They’ve been stateside for less than a year, but this international couple is already making a mark.
You might have seen him eagerly switching onto horse No. 7 before cross-country or coaching a dozen students at the American Eventing Championships (Ill.) this year.
You might have seen her riding at Dressage At Devon (Pa.) or giving Phillip Dutton a little extra help in the warm-up before dressage.
Who is this talented couple? Boyd and Silva Martin have been living in the United States for less than a year, but they’re well on their way to becoming an institution in the equestrian scene.
Boyd, 28, is a vivacious, outspoken Aussie and an accomplished four-star level event rider; Silva, 27, is a tall, blonde and elegant Grand Prix dressage rider from Germany.
Boyd came to the United States in 2006 to train with Dutton in preparation for the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. He finished in 11th place on Ying Yang Yo and then agreed to return as Dutton’s assistant trainer.
“It was a big decision for my wife and me to leave Australia because we were established with owners and sponsors,” said Boyd. “We had a comfortable lifestyle, but ultimately you want more. Hopefully, coming to America and training with Phillip will give me the edge to get over the line and onto a team.”
The couple lived in an apartment over the Duttons’ garage when they first moved to the United States in January of 2007, but they have since purchased a townhouse of their own about 20 minutes from the barn.
“We sold everything in Australia and plan to stay here,” said Boyd. “I think America is the place to be—it’s on the move and getting bigger and better. A lot of people used to go to England, but it’s very populated and it’s expensive to make it work. America is an environment that welcomes you to try and make it work— people are enthusiastic and motivated, and we want to be a part of it.”
Silva, who trained with Hubertus Schmidt for a year and Rudolf Zeilinger for three years in Germany, is also enthusiastic about the dressage scene in the United States.
“It still has not caught up to Germany,” she said, “but the dressage here has improved so much. There are so many good horses here, and the riding and training is getting a lot better. I think America is going to be a top country soon; people have the money to buy good horses, and a lot of trainers are coming here from Germany.”
From The Land Down Under
Silva originally traveled to Australia to learn English and train horses for six months. She met Boyd at a dressage show and decided to stay for the next four years.
While dressage has always been her focus, association with Boyd led Silva to dabble in eventing as well.
“When I first met Silva I was trying to impress her, so I put her on a four-star horse named Brady Bunch,” recalled Boyd. “She was a really brave, forward horse and would jump anything you pointed her at. She got around a prelim course, then intermediate and then a two-star. I lied about the qualifications on her entry forms. When the organizers found out, I got in a lot of trouble! But Silva’s quite a gutsy girl–she placed second at the two-star.”
Silva credited Brady Bunch for their success and has no plans to continue eventing. “It scared me to death,” she said. “I don’t jump anymore.”
Boyd spent eight years training out of the New South Wales Equestrian Center, owned and operated by Australian assistant Olympic coach Heath Ryan.
Boyd had a successful career in Australia, winning a four-star, a three-star and training nine horses to the four-star level. He has competed in every four-star in Australia and has been on the long list.
As the son of two Olympians–father Ross represented Australia in cross-country skiing, and mother Toy was a speed skater for the United States (they met at the 1968 Winter Olympics)–it isn’t unreasonable to picture him following in his parents’ Olympic footsteps. Having an American mother also made it easier for Boyd to relocate to this country, since he has a U.S. passport.
“I’m lucky they’re both from an elite competitive nature,” said Boyd. “They both got right behind me moving to America and furthering my career.”
In fact his parents and his sister Brook, who is a ski instructor in Whistler, B.C., traveled to Fair Hill (Md.) to watch Boyd compete.
“I think a lot of the young riders I’ve met struggle with dealing with parents who want them to live a ‘normal’ life,” said Boyd. “They want them to go to college, get a good job, get married, have kids before they die. My parents definitely encourage their kids to be different. It’s often hard for kids who want to be professionals because the people around them think of riding as a hobby.”
Making The Transition
Silva and Boyd didn’t get to enjoy a long, romantic honeymoon after they married at the end of 2006.
“We got married on the 29th of December, and Boyd left a week later with the horses. I had trouble with my visa and didn’t get to the U.S. until April,” recounted Silva. “That was tough, but Phillip and [his wife] Evie gave us a good start with our business, and things have been going really well.”
Dutton, a native Australian who rode under the U.S. flag for the first time at the Pan American Games (Brazil) last summer, welcomed Boyd and Silva to True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pa.
“I was lucky enough to secure a job riding his young horses and competing the good ones when he’s not available,” Boyd explained. “Phillip and Evie have gone out of their way to help us get started.”
“Boyd is a great rider,” said Dutton. “He’s going to be a superstar. He’s in it for the right reasons, and he’s going to be an asset to eventing in this country.”
Boyd made headlines in October for placing second and fourth at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.), riding Ying Yang Yo and Neville Bardos, respectively.
“One of the biggest perks of working with Phillip is the continuous coaching in jumping and dressage,” said Boyd, who competes seven or eight horses in an average weekend. “My riding has improved tremendously. Riding different horses makes you adaptable. It puts you under pressure, but you put yourself under different situations and you learn to adapt. Each horse needs a slightly different ride, and you need to be able to change your approach. Then you have to be able to hop on and ride another one.”
Boyd aims to replicate Dutton’s focus and his ability to get the best from each horse. “In Australia you ride 15 horses a day regardless of their quality,” he said. “One thing I enjoy in America is focusing my time and energy on the important things like improving my riding and improving my horses.”
Neville Bardos, a horse that Boyd imported as a 7-year-old, is currently on the A-list for the Australian elite squad. Ying Yang Yo was sidelined for much of 2007 with an injury but proved at Fair Hill that he is back on form.
