few weeks back, I was asked if I ever get starstruck in my job as an equestrian journalist. The short answer is: not really. I have the honor and pleasure of interviewing the best athletes in the business. Some of these individuals I’ve gotten to know quite well over the years and even count them as friends. And though dramatic action photos of famous riders graced the walls of my childhood bedroom, I know that the biggest celebrities in the industry are also just people who love horses — it’s the trait we all share.
But there is one person — just one — who always put my stomach in my throat. One person I could never muster the guts to approach and secretly thanked the journalism gods I was never assigned to interview — Sir Mark Todd.
I distinctly remember the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, my first major event as a photographer. “Toddy” rode into the ring close to the rail where I stood and I nearly barfed in his path. At the Kentucky Three-Day event some years later, he was in the media center for a press conference and paused by my table. My fingers froze above the keyboard. Mary King, William Fox-Pitt — these riders I had no qualms approaching to ask for an autograph, but I couldn’t even look up at Toddy for fear he might make eye contact with me and I’d say something foolish or pass out.
I don’t have a single idea why I react this way. I may have a shy side, but nervous and apprehensive is not how my friends would describe me. And by all accounts, Toddy is kind, inclusive, and downright delightful. But he’s still Sir Mark Todd. He won his first Olympic medal before I was even born and spent decades after that racking up more. He ran around Badminton sans-stirrup. He won back-to-back Olympic gold medals on a horse so little he could probably hook his long legs underneath its belly. It would take pages to list off his many achievements, but it’s quite frankly not necessary. It’s no secret he’s one of the greatest horsemen who has ever lived.
And as much as eventing loves Toddy, he has loved it equally. That may be why retirement didn’t sit right with him the first time around in 2000. Now, as he has once again announced that he is stepping down from international eventing competition, he leaves an unmatched legacy that will never be forgotten.
But Toddy leaves us not to sit idly at home, whiling away his years in quiet solitude. Rather he is shifting his focus to pursue other equine interests and continue to pave the way for equestrian sport, for its fans, and its participants. He obsessively and unapologetically loves horses. Incidentally, so do I. And if I ever get the chance to introduce myself, maybe I’ll just start with that.
Hats off, cheers, best wishes to you, Toddy. Thanks for everything.
Feature photo by Ben Clark.