, Planet, a show jumping, polo-playing mare, was one-16th Percheron.

Charisma was ridden originally by Sharon Deardon, winning the South Island two-day event in 1982, and competing at Medium level dressage and B-grade show jumping. ‘For fun’, he was taken to Prix St Georges in dressage by Jennifer Stobart.

All class in the arena (Image: NZHP library)
All class in the arena (Image: NZHP library)

Mark described him before the Olympics as: “Amazing; really sweet-natured, a real skite and a real competitor.” After a brilliant second at 1984’s Badminton, the pair seemed on track for some sort of medal in Los Angeles, though even the wildest optimists discounted the idea of gold. Their fellow team members were Mary Hamilton (Whist), Andrew Nicholson (Kahlua) and Andrew Bennie (Jade).

From the outset in LA, Toddy and ‘Podge’ impressed. Fourth after dressage, they recorded the fastest cross-country clear, a staggering 29 seconds inside the time.

On their way to gold in LA (NZHP library)
On their way to gold in LA (NZHP library)

With a reputation for ‘jumping by Braille’, Podge had supporters on the edge of their seats as he tapped his way around the show jumps, but was clear and in line for silver, behind Karen Stives (USA) and Ben Arthur. These two went clear until the second to last fence, where Ben Arthur dropped a rail, meaning Mark and Charisma had achieved the unthinkable: equestrian glory for New Zealand.

Jumping by Braille in Los Angeles - they got the job done nonetheless (Image: (Hugo M Czerny)
Jumping by Braille in Los Angeles – they got the job done nonetheless (Image: Hugo M Czerny)

Even more unthinkable was the fact that, four years later in sweltering heat in Seoul, they would repeat their performance and become one of just two Olympic eventing combinations ever to achieve back-to-back gold: Charles Pahud de Mortanges of Holland and Marcroix did the same in 1928 and 1932. This time, they led the competition from start to finish.

Charisma died in 2003, aged 30, after a paddock accident. Mark, who was named Rider of the 20th Century by the FEI, is on track to compete at this year’s Olympics, his eighth, setting another New Zealand record in the process.

New Zealand's first equestrian medal, won in 1984
New Zealand’s first equestrian medal, won in 1984