The names Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg have become almost synonymous over the past three years. “Thomas” (Windfall—Thabana, Buddenbrock) went from competing at the two- and three-star level with Michael Pollard to earning his spot on the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Squad for the 2018 World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) with Martin. Christine Turner’s 12-year-old Trakehner gelding had some trouble at a unique water jump during the WEG cross-country, but that performance hasn’t seemed to haunt them in 2019.
Martin and Thomas won the CCI4*-S at The Fork in Tryon, North Carolina, finished second in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day CCI5*-L, and are fresh off a win at the final Pan American preparatory event at the Maryland International Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm. The Chronicle met with Martin, Thomas and groom Stephanie Simpson to learn more about Team USA’s rising star.
• Thomas was a diamond in the rough; he even fooled Martin at first glance.
“When he first turned up, I’ll never forget it because I didn’t think much of him,” Martin said. “I didn’t think he’d be a superstar. It wasn’t until a few months when I started to realize we had a very special horse.”
• Part of the reason Thomas didn’t make a dazzling first impression is that he’s usually quiet at home. He leans on one rein, and he doesn’t put all his effort in when jumping, but that all changes when he steps off the trailer at a show.
“It’s not until you get to the competition where you realize,” Martin said with a grin. “In the dressage, he feels like Totilas, on cross-country he gallops like Winx, and in show jumping, he flies like Sapphire, but at home, he doesn’t show you any of that.”
• Getting to the show, however, can be tricky. Martin said Thomas is a “bugger” to ship and has been known to kick if he doesn’t travel in a box stall.
• Thomas appreciates his space in the warm-up ring too. Martin tries to ride him early when there are fewer people working because Tsetserleg can get nervous when other horses come at him head-on.
• Overall though, Thomas is easy-going, friendly and a barn favorite.
“My kids come up to pet the horses, and he’s by far the friendliest,” Martin said. “I think he’s also found his heart with all the younger guys who work for me because he does look like the cute pony everyone dreams of as a kid.”
• Thomas’s preferred treat is carrots, and his best friend is Long Island T. He enjoys a variety of therapies to keep him feeling his best, including Magna Wave sessions and regular visits from a chiropractor.
• One of the hardest parts of Simpson’s job is trying to keep Tsetserleg’s coat black.
• Simpson said Thomas’s personality has evolved since being at Martin’s farm.
“I came after his first Kentucky [Three-Day] run [in 2018], and he was still kind of unsure of himself,” she said. “He was shy and didn’t have a huge personality, but he gets a lot of attention now, and he’s become a really funny guy. Sometimes seasoned five-star horses get a little grouchy, a little tired of stuff, but he loves everything. He’s very aware and a little reactive under saddle, but on the ground, he’s very even-keeled.”
• Thomas gained critics after his runout at the WEG, but the Winddurra USA team never faltered in their belief in this small, “but not unassuming” horse, and that faith has paid off.
“Obviously WEG was kind of a disappointment, I think he just showed his greenness,” Simpson said. “People were kind of like ‘Ohhh this horse…I don’t know…’ And he kind of had a dark cloud hanging above him, but it didn’t really shake his confidence. He came back and just knew his job better. WEG probably keeps Boyd up at night, but he stuck with Thomas, and the selectors believed in him. Thomas is so much more schooled now; he’s grown up and knows his job. I think he’d walk through fire for Boyd.”