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.
What is your advice for transitioning a Thoroughbred off the track?
I’ve had great luck with off-the-track Thoroughbreds, but if you are inexperienced with OTTBs you want to proceed wisely. When you buy a horse directly off the track, it needs a good let-down period to recover from injuries, get any steroids or medications out of its system, and just relax after the stress of race training. It’s a good idea to consult with your vet to determine when your individual horse is ready to begin training under saddle.
Once a horse is ready, take things slowly. Thoroughbreds tend to be very clever, so it’s much easier in the long run to teach them something correctly the first time around than it is to have to go back and undo any mistakes that might shake their confidence. If you don’t have experience backing a young horse, I recommend sending your OTTB to a reliable professional to get the horse started under saddle. A positive beginning to your horse’s career as a riding horse will make all the difference as you move forward with its training. Working with a trainer who has experience with OTTBs is also helpful as you begin riding the horse yourself.
The book “Beyond the Track: From Racehorse to Riding Horse” by Anna Morgan Ford (of New Vocations) with Amber Heintzberger (from Trafalgar Publishing) is an excellent resource for anyone who needs guidance transitioning a horse off the racetrack. It covers everything from selecting a horse to veterinary issues to exercises under saddle.
How do you condition a horse for a three-day event?
Aside from our usual conditioning program, which includes extra galloping for a three-day event, we’ll add in swimming to improve the horses’ fitness without extra wear and tear on their legs. Swimming is great for their cardiovascular and respiratory fitness as well as building muscle, and we’ve really noticed a difference in our event horses since incorporating swimming into their fitness programs. We are lucky to have Maui Meadow Farm nearby; it’s Pennsylvania’s oldest working Thoroughbred farm and they also offer aquatic training and rehab. We have also used their services for rehabbing injured horses.
What are some suggestions for feeding an event horse during travel?
Keeping horses comfortable on long drives and flights is an important component of their competitive success. Since we spend winters in Aiken, South Carolina, and summers in Pennsylvania, most of our horses undergo at least two long road trips every year, and that’s not including driving to remote competition venues like Richland Park, up in Michigan, or flying to events in Europe.
Purina makes a great product called Hydration Hay that is particularly useful for travel. It’s a compressed mix of grass and alfalfa that you soak in water before feeding. The horses find it palatable and they’re getting nutritious roughage as well as water when they consume it, since each compressed block soaks up about five quarts of water. Since horses don’t always care for the taste of water when they’re away from home, this is very useful. Another tip is to add Gatorade powder to your water at home; if a horse is used to the flavor, it will mask the taste of unfamiliar water when you’re traveling.
We also have a good quality equine electrolyte supplement from Smartpak, as well as their SmartDigest supplement, which includes prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes to keep the horses’ digestion in order during both travel and training.
As a pro rider, how do you find time to give back to the sport?
Eventing is a fairly self-involved endeavor. You have to maintain your own fitness and the fitness and soundness of your horses through hours and hours of hard training, as well as produce enough income to keep your business running year-round. With farm maintenance, employees to manage and the general business of teaching and training, this doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for charitable work. That said, when the barn at True Prospect Farm burned to the ground in 2011, Silva and I were able to get back on our feet thanks to the endless support we received from the horse community; thus we make it a point to “give back” whenever we can. Both of us have donated a number of lessons as well as use of our facilities/cross-country schoolings at our farm to various silent auction-type fundraisers.
A couple of years ago I signed on as an ambassador with Brooke USA, which works to promote the health and welfare of working horses and donkeys around the world, particularly in developing nations. I haven’t yet had the time to join the group on one of their trips, but last year I bartended during the American Eventing Championships to raise awareness and funding for the “Buy a Donkey a Drink” campaign, and I promote the organization on my own social media.
Horses and ponies involved in sports like eventing and dressage are generally well taken care of — in fact, a lot of horse people probably take better care of their horses than they do themselves! But a lot of horses and donkeys around the world work hard in difficult conditions, day in and day out. They become a tool for their owners to make a living, and a family’s livelihood may depend on the welfare of the animals, but they may not have the money or knowledge to care for them properly. The Brooke is working hard to fill that gap and I’m honored to be a part of the organization. You can learn more and, if you are so inclined, make a contribution at www.brookeusa.org.