Despite his disappointment at a postponed 2020 Olympic Games, Boyd Martin is seeing the bigger picture—and finding new goals in the off time.
Over the years of competing at the top level, I have always had the mindset that there are certain things that are absolutely outside of your control. Some of these things are the weather—it’s pointless worrying all night if it’s pouring with rain if the ground will be wet for cross-country—or the order in the draw; you have no control if the gods put you first out in the dressage. Then obviously the same thing goes with this horrible virus that’s absolutely out of our control.
Initially when the news broke, we were thinking we might be delayed a month or six weeks, and then you still say to yourself, “Well, I have a horse that’s in form; I should still have a good chance to go to the Olympics.” Then day to day, and week to week, the events you think you’ll be preparing for get canceled or changed.
I was hoping to go to the Olympic Games this year because I think I have a really good shot with Tsetserleg. Out of the couple of Olympics I have gone to, this was the year I was looking to be the most competitive—having an in-form horse that’s one of the best in the world. But this coronavirus is actually bigger than the Olympics. There aren’t many things in this world that would take priority over the Olympics, but definitely this virus is one of them, and there’s no point keeping yourself awake at night wondering if you missed your window, and wondering if you’re going to be in the same position this time next year, because it is what it is.
New Goals And A New Schedule
It’s a little bit of a frustrating time because this is usually the highlight of our year—with Bromont (Quebec), Luhmühlen (Germany), Kentucky and Jersey Fresh (New Jersey). But I try to take the positives out of everything. Now is a perfect opportunity to really focus on the horses’ training and to keep working very, very hard at improving the horses and trying to achieve stuff at this time of the year, which usually you don’t get to do when you’re competing every single week.
I’ve given myself a few goals in these next two months. We’re going to try to teach every single horse, 6-year-olds and older, flying changes. It’s usually something we do the winter before they go advanced, but we’re going to get a jump on that. I’m lucky my wife Silva’s schedule has settled down a bit, and she hops on three of the eventing horses a day and spends 20 minutes doing changes on them.
We’re obviously nervous about the virus, so we’ve asked that no one come to our property. We have a number of people living here and working here, so we’ve been working away by ourselves. I had so much incredible help in the early part of this year from Erik Duvander and Phillip Dutton, and Peter Wylde also helped us, along with our normal show jumping coach Richard Picken. I have a long list of exercises.
But it’s weird. Income-wise I think we’re taking a bit of a hit; our income has lessened a small amount. When I was in South Carolina [over the winter], I was most days teaching seven or eight lessons in the afternoons. I haven’t taught one lesson since this started.
Then the other thing I think we’ll feel is a couple of these big events had great prize money, and not that you can bank on it, but usually if you have a couple of top horses the prize money has been really, really nice to help out our business.
In a weird kind of way at our farm it’s become much more focused on training and the horses. There are no lessons shipping in for me to teach anymore, whereas before I’d try to get my riding done by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, so I could race off and teach. Now I’m spending the whole day with the horses.
It’s quite a weird feeling too because usually a lot of owners visit the farm and watch their horses jump and see their horses work. Now that’s been eliminated, so the scheduling is a little different, in the fact that we’re not presenting horses for the owners at specific times.
We’ve been quite lucky in the sense that we had a ton of staff, and a few of the full-time grooms have decided to head home for a short period of time while there are no shows. You have extra staff anticipating you’ll have horses going to two different shows in a weekend, and then you also have people at home. So we’ve been lucky, but I think other people will have too much staff.
Looking Toward The 2021 Olympics
I think Tsetserleg still hasn’t hit his prime yet; as far as five-star horses go he’s still relatively young and, touch wood, a very resilient, sound, tough horse.
To be quite honest I think his weaker phase is the show jumping, and with the Olympics having two rounds of show jumping, it’s giving me 12 more months to improve that phase. That was probably going to be a big impact had we made the team. We have 12 more months to work away at that.
But with the Olympics a year on, it’s opened the door for a couple of horses of mine that were potentially a bit green this year to have a chance of being in there. Horses like On Cue, Long Island T and Luke 140 will now have an opportunity to be seasoned enough to throw their hats in the ring should they have a chance.
That goes for a couple of other riders in America. As a country, I think Americans are stronger if the Olympics are next year rather than this year. I’m not a selector, but I didn’t think there was a massive amount of depth in America in 2020. Give it 12 months, and there will be a couple of up-and-coming horses to look at.
Finding The Inspiration
One thing I’ve learned over the years is you just have to roll with the punches. This career we’ve chosen with horses has peaks and valleys, and highs and lows, and whenever you feel like you’re on top of the world it’s never quite as good as it seems. Whenever you’re in a bit of a dip here, you think it’s the end of the world. But at this time next year it will be just a blip in our memory.
It’s a little bit like breaking your leg; at the time you’re depressed and frustrated, and you can’t ride your horse, and you think the world is leaving you behind. Then before you know it, a year goes by, and you can hardly even remember that six-week window.
Also at this time of the year, usually we’re competing three or four days a week, and I hardly ever get to see my family. It’s brilliant at the end of each day to have the opportunity to spend time with the kids—I actually can have an opportunity to be a proper father, which is really hard usually.
You’ve got to somehow find motivation and inspiration when there’s not an upcoming goal around the corner. The great thing with three-day eventing is there is this never-ending challenge and search for educating the horses and improving your own riding. For me, I’m really enjoying trying to improve every horse and really work on the weaknesses in my riding.
This hiatus from the sport is not an excuse to back away and get lazy and sleep in and go out drinking every night. Now is the time to stay focused and dialed in. It’d be a bit of a cop-out that you only want to try and work hard when there’s glory just around the corner. This is a long process, this sport, and it’s a wise man’s game, and it takes years and years and years to become good at it.
This article appeared in the April 20 & 27, 2020, Classic Kentucky issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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