Mar 01, 2024

A Focus On Five-Stars Earns Martin the 2023 World Equestrian Brands USEA Rider of the Year Award

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Boyd Martin and Fedarman B. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photos

There aren’t many riders who can say they competed at five of the world’s seven five-star events in 2023, but the 2023 World Equestrian Brands USEA Rider of the Year Boyd Martin can.

With nine starts across the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials (Germany), Defender Burghley Horse Trials (England), MARS Maryland 5 Star, and Pau (France), Martin earned five top-5 finishes.

With the 2024 Paris Olympics in mind, Martin set out last year to focus on five-stars with his string of horses instead of trying to land a spot on the Pan American Games (Chile) team.

“At the end of each year I always try to look back and try and feel like I’ve achieved something I’ve never done before,” he said. “Looking back on 2023, I’m really proud that I rode in so many five-stars. It was a year where I decided that getting a group of horses ready for the Olympics was important, and I decided to focus on running five-stars. At the beginning of the year, because I had a squadron of five-star horses, I really felt like I have a crack at being at the top of the international leaderboard. To be honest, I just thrive on five-stars. It’s what I live for. I love the preparation, and I love getting to the competition and being faced with this humongous task at hand over the world’s toughest courses against the world’s best riders.”

Martin ended the year in third place on the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s world rankings, and that’s where he remains as of March 1.

Martin started his year with two horses at Kentucky. Club Contessa’s Contessa, a 15-year-old Holsteiner mare (Contender x Veritas) who Martin had produced from a 5-year-old, made her five-star debut in 14th place. His longtime partner Tsetserleg TSF, a 17-year-old Trakehner gelding (Windfall 2 x Thabana) owned by Christine and Thomas Turner and Tommie Turner, had an early 20 penalties on cross-country and was rerouted to Luhmühlen in June.

Boyd Martin and Luke 140.

Martin took two other five-star debutantes to Germany in the Annie Goodwin Syndicate’s Fedarman B, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Eurocommerce Washington x Paulien B) and the Luke 140 Syndicate’s Luke 140, a 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos x Omega VI).

Fedarman B, or “Bruno” came to Martin in 2021 after his owner and rider, Annie Goodwin, died in a cross-country schooling accident. She’d developed him from the start, and Martin was honored to take on the ride for her family.

“Bruno’s a freak,” he said. “We’ve done two four-longs and two five-longs, and he’s made the time at each one. He’s turned into the most amazing cross-country horse. I’m so proud of his story, of Annie picking him out and starting him up and having a dream with him, and me hopefully continuing her work, and to have him in contention for the Olympics is a huge honor. I’m grateful for the group that’s backed him, because it didn’t start off that well, but in the last year, to make the time and finish in the top-10 at Luhmühlen and Pau is a huge achievement, and I think the best is still to come. I feel like we’re just starting to crack into him in the dressage, and he’s only ever had one rail down in his whole career [with me.] To have a horse of that quality is a real privilege and honor.”

Bruno finished eighth at Luhmühlen, while Luke 140 was fourth, and Tsetserleg TSF, or “Thomas,” was 25th.

Martin, Cochranville, Pennsylvania, took two of his longtime partners to Burghley in August. He finished ninth with Thomas and 10th with his own and the Turner’s On Cue, an 18-year-old Anglo European mare (Cabri d’Elle x On High).

“They were both phenomenal at Burghley—two tough, veteran horses that have been there and done it,” he said. “I’ve got a huge soft spot for both horses. Thomas has been going five-star for the last seven years and taken me to multiple WEGs, Pan Ams, and Olympic Games, and On Cue has won a five-star, which ultimately changed my career. Both are true five-star warriors. They haven’t shown any signs to me of decline, and I think they’re getting older, but they both feel fit and strong and happy and healthy and loving the sport. I promised myself that as soon as they start feeling old, I’ll call it a day. But at the moment they’re both prancing out of the stable every morning and enjoying their work.”

Next it was on the Maryland, where a fall on course from Contessa ended Martin’s weekend early, but he soon headed to Pau with Bruno, where he earned eighth place.

“I thought Bruno was perfectly suited for Pau, and it was on the same weekend as the Pan American Games, so I was a little bit torn between trying to ride for American again or going to this epic five-star with the intention of using it as a preparation event for Olympic contention,” he said.

In addition to his five-star contenders, Martin’s got plenty of up-and-coming talent at the lower FEI levels, and one at the four-star level he’s very excited about in Commando 3, a new ride for him last year.

Boyd Martin and Commando 3.

“Connor,” an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Connor 48 x R-Adelgunde) owned by Yankee Creek Ranch LLC, has proven wise beyond his years, finishing third at the Tryon CCI4*-L (Mill Spring, North Carolina) in May, winning a CCI4*-S there in September, and topping the Morven Park CCI4*-L (Leesburg, Virginia) in October.

“Connor is one of the most talented animals that I’ve ever had,” he said. “The exciting thing is thinking about how young and green he is. He’s just starting out. He’ll go to Kentucky, and I think also has a chance at the Olympic Games. I feel like he’d be very hard to beat for Maryland 5 Star at the end of the year once he’s got a little bit more mileage on him. He was phenomenal, and I’ve just gotten to know him. He whizzed around Tryon CCI4*-L, and then he absolutely blitzed the field at Morven Park CCI4*-L, which to me was the equivalent of an easy five-star. It wasn’t that much easier than Pau or Luhmühlen. It’s very exciting to have Connor in the barn because he oozes with class and quality, and I’m very grateful to be in a position to get a horse of his magnificent ability.”

