Mary King: Mark Todd has charm, humour and magic *H&H VIP*

Opinion

I first met Mark Todd at Osberton in 1980, my first ever three-day event. He won and I came second, which felt thrilling. Embarrassingly, my mother said to him: “Such a pity you didn’t stay in New Zealand.”

Of course, it was a proud mother talking and she didn’t mean it like that, but it would indeed have been a pity and an incalculable loss if Toddy had stayed at home farming.

Another clear memory I have is of him riding Horton Point, whom he had never sat on before, to win Badminton in 1994. When I went across country, I kept the picture of his perfect round in my mind.

In his 40-plus years in the sport, Toddy has been an inspiration and a force for good. His natural talent and brilliance was not manufactured and he’s been a good influence in the way he gave his horses a more natural lifestyle than many.

From the start, he had an aura — everyone wanted to be with him — and it was never about being bossy or loud. He just has a natural charm, humour and a magical way with both humans and animals.

Jung’s talents

From one versatile horseman to another, Michael Jung was a pleasure to watch at Hickstead. His performance — four faults and a clear — couldn’t rescue Germany from Nations Cup disaster, but he brought a lovely fluency and calmness. In fact, he looked pretty much like his team-mate Marcus Ehning, and you can’t say fairer than that.

The seasonal flow

I’m looking forward to riding in the advanced at Gatcombe this weekend — I’ve always loved competing here — but it’s sad to see so few entered in the British open. Historically, this has been such a prestigious class won by great horses: Charisma, Darien Powers, Ready Teddy and Avebury, as well as the ones I rode — King William, King Boris and Call Again Cavalier.

There seems to be a trend not to run on the more undulating tracks — ones once considered the classic, prestigious courses that prepare a horse for Burghley — as the season goes on. There’s no shortage of takers for Chatsworth and Bramham, but as we reached July, even Barbury was down on entries.

Hartpury, on the weekend after Gatcombe, has a healthy 112 entered in the CCI4*-S (plus waitlist) and Aston-le-Walls is always popular. Both are flat tracks with all-weather arenas and both organisers work hard on the ground. After previous criticism, Hartpury produced very good going last year.

Like Boris Johnson — albeit on a different scale — British Eventing’s new chief executive, Jude Matthews, has a lot on her plate. She will be aware of some disquiet about the calendar and some unfortunate clashes, but perhaps there also needs to be a radical look at the general flow of the season.

As horses become more valuable and costs rocket, riders seem to be rationalising their programmes. Even the promise of good prize money doesn’t seem to exert the pull that organisers imagine. The cancelled Osborne House is a case in point, as is the Event Rider Master’s lowered threshold of 30 starters per leg.

But then, in truth, event riders are rarely diverted from the path they’ve chosen for their horse, for which the ultimate aim is a long-format competition and even a championship.

Ref Horse & Hound; 1 August 2019