Happy 60th Birthday Sir Mark Todd!

March 1 is Sir Mark's birthday, and this year is extra special as the Eventing Rider of the Century turns 60! Jane Thompson celebrates the man and the legend

Sir Mark Todd is well known for being the life and soul of a party, and turning 60 should have been a great excuse for another one. But it seems New Zealand’s greatest-ever eventer has been a bit too busy to organise one.

“I was hoping to keep it [my 60th] a secret but I guess that’s out of the question. We were thinking about a big party but as usual did nothing about it so we are having a few friends round for supper. Guess there will champagne and good wine but it will be work as usual the next day, so not too much! [My wife] Carolyn and I might go to London one night for a show, and a romantic supper as well.”

However, there is still hope for those of his mates who love a good party. It is also the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Mark Todd Collection, so Sir Mark has hinted there may be a big joint celebration in the UK later in the year.

Big party, intimate gathering or romance, we hope that Sir Mark has a great birthday. He has confirmed: “I am sure we will have lots of fun.”

Fun has been a big part of Sir Mark’s life in among all the serious stuff of winning 4* events, gold and bronze medals and Group 1 races as a thoroughbred racing trainer.

Sir Mark’s friends can vouch for that. Many recall the party that eventuated after his first Olympic gold medal at Los Angeles. It started in the stable with a water fight, which included throwing Joan Gilchrist, the editor of NZ Horse & Pony at the time, in the trough. The party went on from there. Joan ended up in the trough again at the next Olympics!

Tinks Pottinger, never one to shy away from parties or challenges, recalls a great story when she and her horses were based in the UK with Mark. “We would often go around to Lucinda and David Green’s place to play tennis. On one such occasion, Mark, always the ultimate competitor, got beaten by me. This was not in his game plan. Now I have it on good authority that while I was back in New Zealand, Mark decided to have some tennis coaching. On arriving back in the UK, it didn’t take long to suggest a game of tennis at the Greens. Yes, you guessed it, I got thrashed! Now you know why he won so many events.” “Happy 60th Toddy, fancy a game of tennis, or even better, a game of golf? You may need to get some tips before we start!”

Vicki Glynn, CEO of Equestrian Sports New Zealand, has known Sir Mark for donkey’s years but had a bit of trouble remembering a story she thought appropriate for this site, adding “What goes on tour, stays on tour!” Vicki organised the Down Under Club (for Kiwi supporters but frequented by many nationalities) at many events where Sir Mark featured, and can definitely confirm that he is the life and soul of parties, wherever he finishes in the placings.

Another person who knows Sir Mark really well is Wallie Niederer, who was the team vet, Chef d’Equipe and Chef de Mission on many teams Mark was in. He recalls numerous special moments with the great rider, but says his favourites would have to be, “The LA gold medal, Horton Point winning Badminton, skiing with Mark and the kids in Queenstown, having a part share in a racehorse trained by Mark, and above all, Mark and Carolyn’s superb hospitality over the years.”

Journalist Charlotte Gendall recalls being quite overcome at the honour of an interview back at the Trentham sales in 1985. “He described a One Pound Sterling – Lacy filly as ‘very sweet’ – however, it was his other purchase that year, Sounds Like Fun, who turned out to be the icing on the cake.” Charlotte describes Sir Mark as “always being courteous and generous with his time, and – quite apart from anything he’s done in the sporting arena – I know just how much he has committed to the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust over the past decade. For that I admire him all the more.” “Mark, I wish you a great day and an even better year!

Andrew Bennie, who will be one of the Ground Jury at the Rio Olympics, can attest that Sir Mark hasn’t always followed the rules. At Seoul, he managed to sneak Carolyn into the athletes’ shared accommodation…

Mark Todd was one of Jonelle Price’s childhood heroes. Now they are regular team mates and good friends. Jonelle recalls at the London Olympics (where they were in the bronze-medal-winning team), Sir Mark kept getting stopped by officials and being told the likes of ‘this bus is only for athletes.’ “And he was only 56 then!”. Jonelle also advises that Sir Mark is a giant Jenga master. “He has a particularly aggressive style, he is very courageous and tackles blocks that others only dream of – much like his riding style.”

Fun Stuff

  • He created a new cocktail called “Sustagin” when there was no tonic to be found (Los Angeles Olympics).
  • He fell asleep before the cross-country at Badminton one year and nearly missed his start.
  • He does a mean barbecue and is quite an accomplished cook. No McDonald’s for this chap!
  • He’s a legend on the dance floor.
  • At his first Olympics (Los Angeles) he and Andrew Nicholson went out on to the athletic track and did some training over the hurdles!
  • He wrote to Santa Claus for many years asking for a pony, but only got horse books.
  • His favourite magazine as a child was NZ Horse & Pony! (and hopefully still is)
  • He turned down the ride on Tamarillo due to his intended retirement. William Fox-Pitt went on to win Burghley and Badminton on the fabulous horse, not to mention four team medals.
  • Not long after winning gold at the Olympics, he went to an event without a groom and was eliminated at UK event when he forgot to take his horse’s boots off before going into the dressage.
  • At the Athens Olympics when Sir Mark was the eventing coach, the CEO of ESNZ left the team camp in the early hours of the morning to do an airport pick-up. She got quite a surprise to find Sir Mark and Dan Jocelyn running naked down the street after a night out at the local nightclub followed by a skinny dip in the sea! Rumours that she took a photo remain just that: rumours.

Factual Stuff:

  • Born March 1, 1956 in Cambridge, New Zealand.
  • In New Zealand’s first eventing team to compete at a World Championships – 1978 at Lexington, Kentucky.
  • Voted Rider of the 20th Century by FEI.
  • Gold medal winner 1984 and 1988 at Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics.
  • Individual bronze medal winner 2000, Sydney.
  • Team bronze medal winner, 1988 and 2012 at Seoul and London Olympics.
  • Won Badminton Horse Trials on four occasions, the first being on his first attempt in 1980 on Southern Comfort. He was 45th after the dressage. Other Badminton wins were in 1994, 1996 and 2011.
  • Won Burghley Horse Trials five times (1987, 1990, 1991, 1997 and 1999).
  • In gold-medal-winning NZ Eventing team World Championships 1990 and 1998, bronze-medal-winning team in 2010.
  • 1988 Supreme Halberg Award for NZ Sportsman of the Year.
  • Competed in six Olympics Games including Seoul and Barcelona where he rode in both  show jumping and eventing.
  • Married Carolyn in 1986 and again in 2014. They have two children, Lauren and James.
  • On Charisma, Sir Mark was the torchbearer at 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.
  • He was the flagbearer in 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
  • In 1995 he successfully completed the cross-country course at Badminton on Bertie Blunt with only one stirrup, after his leather broke in the first third of the track.
  • 1985 was awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1995 was elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire. 2013 he was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
  • Retired from competitions in 2000 and took up training racehorses, training the winner of the Wellington Cup and the New Zealand Oaks.
  • Was coach of the NZ Olympic Eventing Team at 2004 Athens Olympics.
  • Returned to competition in 2008.