Inside The Interview: 'I Just Don't Want To Be Normal'

Jan 25, 2022 - 2:59 PM

As a companion to the cover story for our annual Yearbook issue, “Overall Horse And Eventing Person Of The Year: On Cue And Boyd Martin,” published Monday, reporter Laura Lemon shares her experience meeting On Cue and interviewing Boyd Martin at his Pennsylvania home.

If you ask this hunter rider what three things I’ve learned about eventing since starting at the Chronicle in 2016, I’d begin as follows:

First, not all events happen in the Olympic order of dressage followed by cross-country and then show jumping. There is (or was) a difference between a CCI and CIC—and, depending on the day, I could correctly identify which one is which (although apparently now, they’ve ditched CIC and just use the notation of -L (for long) and -S (for short) to distinguish between the different formats). All of this confuses me, but this I’ve learned.

Second, each rider has colors that they use in cross-country. Their colors are an identifying stamp and can be found on their saddle pads, helmet covers, shirts, etc. Now, this does raise questions on the rules surrounding how one declares their colors. Can there be redundancy? Do people battle it out for claim on specific colors and patterns? Is there a department within the U.S. Eventing Association that governs this?

Third, Boyd Martin is a great interview.

If I had to guess, I’ve talked to Martin probably six times in my five years. Once when he decided to play dress-up and compete on Hunt Night at the Pennsylvania National while I was covering the show. He won—no surprise—and that article ended up being more popular than anything else I wrote that week. Another time when I called him to discuss his son Leo falling off of their pony Emma during a leadline steeplechase. A third time, it was to break the internet with his eldest son Nox taking over the reins on one of Boyd’s former five-star partners, Remington XXV. (Apparently the younger Martins are the muses for my best writing.) The two other times I’ve spoken with him may actually have been somewhat tied to the sport of eventing.

Boyd Martin, forever the jokester, and On Cue, the gal just happy to be here. Laura Lemon Photos.

Each time, Boyd understood the assignment. He brought an approachable demeanor, often established with a friendly, “Heya mate.” He brought humor to the interview. He used words other than “good” or “bad.” And from what my coworkers tell me, I understand this is the norm with him. He’s the one who cracks jokes in the press conference, calls a horse “extravagant,” and is willing to help you do your job as a journalist.

When I found my Ford Escape making a left-hand turn past the “Windurra USA” sign in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, I felt a twinge of nerves. Interviewing Boyd for the Yearbook issue, where we named him our Eventing Person of the Year and his mount On Cue our Overall Horse of the Year, meant I had to actually speak eventing. Despite the impressive knowledge I’d cultivated over the years—as catalogued above—I worried I might make a fool of myself.

But as I pulled on my boots, shoved my hat past my ears and prayed for warmth, excitement took over. I’d never seen “Cue” in person before, let alone up close. Plus, being at Windurra gave me the unique opportunity to lift up the curtain and see what happens beyond the center ring spotlight.

I quickly disturbed the silent hustle and bustle when I asked to be pointed toward Boyd. “The dressage ring,” I was told, and I walked down the long shedrow and took a left.

Have you ever seen such a beauty as little Emma?

Beside the ring, I spotted the unmistakably squat, spotted form of Emma, the pony who was the subject of my previous story, wearing a muzzle in her thinly grassed paddock. (Admittedly I’m unsure how successfully I swallowed that squeal. I’m still just a girl, standing in front of a small pony, asking for it to love her.) Boyd was at the far side of the ring, with a pitchfork in hand, doing what one does with a pitchfork. I guess no matter how high you get, there’s always poop to shovel.

He had to ride Tsetserleg first, but that gave me a chance to meet Cue and assistant groom Jessica Gehman. I had expected a hot, fiery mare. One that tackled those famed hills at Fair Hill (Maryland); one that runs away from the brave soul who dares to catch her; one that questions her surroundings with spooks; one that breaks U.S. dry spells. But instead, I had her long whiskers tickling my hands as she licked my cold fingers. Her eyes were quiet and happy as Gehman gushed about her charge.

Cue was happy and relaxed during her winter vacation.

She was so chill that she couldn’t quite muster the excitement, there in the comfort of her home barn, to prick her ears, arch her neck and look glamorous for the cover photo I was attempting to take. Silva Martin dragged little Emma away from her single blade of grass to act as a peppermint wrapper of sorts, but still Cue produced only the relaxed, contented look of a horse who knows she’s well loved.

Boyd, it turns out, is somewhat the same: After we gave up on our ear-pricking endeavor, Boyd and I retreated to his house to chat around the kitchen island over tea and coffee. He delivered on the great interview part and cracked jokes here and there, but, just like the mare outside, in the comfort of his home, with his Irish Setter sleeping on the couch, he’s more settled than at the big events and press conferences.

He talked of dreams and self-beliefs not yet fully realized with a tinge of seriousness that I didn’t expect. He thinks of legacy and what his will be. And here, he subtly reveals that he’s not just competing to be one of the greatest Americans of this time, but one of the greatest—period, amongst those competitors present and those long since retired.

The ear placement for the majority of my camera roll.

It’s a hard deal to make with oneself. And mentally, he channels any insecurities or shortcomings as fuel to the fire. As I’ve thought about it, perhaps they are even his way of not crumpling under the enormity of the task ahead.

The last thing he said before I punched the pause button on my recorder was: “I just don’t want to be normal.”

As I drove the dull stretch of I-81 South back home, I thought of that sentence. Even in the ordinary light of his day to day, he presented a personality of both humor and seriousness, confidence and humbleness, otherworldly talent and approachability. Really, none of those add up to “normal.”


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