On March 5 of this year, Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin was hospitalized with a serious brain injury when she fell from a horse while training in Wellington, Fla. She returned to her home Cochranville, Pa., to begin her long road to recovery, with help from her husband, four-star eventer Boyd Martin, in late March.
By July Silva was back in the saddle, and she returned to the competition ring for the first time July 30-31 at the ESDCTA Summer Days in Gladstone, N.J., with Benefactor RRS, a Hanoverian gelding (Bonheur—Heidekleid, Rubinstein) owned by Melinda Walton and bred by Larry Smith and Walton. The pair competed in second level, test 3, both days.
While she’s still recovering from the accident, Silva’s scores showed she was ready to be back. On the first day, she and “Benny” scored a 67.38 percent earning second place. The following day, their score improved to a 74.67 percent and was good enough to win the class.
On Aug. 3, Martin also presented the inaugural Charles Owen Equestrian Role Model Award to Courtney King-Dye, the fellow dressage rider who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010. Martin credits King's accident with inspiring her to wear a helmet every ride.
Talk about your first show back:
First of all, Gladstone is an unbelievable facility. It was awesome to be there and to put my white clothes on. Being my normal self again was pretty exciting.
I took Benefactor RRS; he’s only a 6-year-old, but I’ve had him from the start. He’s probably the quietest horse I have in the barn, and he really took care of me. I couldn’t have taken a better horse; he knew his work, and it was really fun. I was worried about the warm-up a little bit because my vision is really affected by the accident, but I’ve dealt with everything well, and Benny did his best too.
What did you think of your tests?
I thought [they were] OK. I have to focus on more things than before. Before the accident, I only had to focus on how I was riding and how the horse was going. Now I have so many more aspects to focus on—where I was going, and if I can see the letters. Also focusing on my balance.
I was pretty happy. I think the first day I was a bit wobbly because of that reason. The second day was much better. I kept watching the videos over and over, and it was definitely much better. I’m definitely not how I was, but I’m going to be back.
How did it feel to be back competing?
Good, actually. I was nervous the first day, which I have not experienced before because I don’t get that nervous, but I guess it was because I didn’t know what was going to happen.
Of course, Benny didn’t care. I just did my test and could focus on what I was doing rather than on Benny. It really felt exciting for me to be able to do that.
I know that there are a lot of people in this world that have had accidents that really struggle with life. I’m so thankful for being able to do what I do now.
Tell me about Benefactor RRS.
I actually have five horses here with the same dam, Heidekleid, and Melinda Walton and Larry Smith bred all of them. They’re all really awesome horses. Those guys really tried to breed for amateurs, and they have definitely accomplished that goal because Benefactor’s one of these you can pretty much put your mother on, and she’ll be fine.
He has a lot of quality as well. It’s exciting for me to ride any of their horses because I know that I’m going to be OK. And they have enough quality to win.
How did you decide to show Benefactor?
He was the first horse I rode after the accident. I know him so well. He’s so quiet, and I knew he’d take care of me. My goal is to skip [Dressage At] Devon with him and do the [GAIG/USDF] Regional Championships in second level, and I needed one more qualifying score because I only did one class in Florida for that. Then I’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping to do the [U.S. Dressage Finals, in Kentucky in November].
Are you riding horses besides Benefactor?
I have ridden all of the ones Melinda and Larry bred because they’re so safe. I’m back on [small tour mount] Rosa Cha W (Regardez Moi—Jasmine W, Richmee Medallion). She’s my big horse that did Florida, so I’m excited to ride her again.
I’m pretty much riding everything that I have right now. I’m obviously careful; I’m not hacking out or anything like that, but I’m pretty much back on, doing what I did, trying to be what I was.
What are your goals for your other horses this year?
My goal with Rosa Cha W is to do the CDI at Devon [Pa.]. I have not shown her yet, obviously, but I don’t know yet. I have to talk to [USEF Developing Coach] Debbie McDonald, and we’ll have to work that out. I have to talk to her about long-term goal with that horse.
That’s my plan—to do Devon [with Rosa], and then to do regional championships on Benefactor and another young horse Melinda bred, Danka Shoene RRS (Donarweiss GGF—Heidkleid, Rubinstein). And then I’ll go from there. I think that’s probably it for the year. It’s a bummer that there was a stop or two this year, but it is what it is, and I’ll be fine.
How is your recovery going?
It’s going well. I fell like I’m getting stronger and stronger. I want to get as fit as I was in Florida.
My vision obviously is really annoying; I’m going to have surgery in November, so hopefully that will help. Out of all things, if I have to deal with that, I can deal with it. I know my body will adjust, and I’m doing everything I can to make it better.
I’m still going to Bryn Mawr [Sports Rehab and Physical Therapy] for therapy once a week. I do go to eye therapy. That’s pretty much all I do [as far as] physical therapy, but I work out with a trainer, which is about the same. We work on a lot of balance and a lot of vision for the vision therapy. Other than that I’m pretty much done with therapy, which is great.
So it sounds like you are feeling pretty good physically.
I feel pretty good. It was hard for me because I had no pain, and I’m not somebody who rests a lot. I’m bad at resting. I just want to get going and do it. Obviously I still get tired, but it’s improving all the time.
Are you traveling to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with Boyd?
I am. I’m going the week before to help him a little bit with the dressage. I’m excited to go because I’m going to see my family; my mom is going to come to France. It’s going to be fun.