It’s the end of an era—again—as Sir Mark Todd announces his retirement from eventing, leaving the sport with a lanky Kiwi-shaped hole in it and, swirling in his wake, the emotional detritus of several generations of fans, followers and teammates. It’s been proven by leading psychiatrists that suppressing one’s pain only leads to further damage down the line, so instead of pretending that “Toddy” hasn’t stepped back from the sport, we’re going to embrace the bright light he shone on it instead.
When celebrating a horseman, it’s only fitting to celebrate the horses he’s known along the way. Horses like Leonidas II, the 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos—Nairobi III, Parco xx) with whom Toddy has thrice finished in the top 10 at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (England). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really: together, they’ve clocked up a top 10 finish at Land Rover Burghley (England); they were seventh at the Rio Olympic Games, and they’ve won Belton’s Grantham Cup. In 38 international starts together, they’ve ended up in the top 20 an impressive 28 times.
And, most poignantly of all, Pete Cattell and Diane Brunsden’s evergreen gelding gave Toddy his final foray out of the start box, carrying him to fifth place and a win for team New Zealand in the Nations Cup at Camphire International Horse Trials in Ireland on July 25. As “Leo” looked on, held by head groom Jess Wilson, Toddy stood atop his final podium and said his goodbyes to the sport he’s loved—a sport that has loved him back so unapologetically.
Join us as we step behind the stall door with Leonidas, the five-star failsafe who’s as sweet as the Belgian chocolates whose name he shares.
• He’s a consummate people-person.
“He’s a real pussycat—he loves his cuddles, and he’s really friendly,” said Todd, giving the gelding a scratch on the neck as Leo investigates his handlers for some trace of NAF Minty Treats, his snack of choice. Unfortunately, they’re unforthcoming—but undeterred, Leo settles for a stroke, preening and posing as he hears the click of the camera shutter and bustling to the foreground to make sure he’s the primary focus.
Wilson, buffeted aside by an eager conker-colored nose, agreed: “He’s a cool dude—really easy to deal with in the stable and really friendly. He’s a really nice character.”
• That said, he’s not the easiest ride in the yard at Badgerstown, Todd’s Wiltshire, England, base.
“He’s pretty sharp to ride, especially in traffic,” said Wilson, who has worked for Todd for nearly three years.
“To ride, he’s quite a full-on powerhouse,” laughed Todd. “He’s mellowed a bit over the years, but as a young horse he’d get really excited and end up towing you everywhere. He’s always been full of life and very jolly; there’s nothing nasty about him; he’s just excited about everything. He has to go on the gallops on his own, otherwise he pulls too hard, and he needs to be in front when he’s hacking, too—you cannot wear the horse out; he’s a little steam engine.”
Leo spends most of his time out of the arena, stretching his legs over the expansive Wiltshire countryside and focusing on fitness work, rather than schooling endlessly.
• His best (equine) friend is NZB Campino, or “Kinky.”
“They’re best buds, and they go out in the field together when they’re home,” said Wilson. “They love each other; it’s so cute.”
That time spent out with Kinky is integral not only to Leo’s routine, but to the running of Badgerstown.
“It’s a bit of a Kiwi thing,” explained Wilson. “They’re turned out as much as possible, and Leo especially. He’s a bit of a hot horse, so he’s much better being out—we do what we can to chill him out and relax him, and so he lives out as much as he can. It’s really the key to him—that, and variety in his work.”
• Despite being one of the easier residents of Badgerstown, Leo still has his quirks.
“Occasionally he can be a little neurotic—it’s small things, like if he’s tied up outside the lorry on his own, he’ll be quite noise-sensitive. But in a crisis, he’s really good—he’s traveled a lot, so he’s used to most things,” said Wilson.
Leo demonstrated this with aplomb at Camphire when, moments after his dressage test, his bridle came off. Instead of shying or taking advantage of the moment, he merely gazed around sweetly, fluttering his long eyelashes at the cameras firing around him.
• Leo lives for show days.
“He likes going away, and he really likes the occasion,” Wilson said. “He’s good to travel with—some of them go a bit quiet when they go away, but Leo has a big personality, and he maintains that when he’s out. He definitely has that bit of a fire inside of him.”
• He was never intended to be one of the stable stars, but a change in ownership sealed his fate.
“I had him for some German people with the idea of selling him,” explained Todd. “I got him as a 5- or 6-year-old, and when he got up to [three-star], Di and Pete bought him. They’re great supporters and great followers, and Leo actually goes home to them in the winter. Di quite often does the first bit of hacking and riding with him, and she loves having him home and giving him loads of cuddles.”