Bute, no hats and one pair of breeches: Mark Todd recalls his early eventing career

  • At the 2017 Horse & Hound Awards ceremony held at Ascot racecourse, six-time Olympian Sir Mark Todd took to the stage to recall some highlights of his eventing career — and remember a time when health and safety was somewhat more relaxed...

    At the age of 61 and with four Badminton titles, five Burghley titles and two Olympic gold medals under his belt, Sir Mark Todd is better equipped than most to chart how the eventing world has changed over the four decades that he has been immersed in it.

    Still competing at the highest level, things look a little different today to how they did when his glittering career began…

    Wayward health and safety

    “No one wore hats in those days — you didn’t have to and most of the British girls wore head scarves because it kept their hair tidy. And no one wore back protectors, either,” he remembers.

    “I was lucky enough to be involved with Lady Hugh Russell who was a doyenne of the eventing world and extremely fearsome. She advocated that one should wear a stock round one’s neck for the cross-country — it would save your neck from being broken and if you were unfortunate enough to have your horse cut its leg you can take said stock off and turn it into a tourniquet, she said. I don’t think I ever saw anyone take said stock off to use it as a tourniquet…”

    Boozing at Badminton

    “The year of my first Badminton in 1980, I’d got to know a few other competitors at that stage, and we all stayed in caravans — rather than lorries like nowadays — in the caravan park there. Nobody was a professional rider then — Lucinda Prior-Palmer (Green) was probably the first of the professional riders, and fairly soon after we were all wanting to be like her,” he says. “But everyone else there was pretty much an amateur rider — and I remember there was a bit of a party in the caravan park. I managed to get [the girls] who’d done very well in the dressage fairly well inebriated that night… And funnily enough one of them went splat at the stone wall, and another went splat at the eyelash [the next day] — and I managed to go on and win!” he laughs.

    Continued below…

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    Capsule wardrobes

    “It was so different back then. I had one pair of breeches, and after the cross-country [at Badminton] they were a bit grubby so I managed to get the people at the local village store to wash and dry them for me,” Mark remembers. “And then to press them I lay them out under my mattress in my caravan to try and iron them out bit.”

    A helping hand

    “There were a lot of drops in those days, and my horse pulled up a bit stiff [after cross-country],” says Mark. “So I got the vet to have a look at the horse and he said ‘Ah yes, he’s a bit stiff, but with a bit of Bute he’ll be as good as gold.’ And sure enough he was. He was very sprightly the next morning and jumped a lovely clear round. Oh, those were the days…”

    Don’t miss the full report from the Horse & Hound Awards in the 9 November issue of Horse & Hound magazine – complete with our interviews with the winners

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