Boyd bought both horses off the track and produced them himself. “Ying Yang Yo was headed off for dog meat, but I got him off a mate who gets horses off the track and chases them over some jumps with a whip to see if they have any talent,” he said.
Boyd and Silva also have six mares in a breeding program in Australia.
Silva’s competitive achievements stateside include winning the 4- & 5-year-old Mare Materiale at Devon aboard Meg Williams’ FS Tiger Lily (Furst Piccolo—Dornroschen, Donnerhall) and placing third in the FEI 6-year-old championship at Devon on her own Jeff The Chef (Jive Magic—Salute). Silva hopes that he will do Prix St. Georges by the end of next year.
She works with Grand Prix trainer Oded Shimoni, riding a couple of horses for him in the mornings. She also has a Grand Prix horse, Theopolis Thisla.
Not A Princess
Silva coaches at True Prospect Farm and is improving the flatwork on many of Dutton’s upper-level horses. She plans to do some clinics in Texas and is looking forward to seeing more of the United States.
Silva also travels to Virginia twice a week to teach at Jan Byyny’s Surefire Farm in Purcellville.
“I really enjoy Silva,” said Byyny. “She also helps the girls in the barn, and it’s been great for everyone concerned. She makes dressage simple, and she is a hard worker—she is tall, blonde and gorgeous and should be a dressage princess, but she’s not a princess at all. She’s very down to earth.”
Cayla Kitayama, a senior at Villanova University (Pa.), competes her horse Esker Riada in upper-level eventing. Esker Riada competed at Rolex Kentucky and the World Equestrian Games with Dutch rider Werner Geven. Silva also rides Kitayama’s young horse Felix at fourth level.
“I had a really hard time learning to ride [Esker Riada] this spring and had a lot of help from Boyd and Phillip and Silva,” said Kitayama. “Silva is a steal, that we have someone of her caliber at our event barn. She works with anybody and everybody—the little girls on ponies, Thoroughbreds and then the dressage students. She’s positive and hard working; they both are. They are out teaching and working at all hours. I have a difficult schedule, and they’ll teach me at 6 p.m.”
Dutton works on dressage with Silva four days a week. “The only problem is that she is so good, everyone wants to work with her now!” he said.
Making It Work
Like many up-and-coming riders, Silva plans to sell her top horse, Theopolis Thisla, to finance her business. “It is tough to sell my Grand Prix horse–he’s 9 years old, and I’ve trained him myself. But we just bought a house and a truck,” she said.
She will still have Jeff The Chef, a horse that Boyd acquired by accident.
“I bought him at an auction where I was drunk and trying to get the price up on my friend,” explained Boyd. “I felt ripped off at the time, but he worked out to be a bargain!”
This is typical for Boyd. He said he once got drunk and got a tattoo; today all of his horses are branded with the distinctive Celtic knot design.
Not everything is fun and games, however.
“It’s been an enjoyable and successful first year, but it’s always extremely tough to get started from nothing,” said Boyd. “Working at Phillip’s is making it a lot easier. Silva and I are focusing on getting owners and sponsors here for some horses in Australia that are extremely talented and ready to bring over and compete.
“We brought a fair few horses over and sold them—it sort of keeps me going,” he continued. “Selling horses from Australia is a means to survive, but ultimately we’d like someone to purchase a share so we could keep it and shoot for the stars. It’s depressing when you get a nice one and have to sell it.”
Silva said the move was much easier for her than it was for Boyd because she’d done it before. “The first time I was homesick, and I didn’t understand anyone,” she said. “I’m growing up too, I guess. It’s still hard, but the second time is actually not too tough, and the American people have been welcoming, friendly and open. I’ve met some people talking about buying some horses from Germany, and that’s exciting.”
Not surprisingly, the things that Silva misses most about Germany are her family and friends, but having been away for five years has helped her adjust to the distance. “I miss Australia too,” she said. “Especially the weather—I don’t like winter!”
Boyd said that it has been eye opening for him to see how events are run in this country.
“There’s never stabling in Australia—you have to build your own yards, and events are so far out in the bush there are no hotels and everyone camps out,” he said. “The horses are just on grass, and it’s a little more primitive.”
The courses in the United States are quite different too. “I think the American [technical delegates] would have a heart attack!” said Boyd. “On the other side of the coin, it produces tougher horses and riders [in Australia]. The ground is hard there; it’s a make-or-break system. If a horse makes it to the two- or three-star level in Australia, you know it’s a good horse. The courses are tougher, and the dressage is harder because there are not many events, so you train more for the event rather than using it for schooling.”
But Boyd also finds eventing in the United States to be better in some ways.
“I think the show jumping in the U.S. is way ahead of Australia,” he said. “And the quality of horses in America is fantastic as well. I’ve been lucky to compete all over the East Coast and have seen a lot of nice horses. In Australia you get a lot of mangy ex-racehorses. The way the sport is going now you really need a horse that can get a 20 in dressage.”
Making a transition to life in another country is time-consuming business, leaving little time for anything but horses. But Silva said that if they get a bit of free time they enjoy winter sports and water skiing.
“I was a bit of a wild man before,” Boyd added. “I’ve tried sky diving and bungee jumping, things like that. I hate to sound boring now, but all we’ve been doing is riding and getting going.”
With all the key ingredients in place: the horses, the talent, the training and the dedication, not to mention their positive outlook, the future looks bright for this hardworking couple.
“It’s been tough to come to another country and it’s basically sent us broke,” said Boyd, “but we don’t regret a minute.”