July 28 (Reuters) - Mark Todd, one of the great horsemen in equestrian sports history, announced his retirement on Sunday as he bowed out from eventing in familiar winning fashion.
The 63-year-old double Olympic individual eventing champion made the surprise announcement at the Camphire International Horse Trials in Ireland where he was part of the New Zealand team that won the Nations Cup there.
Todd, who was voted the International Equestrian Federation's (FEI) 'Rider of the 20th Century', has been one of New Zealand's great athletes for four decades.
He can boast a remarkable catalogue of victories, including two individual eventing gold medals in the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Olympics, four Badminton titles and five Burghley crowns.
"I had been thinking about it for some time," said Todd, who will now turn his focus back to his interests in his other love of horse racing.
"The opportunity came up at the end of last year with the racing and I can't keep going (with eventing) forever.
"I had initially thought I may stay on for one more Olympic Games but since I got back into the racing my attention has been taken away from the eventing and I was finding it harder and harder to focus on the eventing."
Todd has competed for New Zealand at seven Olympic Games, winning five medals in total, including two Games where he rode in both showjumping and eventing. He was also on two gold medal-winning teams at the World Equestrian Games.
Todd's magical ability to get the best out of his horses has always left his rivals in awe. One of his great rivals, Briton Karen Dixon, once said: “He could make a donkey jump 10 feet!" while his New Zealand team mate Andrew Nicholson said: “Mark can ride anything – he could go cross-country on a dairy cow!”
Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance eventing manager Graeme Thom broke the news at a prizegiving ceremony on Sunday, prompting gasps of surprise from the assembled audience.
Todd admitted his competitive fire for eventing had gone. "Unless you are 110 percent focused and driven towards that goal, you won't succeed... and I certainly wasn't," he said.
Todd, who had retired once before following the 2000 Olympics only to return eight years later to great success, also added: "This was the best thing. I have been here once before but there will be no comeback this time."
Todd had originally planned to wait until the end of the season to retire but had a change of heart.
"Once I decided I was going to retire, I just wanted to finish sooner rather than later. I had three nice horses going to Camphire and was riding one of my favourites in the Nations Cup so thought it would be a nice way to end it all.
"To end up on the winning (Nations Cup) team has just been an added bonus."
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Dana Kirkpatrick paid tribute to Todd, saying: "No-one has given more to equestrian sport than Sir Mark and the legacy he leaves is an inspiration to not just equestrians but to all New Zealanders.
"No one will ever forget where it all started with (his great double Olympic-winning horse) Charisma...and to remain at the top of the sport for so long is extraordinary." (Reporting by Ian Chadband Editing by Toby Davis)