Journey To The WEG: Boyd Martin Is Channeling His Inner Rocky On His Way To The WEG

Aug 19, 2010 - 1:13 PM
Boyd Martin is aiming scrappy Neville Bardos, the ex-racer he bought almost a decade ago for $850, for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Photo by Kat Netzler.

In this monthly series leading up to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in September and October, we watch a different competitor each month prepare for competition. 

Boyd Martin’s goal isn’t to be selected for the Land Rover U.S. eventing team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. “My goal is to be a contributing member toward a team medal,” Martin said with a quiet, steely resolve to his voice—a distinct deviation from his usual cheery, jokester tone.

“I think it’s important that your goal isn’t just to go to the show. Your goal should be to put your armor on and go down in a blaze of glory trying to be a champion and bring glory to your country,” he said. “It seems like a lot of people switch off a bit once they’ve made a team, because that was their goal. It’s not about getting a badge you can slap on your jacket.”

Martin’s mother, Toa Martin, represented the United States in speed skating in the 1968 Winter Olympic Games. “She said the biggest regret of her life was that her goal was to go to the Olympic Games, not to go and try to win a medal,” said Boyd. “So I’m grinding away and sweating it out and walking the tight-rope of training as hard as humanly possible and keeping my horses sound to give a personal best performance at the WEG, not before.”

Lo And Behold

Boyd’s path to Lexington, Ky., in September has been a long one. He grew up in Australia and made his mark on the eventing world there, winning the 2003 Adelaide CCI**** on True Blue Toozac. But in 2007, Boyd made the move to the United States to work as an assistant trainer to Phillip Dutton. In 2009, he and his wife Silva, who rides dressage at the FEI levels and coaches Boyd on the flat, started their own business, Windurra USA, out of one of Dutton’s barns on True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Pa.

At the end of 2008, Boyd made the decision to switch nationalities and ride for the United States. Since his mother was a U.S. citizen, he’d always held dual citizenship and just needed to inform the Fédération Equestre Internationale of his decision.

“The main reason I changed my nationality is to try to support the country that’s supporting my career. I felt that if American people were going to be generous enough to allow me to ride their horses in competition, I should try to support the system and the country that they’re from. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said. Boyd had been shortlisted for Australia since 2000. “For one reason or another, it never came good, and I never made it onto a team,” Boyd added. “It was usually me not having the right horse at the right time or a little bit of bad luck here and there.”

Boyd, 31, is looking to change that luck. He has two horses on the short list for the U.S. team: Remington XXV and Neville Bardos. “They’re both good quality horses and exceptional cross-country horses. I had my eye on the WEG team, but there are so many hurdles to getting there. I just kept going to event after event, and lo and behold, two of them made the short list,” Boyd said.

It was Boyd’s stellar weekend at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April, where Remington placed 12th and Neville fourth, that put his name on that short list.

“[The short list] was a pretty small group after Rolex, and it was a pretty intimate meeting there with coaches and selectors and vets. It was my first intense moment with the American team, with [chef d’equipe] Mark Phillips and [team veterinarian] Brendan Furlong and [selector] Mike Huber laying down the law,” Boyd said. “It was the first time I felt like I had a shot at being on the team. They laid out exactly what we needed to do and that we all need to keep improving and impressing them to be part of the squad in Kentucky.”

That Superman Spirit

Remington and Neville had more than three months without a competition after Rolex Kentucky, but they had solid runs at the Millbrook Horse Trials (N.Y.) and will be competing at Richland Park CIC*** (Mich.) in August, as well as the mandatory outing for short-listed horses at the Land Rover American Eventing Championships (Ga.) on Sept. 9-12.

Boyd said Remington has a habit of putting in a few poor show jumping rounds in the lead-up to big events. “He gives me sleepless nights,” Boyd said. “But then he comes out at every three-day and jumps clear rounds. I’m holding my breath to see how he show jumps at Richland and the AECs, but I know that when it comes to crunch time, he knows when to put on his show jumping shoes.”

Boyd himself thrives on the atmosphere and pressure of important events. “I was pumped up and nervous, but I enjoyed it,” he said of Rolex Kentucky. “And I think that rubbed off on the horses. Cruising around there and jumping big jumps with the people cheering and yelling, it’s definitely what I live for. I think in their own way, Neville and Remington also thrive on it. They put in their best performances when lots of people are watching.”

Boyd has a special gift for bringing out the best in his horses. More importantly, he appreciates their best. “I think that’s an important characteristic in an event horse, that they believe in their rider so much and they believe in themselves so much that it doesn’t matter what you ask of them, they’re going to try to get it done, even if it’s near impossible. At that level, you’ve got to have that Superman spirit that’s willing to try anything for their rider,” he said. “It’s quite an emotional feeling sometimes, when you’ve finished a course and the horse has turned himself inside out and is willing to do something that he really wasn’t born or bred to do.”

Giving Them The Best Chance Possible

While he’s focused on getting Remington and Neville to September in the best shape and form they can be, Boyd is heeding lessons from his past. “I think the biggest challenge is training as hard as you possibly can without going that extra step and training too hard, which has been my Achilles heel about Olympic Games and World Games thus far in my career,” he said. “I have to be careful about being so obsessed and committed about getting the optimum best out of my horse that I over-train.

“I feel like I’m a bit wiser now. I’ve matured a bit and calmed down in my approach,” he added. “I’m also a lot better educated, and I’ve got great people around me now. Originally, my first owner in Australia was charged with attempted murder, and I didn’t have a vet, and I had no idea about a fitness program.”

With his business based at Dutton’s farm, he talks to the two-time Olympic gold medalist on a daily basis about his training schedule. “We’ve got the best vets in the world [Brendan Furlong, Kevin Keane and Mike Ross] and the best farrier, Doug Neilson, working on the horses, getting them tuned up,” said Boyd. “I feel like I’ve got the best owners in the world, who are supportive and understanding and ready to go. It’s a much better situation on the whole.”

And Boyd is careful to make sure he’s ready as an athlete as well. He jokes that he takes cold showers daily to toughen himself up and watches Rocky movies every night to get in the right frame of mind. But he’s quite serious about the application of his efforts. He gives up drinking alcohol two months before big events and has a fitness program of his own.

“I’m trying to make myself as light and fit as I can to give the horses the most chance of galloping their hearts out on cross-country. I’m trying not to take on any ridiculous catch rides that might injure me. Most of all, I’m trying to get focused and spending a lot more time with these two horses to give them the best chance to be their best,” he said.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Journey To The WEG: Boyd Martin Is Channeling His Inner Rocky On His Way To The WEG” ran in the Aug. 20 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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