Olympics, worlds, Europeans and five Badmintons: top horse with ‘heart of a lion’ retires

  • Top five-star event horse Leonidas II has retired from elite competition aged 17 following a spectacular 12-season career featuring five Badmintons and seventh place at the Olympics.

    The 17-year-old Landos son, owned by Diane Brunsden and Peter Cattell, travelled the world under the guidance of Sir Mark Todd and Padraig McCarthy.

    Leonidas II was retired following his third and final senior championship completion, at the European Eventing Championships in Avenches, with Padraig (23-26 September).

    Diane told H&H they were “absolutely privileged” to be his owners and to share in his journey.

    “He has always had the heart of a lion,” said Diane. “He was fast and straight and everything you would look for in an event horse. He seemed to find it all very easy.”

    The German-bred gelding started his eventing career with Sidney Dufersne, Mark’s stable jockey at the time, with two top-10 finishes in novice events before Mark took over the reins.

    The pair’s results together included victory in the 2014 Grantham Cup, second at Bramham 2013 to Chilli Morning, top-six placings at Badminton in three consecutive years (fourth in 2015 and 2016, fifth in 2017) and sixth at Burghley 2015.

    They represented New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics, finishing seventh individually, and at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, as well as in numerous Nations Cups.

    Leonidas II, pictured with Sir Mark Todd at Barbury CCI3*-S in 2019.

    Leonidas II, pictured with Sir Mark Todd at Barbury CCI3*-S in 2019.

    The horse moved to the Irish rider following Mark’s second retirement from the sport in 2019. The combination’s achievements included winning the CCI4*-L at Barroca d’Alva in March 2020 and forming part of the Irish side at the 2021 Europeans, where they jumped clear across country inside the time.

    Diane recalls the horse’s first Badminton in 2014 as a moment that sticks in her memory.

    “It was heavy rain, blowing a gale and [hardly anyone] was finishing,” she said. “He jumped into the lake and swam for about 30 seconds. Even after adding swimming to his round and all those time-faults [39.2] he still finished 14th.”

    Diane credited both riders for the “amazing job” they did with the horse.

    “It was always serious and professional, but they always made it fun,” she said.

    In all, Leonidas finished in the top 10 on 27 of his 47 international starts, was crowned Britain’s leading event horse in 2016 and amassed a total of 1,751 points in his remarkable career.

    “All that said, he is just the loveliest character. Everyone falls in love with him. We have had numerous offers of people wanting to have him in his retirement as he is such a sweetheart,” Diane said. “He was always the easiest horse for the vets to deal with on the Saturday night after cross-country, they would say ‘he doesn’t look like he has been round’.”

    Leonidas will enjoy his senior years with one of Diane and Peter’s other five-star retirees, Major Milestone.

    “They can have conversations about Badminton and Burghley over the fence,” she said, adding that she may see if he would enjoy some dressage outings, but ultimately it “will be up to him” how he spends his twilight years. “He is retiring from big competitions, but he’s not retiring from being ridden. I will ride him, hack him out, nothing serious, a relaxed life.”

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