When it comes to strength in the stirrups, double Olympic champion Mark Todd is a natural.

While it may not be as obvious as it is in other sporting codes, strength is a major factor in eventing - both mental and physical; in rider and in horse.

Physically, a rider needs good core strength, which helps with balance and co-ordination in the saddle.  Mentally, concentration and composure are key. And those facets of strength must endure over three days of intense Olympic competition.

For each discipline of eventing, different strengths are required. In dressage, you need to remain calm and focused; the adrenalin-fuelled, physically demanding cross country requires bravery and fitness; and show jumping is a final test of mental strength.

The horse is an athlete too, and must be incredibly strong, and calm, to handle competition.

Todd admits both mental and physical strength come naturally to him. Im very competitive, so I love to win. Im also quite relaxed and a little laid back. Im one of those people who, I think, the pressure of competition brings out the best in me, says the rider who won back-to-back Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988, and also has three bronze medals to his name.

Time in the saddle helps Todd maintain his fitness, but as the sport becomes more competitive, riders are finding they need better all-round strength.

Even after almost four decades at the top of his sport, the pioneer of three-day eventing in New Zealand still has to work at being well-prepared for competition. Its what gives you great mental composure knowing that the work youve done has put you in a strong position. That knowledge gives you confidence, Todd says.  

The experience garnered from seven Olympic campaigns helps Todd cope with the pressure at the top echelon of his sport.  In fact, hes one of those athletes who thrives on it. When you first go to the Games, youre in awe of the experience. But the weight of the event no longer has as much of an effect.  That allows me to focus on what I have to do, and treat it like just another competition.

Its also Todds job to transfer his calmness into his horse. Like its rider, the horse can also be overwhelmed by the sense of occasion, or mirror how the human on board is thinking and feeling. If your horse spooks, you have to be prepared to quickly switch into recovery mode.

Although they are a tight-knit team, Todd and his horse cant verbalise to each other how theyre feeling. You just have to know your horse like youd know a human partner, Todd says.  

Building up a horses physical strength comes through hours of training and working up through smaller competitions.  

For Todd, eventing is the triathlon of equestrian. Its an all-round event. I enjoy the huge challenge of it. Cross country, in particular, requires a huge amount of trust and a strong bond between man and beast. You cant make a horse do anything. The horse has to want to compete.

Having loved horses since he was a young boy, eventing has always been a passion for Todd. Knowing his his success has inspired others is very humbling.

We certainly dont do this trying to inspire others; we do it because we love it and want to do it. But if that inspires other people whether they are younger people wanting to get into the sport, or older people wanting to take up any sport then thats brilliant.

Rio 2016 Mark Todd Equestrian - Eventing
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