Contrasting fortunes for Kiwi equestrian vets

FRED WOODCOCK IN LONDON
Last updated 19:32 30/07/2012
Mark Todd
Reuters
POISED AND READY: New Zealand's Mark Todd is currently in third place.

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Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson cut the most contrasting of figures as they wander past the assembled media, about three hours apart.

These two seven-time Olympians also have the most contrasting of tales to tell, not only of their just completed dressage test at London's Greenwich Park, but of their mammoth Olympic Games  equestrian careers.

Todd is naturally smiling, jovial, witty. The double Olympic champion has just steered his inexperienced mount Campino through a brilliant dressage test to sit third of the 74 riders after the opening phase in the three-day event.

The horse whisperer is eyeing up another individual medal, possibly another gold. He's cracking jokes about his age and even politely answers possibly the most bizarrely timed question ever asked.

"So are you thinking about Rio?", the reporter chirps. "I'm thinking," he replies, "but let's get this one out of the way first."

Meanwhile, Nicholson is forcing a polite smile, but he's angry, disappointed and feeling cheated. And understandably so.
The 50-year-old, who has a team silver and team bronze to his name but no individual glory, is lying 21st.

He's realistically out of the individual reckoning already. Still with designs on a team medal, but he had come to these Games believing he had the horse to finally challenge.

Todd, 56, is looking forward to the cross-country and showjumping phases, knowing he's in with a great chance at another medal. He already has two golds and two bronzes.

Nicholson, 51, is looking back on a wretched day of luck that cost him. An unheard of delay for thunder and lightning moments before he is about to compete throws his finely tuned horse Nereo out of kilter, and contributes to a middling dressage despite his best efforts.

It continues a run of terrible luck at the Olympics.

His horse had a showjumping meltdown in 1992 as the New Zealand team fell from gold to silver, he had to retire from the individual event in 1996, didn't even get to ride his horses in 2000, and was eliminated in 2008.

He's won a swag of titles, is ranked No 2 in the world, but seems to be cursed at the Olympics.

Todd, meanwhile, is being described by New Zealand coach Eric Duvander as a genius.

He's taken an inexperienced nine-year-old horse from two-star level to the four-star Olympics in the space of the year.

Campino, or Kinky, only competed in his first three-star event at the end of last year and one wonders what Todd would have achieved in the dressage had he been able to ride his crack mount Land Vision, the 2011 Badminton winner who was injured in April.

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"Mark is a genius and he's riding a very young, inexperienced horse," Duvander says.

"The horse was a two-star and wasn't very impressive but in the last year it's just stepped up. It's unbelievable."

How is Todd able to transform these horses?

"I can't give away that secret. He's just genius," Duvander says, using that word again.

"He's one in a million. He is just so competitive and is so skilful. He works harder than most people in the world in general and has a great spirit. He loves horses. It's a fantastic mix.

"To pull the horse's absolute best performance out on the day at the Olympics, he's a genius."
And there it is again.

"I have always had faith in him. I've known Mark for a long time now and he thrives on that pressure."

He does. He's back in the mix at the Olympics.

Nicholson, on the other hand, is back lamenting his cruel luck.

The two good friends both hail from the Waikato, live in Wiltshire, England, and have enjoyed marvellous eventing careers in their own rights.

Only Todd seems to have the midas touch on the big stage. Nicholson must wait four more years for another chance.

- Fairfax Media

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