Written by: Pamela Young
Boyd Martin inherited the Olympic goals from his parents, the talent from his love for the sport, and an irrepressible attitude from life’s hard knocks.
“There’s a point where I think you lose your mind a little bit, you get so enthralled with the sport that your sanity for normal life sort of goes out the window.”
Boyd Martin inherited the Olympic goals from his parents, the talent from his love for the sport, and an irrepressible attitude from life’s hard knocks. Horses may have been just one aspect of his life as a young athlete, but Olympic three-day eventer Boyd Martin inherited a competitive streak from both his parents. Boyd’s mom, Toy Dorgan, and dad, Ross Martin, competed at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble; she as a speed skater on the US team, and he as a cross-country skier on Australia’s squad. After their marriage, Toy took up her husband’s sport and was Australia’s five-time national champion.
Their son Boyd was born in 1979 and raised in Sydney, Australia, where he competed successfully in eventing before moving to the United States in 2007. Long-listed for the Australian Eventing Team for the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Hong Kong 2008, Boyd switched his allegiance to America in 2009 and finally made his Olympic debut with the US team at the 2012 London Olympics.
This charismatic dual citizen was the top-placed US eventer at both the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy (7th) and the 2010 WEG in Lexington (10th). Boyd, 37, now has his eye on a second shot at Olympic glory; he is qualified on both Blackfoot Mystery (6th at Rolex this year) and his 2014 WEG mount, Shamwari IV.
The trip to the top has not been smooth, however, and there has been much adversity to overcome, both professionally and personally, along the way. A devastating barn fire in 2011 caused the death of six horses and seriously injured four others, including his top-string mount, Neville Bardos. That terrible year came to a crashing end when his father died in a cycling accident and Boyd’s wife, Silva, a German-born dressage rider, lost her father. In 2014, Silva was hospitalized after suffering a brain injury (while wearing a helmet) in a schooling accident; three weeks later, Boyd broke his leg in competition. A team gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto and the arrival of the couple’s first child, Nox, last September, were the rewards for perseverance.
The Martin family make their home at Windurra, a 75-acre patch of lush countryside in southeastern Pennsylvania.
What’s your earliest horsey memory?
Probably my first horse trial, on Willy Do It, at St. Ives. I racked up 380 penalty points! The dressage was rough. I fell off twice on cross-country and once in show jumping. I believe it’s the highest penalty score of my career.
How did Boyd Martin get started with horses – and why not skating or skiing?
My mum and sister were into the horses before I was. I grew up on the outskirts of Sydney, where everyone had ponies in the backyard. Sport was a huge part of family life, but there weren’t many ice rinks or ski slopes around.
Can you identify a turning point in your career?
Probably my first long-format junior CCI1* on Flying Doctor at Berrima Horse Trials. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing. I was about 16 years old, but that was the first time I thought I could really go for it with horses. I was heavily into other sports: running, tennis, and surf lifesaving, but riding became my priority at that age because it seemed like more of a career than the other ones. The day I graduated high school there was no talk of university. I packed my bags and went off to learn my trade with Heath Ryan.
Were sacrifices made along the way?
I think the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make is that you can’t lead a normal life. I couldn’t tell you how many of my best friends’ weddings, school reunions, or family holidays I’ve missed because of the commitment. There’s a point where I think you lose your mind a little bit, you get so enthralled with the sport that your sanity for normal life sort of goes out the window.
Having Nox hasn’t changed my work life too much; there are days you get a bit too much into yourself, though, and it’s been wonderful having a young lad and realizing my own life isn’t as important as some of the special things I need to pay attention to.
What is a typical day like for Boyd Martin at Windurra?
We start at 7:00 am and spend most of the day riding and training. The main teaching I do is with the guys that work for me. I get a real enjoyment from helping them along. They’re all young and enthusiastic and dedicating their life to their craft. I don’t really have any hobbies outside the barn, and I don’t often take the day off. I go a bit easy the day after a show, but I’m pretty much at it seven days a week. It’s a fast and frantic life, but if you’re a professional sports person like myself, you have absolutely nothing to complain about. I’m one of the fortunate people who get to do something they love. Sometimes it’s a hard grind, but it sure as hell beats being a bricklayer!
Which ingredient gives you a competitive edge?
One thing you’ve got to become good at is dealing with adversity with horses. Over the years you get a little bit numb to it all. It’s heartbreaking when a horse gets injured, or you lose an owner, or
you bomb out at a competition. You really have to have a strong character to keep pushing on where a normal person would say ‘this is too disheartening.’ Some people might call it stubbornness, but you have to push on when things aren’t right. Basically, all the top event riders are masters at that.
How would your friends and family describe your personality?
Hyperactive and eccentric!
If life hadn’t taken Boyd Martin where it has, would he have had another profession?
I reckon I’d have been a professional gambler in Las Vegas. I love the thrill, especially with roulette and blackjack. It’s such a rush.
Which is your favourite eventing venue?
The Kentucky Horse Park. It’s a sacred place for horses and people, plus the spectators and the crowds are so vocal and enthusiastic – they are the best in the world. It’s a thrill to perform for them.
Where would you most like to compete that you haven’t been?
Aachen is up at the top of the list. It’s so famous, one of the biggest shows in the world. It would be awesome to ride there.
Where did you last go on holiday?
A few years ago I hiked Machu Picchu with my mum and sister.
How does Boyd Martin stay fighting fit?
Once or twice a week I go to a physiotherapist, Chris Dougherty, who’s helped over the years to rehab a few injuries and also works on strengthening my body for riding.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
What’s on the horizon for Boyd Martin?
This is the year I’ve had the most four-star horses in the barn at once, so if all goes to plan, I could be racking up a lot of big events around the world, including Rio. My first Olympics was a great experience, but it didn’t end well because I had to withdraw Otis Barbotiere after cross-country. It left a sour taste. I have unfinished business which I would like to put right, should I be lucky enough to do so.
If you were having a dinner party and could choose four guests, living or dead, who would you invite?
Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff, Manny Pacquiao, and Lance Armstrong.
A psycho, a fraudster, one of the world’s greatest boxers, and a champion cheater?
You can’t deny it would be an entertaining evening with fantastic dinner conversation! It’s always good to have at least one lunatic in the room.
If you had a life lesson to share, what would it be?
Be nice to people on the way up, ’cause you’ll meet them on the way down!