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The Todd Factor

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Image credit: Michael Thomson Photography

by Diana Dobson

The New Zealand Horse of the Year Show may be famous, fun and the most celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere, but there's nothing like having Sir Mark Todd at the event to really crank up the interest.

Tonight's Hawke's Bay Today Friday Night Extravaganza attracted thousands – perhaps as many as 10,000. One thing for sure, it was the biggest ever extravaganza.

While the $50,000 McMillan Equine Feeds Silver Fern Stakes, incorporating the final Mitavite Trans Tasman Test, was a huge draw-card, most were at the showgrounds to see one person – Sir Mark Todd.

Jody Hartstone gave New Zealand's own “knight in shining armour" a heartfelt introduction, but really, he needed none of it – the crowd were on their feet and roaring.

And it was the same when he finished his dressage display aboard New Zealand paralympian Rachel Stock's Bates Donnergrollen – it was a standing ovation.

Earlier Sir Mark said it was great to come home to New Zealand.

“Especially when it is freezing in the UK,” he said. “This is a show that just gets better and better – it was big when I was last here in 2008 but now it is even bigger.”

On Sunday Sir Mark will compete in the BetaVet New Zealand Speed Championship aboard Shakespeare NZPH – he had a chance to see the sport horse go today in the hands of New Zealand young rider representative Bridget Hansen when they finished second in the Dunstan Young Rider of the Year and helped steer the Kiwis to victory in the Telecom Trans Tasman Test.

Looking back, Sir Mark said he had told his mother when he was very young that one day he would represent New Zealand.

“But it was never a conscious decision – Lockie Richards said we should go to the 1978 World Champs. We did, and that was the start of it. I thought it would be my big OE, not my career.”

He felt he had been very fortunate.

In the world of equestrian he had covered eventing, showjumping and racing, but had no great desire to do pure dressage.

“I just enjoy being involved with horses.”

He had simple words of advice for any aspiring young eventers.

“If you want to be successful, you need to work on your dressage. Get early training so it doesn't become that awful thing you have to do.”

At a press conference, Sir Mark was asked by one journalist if he was still “ordinary”.

“Have I ever been ordinary,” he shot back with a chuckle. “With everything that happens as you get older, you change, but I would like to think that I am the same person I was before.”

He felt that one of the great thing about New Zealanders was that they had no perceptions of class.

“That usually means we fit in very easily everywhere, and that's why we are so well accepted over there (in the UK).”

His easy banter with people around the show continues to win him even more fans – if that's possible.

A book signing session at the NZ Horse & Pony Magazine stand saw long lines of young and old keen to have a word with the man voted Rider of the 20th Century.

Despite his many achievements, there was always another challenge to be ticked off.

“I am fortunate to have won four Badmintons, but would love to win five! No knight has ever won or even ridden at Badminton.”

He was very much looking forward to his investiture at Buckingham Palace in May . . . and to the Rio Olympics.

“I still haven't been on a team that has won gold – so that is still the challenge.”

Sir Mark Todd will be at the ESNZ tent at the Horse of the Year Show at 10am on Sunday for autograph signings and photographs. He will compete at 12.15pm on Sunday in the BetaVet NZ Speed Championship.

Image credit: Michael Thomson Photography

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