Equestrian: Charisma shines through in the Mark Todd story

Book of the week: So Far, So Good By Mark Todd (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, pounds 18.99)
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The Independent Online
So Far, So Good By Mark Todd (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, pounds 18.99)

MARK TODD can lay claim to many superlatives, the first of which was gaining the most surprising victory in the history of the Badminton Three- Day Event. The lanky New Zealander was 24 when he rode at Badminton for the first time in 1980 and won the great event from Lucinda Prior-Palmer (now Green). Todd's enjoyable autobiography recalls the words of the late Dorian Williams: "And Lucinda has won her fifth Badminton. No, no, it isn't Lucinda, it's that Mark Todd from New Zealand."

Todd's greatest achievements were his two consecutive Olympic victories of 1984 and 1988 on the fabulous Charisma, otherwise known as Podge. "Getting back on Podge at the start of each season was like relaxing in a favourite armchair," he says of the little horse who was twice runner-up at Badminton.

Apart from his Olympic victories, Todd is best remembered for his Badminton achievements - notably with three chance rides: The Irishman (third in 1989), Just An Ace (fifth in 1991) and Horton Point (the victor in 1994). All three were offered to him at the last minute by their injured riders. Of the Just an Ace ride Todd writes: "another good result on a chance ride that seemed to underline my status as Britain's top ambulance chaser."

To those wonderful displays of horsemanship was added the heroic feat of riding two-thirds of the Badminton course in 1995 with only one stirrup. Todd says that as he rode towards the lake on Bertie Blunt, "I almost felt like bursting out laughing at the thought of galloping down to one of the most difficult fences in the world with only one stirrup."

That particular leap into water is recorded in the second of two eight- page sections of photographs, with Todd looking grim in his predicament, but we could have done with many more photographs in the book.

The "most awful time" of Todd's life concerns another drama at Badminton, where Face the Music broke a leg on the 1992 cross-country course and had to be put down. "I was thinking if only I'd gone the long way. If, if, if...why, why, why..." Todd says. He had an agonising wait for the vet and "just stood there saying sorry to the horse and trying to comfort him."

Todd, now 42, has no thoughts of imminent retirement. Indeed he notes, with pleasure, that the United States rider Bruce Davidson is still successful "as his 50th birthday looms".

This week Todd will be at Badminton to ride Broadcast News, his winning partner in last year's European Open Championships and his likely mount for the World Equestrian Games in October. He says the 15-year-old is "not dissimilar to Charisma... and there can be no higher compliment."

Meanwhile, the two younger New Zealand horses, Stunning and Word for Word, are being quietly brought on by Todd with the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in mind. So far, so good - and, perhaps, more plum rewards to come.

Genevieve Murphy