Well known for both his fun-loving approach to life and his indefatigable work ethic, Boyd Martin has represented the U.S.A. in three-day eventing at two Olympic Games and two World Championships, and was on the gold-medal-winning Pan Am Games team in 2015. Boyd’s wife, Silva Martin, is a grand prix dressage rider and they have a son, Nox. Boyd and Silva train out of their own farm, Windurra USA in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, and spend winters at Stable View Farm in Aiken, South Carolina.
How do you use dressage training in show jumping and cross-country to your advantage? Are there any exercises you can share?
Your dressage and flat work training absolutely helps in the cross-country and show jumping. Ninety percent of a jumping course is actually flat work and usually the rails we see come down are not because the horse is careless and couldn’t be bothered to jump high but rather he’s out of balance, out of shape or out of control. All of these issues can be improved through dressage training. On cross-country, the sport has definitely changed over the years. It’s gotten safer but it’s still significant and course designers are testing rideability, adjustability and the ability to turn with tight lines and narrow fences. They’re trying to give the horses a challenge, and it all comes back to your dressage work. The flat work you’re doing at home is not only improving your dressage scores but improving your jumping rounds as well.
I’m looking at competing in a long format 3DE in Australia next year. What do I need to know to be prepared compared to the short format?
To be quite honest, my fitness training has not changed that much with the shorter format in three-day eventing. Back when I was doing long-format events, I got the horses as fit as I could, and I still get them equally fit. You’re trying to get them in the best possible condition you can to get them through the event fit and sound so they can show jump on the final day with plenty of energy.
It’s essential as the rider that you pay particular attention to exactly where the course takes you on each phase, as there’s quite a lot of remembering when you add in roads and tracks and steeplechase. The other thing I’d recommend is to work out where your minute-markers are on the steeplechase: You want to go fast enough to make the time but not use your horse’s valuable energy up.
You will have a slightly different feeling at the start of cross-country. Your horse has already been working for 40 or 50 minutes and will already be warmed up. He won’t be as wild, fresh and out of control as you’re used to and may be more tired towards the end of cross-country. You might need to change your style of riding accordingly: Listen to your horse, and try to keep him balanced and in rhythm. You might be riding a horse that you’ve never felt before.
The other thing to remember is there’s a trot up on Sunday morning after a big day of cross-country. The horses might be stiff and sore and giving them a little ride at walk, trot and canter can help loosen them up first. They also might feel different in the show jumping — if he’s warming up well, don’t use him up too much, so he’s still fresh for a good round.
What are the top five things that you look for in an off-the-track Thoroughbred eventing prospect?
Number one: temperament. Often this is hard to evaluate because the Thoroughbred in race training is full of feed, fit and locked up in a stall where he can’t wait to get out and gallop around the track.
Number two: type and conformation. Obviously with an event horse, it’s a long career and we need the horse to hold up physically with good feet, good bone and a championship look that could potentially “wow” the dressage judges.
Number three: jump. This is hard to evaluate in a horse that may never have jumped before, but if there’s a way you can get some sense of his jumping ability, this is a major factor in deciding if he’s going to be a big-time horse or not.
Number four: movement. The major flaw with the OTTB is often his dressage ability. He was born to gallop and go fast, not to be a ballerina, but finding a Thoroughbred with a nice, big, rangy trot; a big, loose walk; and a ground-covering but balanced canter stride will help a lot.
Number five: the “instant wow factor.” Every horse that’s really worked out for me, the first time I saw them, they had a look that really attracted me. If you have to convince yourself, it’s not good. It’s like when you spot your future husband or wife: There should be something that magnetizes you to that horse. At the same time, don’t be blinded by that attraction if the horse has a major ding. If he’s a poor mover or unsound, don’t make excuses for him – it’s a “no!”