Interview by Jill Novotny
Boyd Martin embodies the Olympic spirit. He is adventurous, worldly, fearless, and endlessly motivated. When he and his wife Silva left their business behind in Australia to move to the United States, they started from scratch. The bold decision was rewarded with mounting success, despite injuries, tragedies, and setbacks. In less than a decade, Martin has already achieved the highest levels of international competition representing the U.S. And his career has only just begun.
Martin’s mount in Rio was a 12-year-old off-track Thoroughbred named Blackfoot Mystery Red, as he’s now known, who has a rags-to-riches story in the eventing world. As a racehorse, Red lost nearly every race he entered. Today, he is an Olympic athlete that represents his country among the best in the world.
The 17-hand gelding caught Martin’s eye immediately. “I didn’t go looking for an off-track Thoroughbred specifically,” he said. “They are my favorite breed, but I didn’t choose Red just for his pedigree. He is a beautiful specimen of a horse. He’s a big, tall, rangy, classic-looking American Thoroughbred, and a very intelligent horse. (below)
“We haven’t had that long to get to know each other,” he continued. “We’ve been together about a year now. But with my riding style, I really think we just clicked.”
Martin’s previous off-track Thoroughbred, Neville Bardos, made headlines after Martin himself rescued him from their burning barn. Neville made an incredible recovery to finish seventh at Burghley that year just three months after the tragedy.
The Olympics seem to be written in the stars for Martin. His parents, an American speed skater and an Australian cross-country skier, met 48 years ago in the Olympic village at the Grenoble games.
“It was never talked about much in our house growing up,” said Martin. “But sport was always a huge part of our family.” Like most kids in Australia, Martin played many sports: tennis, cricket, surfing, and of course, horseback riding.
“I was lucky, I suppose, because both of my parents were professional athletes, since when I wanted to take my sport to the next level to make it my career, they were 110-percent behind me,” he continued. “I think other families would have encouraged university or a profession, but my parents were completely fine with me moving into a bunk house and becoming a working student at the New South Wales Equestrian Center.”
Boyd and his wife Silva have faced huge challenges throughout their careers training horses. In addition to losing six of their horses in a tragic barn fire in 2011, Sylva experienced a nearly fatal fall that resulted in a brain bleed and several other serious injuries. While Silva recovered, Boyd fell on course and broke his leg. In the years since, he has experienced a laundry list of major injuries and surgeries, but each time he recovered faster than expected.
His physiotherapist, Chris Daugherty, listed his injuries in Story of Greatness, a documentary about Martin produced by Purina. “Just since 2013, he has had a broken leg, a dislocated elbow, a broken collarbone, a separated shoulder, torn ligaments in his ankle, and then a lot of other little things,” he explained. “We all heal at roughly the same rate, but I think for Boyd, it’s the mental makeup that makes him faster. He will really push limits to get back.”
Earlier this year, Martin broke his collarbone again. “To be quite frank, I’ve been injured so many times in my career, I don’t get too emotional about it,” he said. “I take it as part of the job. I’ve broken the same bone before, so I knew the timeline of getting back to my best. I took it as a short vacation more than anything.”
TEAMMATES AND FRIENDS
The U.S. Olympic Eventing Team in Rio included Phillip Dutton, Martin’s friend and teacher. When Boyd first came to America to compete at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, he met Dutton, a master horseman and fellow Australian. Dutton encouraged Martin to move to the U.S. and work together.
“When I first came over from Australia, I was a working student with Phillip,” explained Martin. “It’s been an interesting journey. This is the fifth successive U.S. team we’ve been on together. It’s been quite a good partnership. Obviously, we’ve got a lot in common, both coming from Australia and changing countries to ride for America. We started out as workmates, and developed a friendship, and maybe he’s evolved into a bit of a father figure over the years.”
At competitions Dutton advises Martin, walking the course with him and discussing strategies and schedules for his jumping and cross-country rides. “We’re polar opposite personalities,” laughed Martin. “He’s quite reserved and quiet, and I’m probably a bit more eccentric and enthusiastic, but it’s a partnership that works well.”
RIO AND BEYOND
As he prepared to fly to Rio, he said his goals for the games were to do his best. “If I go there and put down a personal best, I’d be satisfied. If I ride the best dressage test I’ve ever ridden, and Red and I go clear on course, I think that would be a huge contribution to the team.”
The cross-country course at this year’s Olympics was widely considered to be one of the most difficult ever designed. The completion rate of only 40.6 percent was the lowest ever recorded. In a field of the best competitors in the world, Martin and Red finished with a clean score in sixth place. The pair finished sixteenth overall and were the second-best Americans in individual eventing. Phillip Dutton competed as the United States’ oldest competitor, and he took home the individual bronze medal.
Now, after Rio, Martin has much to look forward to. In addition to being an Olympian, he’s also a new father and a business owner. “The Olympics are great, but it’s not my only goal. I am enjoying life. A brand new thing to me is raising a kid, so that’s changed things around,” he said. “I get enjoyment and feelings of success in producing young horses and competing in the domestic scene, and we bought a farm. I’m getting enjoyment out of improving it, making it bigger and better, so there are a number of things that keep me going and turn me on.”
No matter what’s next for Martin, he is sure to take it in stride with the enthusiasm and drive that has become his trademark.