For all his accomplishments in the last year and over his decades in the sport, Martin, 44, believes he hasn’t yet reached his peak.

“I feel like now the mega-horses are starting to come my way,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but I rode my first five-star when I was 19. I rode a bunch of long formats with steeplechase. I’ve done over 60 five-stars in my career, and I still think of myself as learning and getting the hang of all this. When I look at that number, I also consider myself a seasoned veteran.”

Martin and his wife, Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin, became parents for the third time in October to son Koa Martin, which added another dynamic to his career and aspirations.

Boyd Martin and longtime partner Tsetserleg TSF.

“I’m in a tricky part of my life where I’m trying to achieve everything I can achieve and then also this tricky balance of trying to be a good father and be present with my kids and this juggling act of paying a humongous mortgage at the farm,” he said. “I kind of like the pressure and the stress and the challenge of trying to figure it all out. I feel like I’ve got a window of 10 or 15 years where I really want to see how good I can be at this. I feel like I’m just about to come into my prime, and I’ve got a bunch of wicked great horses and awesome supporters, and I want to make sure in 10 years’ time that I look back on this era and feel like I absolutely gave my all.”

Boyd joked that he’s a hyperactive, high-energy person who doesn’t like to sit around or go on vacation, even in the winter.

“If you want to torture me, tell me to go sit on a beach and read a book,” he said. “When the end of the season came, I was off to Sweden to compete at the Stockholm Indoor Arena Championships, then a couple of weeks later I was in Japan coaching.”

His two older sons, Knox and Leo, are playing sports now, so he’s happy to stay busy and drive them to practice and cheer them on at their games. They’re enjoying riding horses too, but he and Silva don’t usually bring them to horse shows.

“I’ve really enjoyed [taking them to sports] where it reminds me of growing up in Australia and my dad was taking me to after school sports pretty much every evening of the week. I’m a nobody with the other dads on the sidelines cheering the kids on, which I like,” he said.

“To be really good at this sport you have to be completely obsessed, and that can be unhealthy a little bit in your family life sometimes, but I feel like we’ve got a good balance,” he continued. “We’re lucky we have a full-time nanny who lives at the farm and helps out. It’s a tough, tough balance not being so selfish and self-centered that you shun your family and then also this understanding that to be a true champion you’ve got to work harder and push yourself. You can’t be normal. You cannot be living a normal person’s life. You’ve got to live a little bit like a monk and train hard and be focused, but then the key is to switch that off a little bit at the end of the day and try to be a good member of the family.”

In addition to becoming a father, Boyd changed his life about six years ago after he kept getting hurt. He’d torn his groin several times and had undergone hip surgery. He’s now found a physical fitness routine that he follows to prevent injury.

“Every time I fell, I felt like I was breaking something or tearing a ligament or muscle. The last time I tore my groin I remember going to the doctor and asking if this was the end of my career,” he said. “He paused and looked at all the scans and MRIs and said, ‘No, but you’re going to have to make some changes.’ Right then and there it was this realization that if I can’t ride horses then the music stops. I did a complete 180—my lifestyle changed—my diet, and I stopped drinking alcohol, and I dedicated an hour and a half every morning to stretching and exercises and ice plunges. I feel like physically it made me completely better, and I feel like I’m riding better than I was five years ago.”

He found himself with more energy, and his mental health got better too. “I really look at the next decade of my career as trying everything I’ve got to be as good as I can, and let’s see how it goes and not to look back on it and regret that I could have tried harder or done something more to see if I could have been better than I was,” he said.

Boyd Martin and Commando 3.

As he heads into 2024 with an eye on Paris, Boyd’s grateful to be in the position he’s in with a strong group of supporters and some of the best horses he’s ever had.

“I’m lucky I’ve been slogging away at this sport for decades, and at the beginning, especially when I first came to America and in my days in Australia, you sort of rode whatever came your way, and I did the best with what I had, and now I’m able to start to pick some megahorses,” he said. “I’ve got some unbelievable supporters and sponsors and owners who are right behind me, and I don’t take it for granted. Starting eventing in Australia, I have probably seen the more humble side of what the sport is like in other parts of the world, and I understand how special it is to get the ride on these top horses so I am really pumped up for the next window of my life."

While a fourth Olympics would be a huge honor, Boyd’s realistic that only three pairs can go, so he’ll continue to focus on five-stars in 2024 as well.

“Long term, I’d like to get the world no. 1 spot, and I want to try and win some of these five-stars," he said.

“There’s only three that go [to Paris,] so I’m going to do everything I can to try and be one of those three, and not just be one of those three, but try and get a medal,” he added. “There’s still a long way to go, so I’m trying to not think too much about Olympics, but at this time of year, just work on getting the horses fit and build their fitness and stamina and endurance up, and then coming into February and March, have a couple of nice easy runs, then in April we’ll go hard and fast at some of the important ones, and then see where the chips lie. I’ve never really talked or thought too much about the Olympics; it’s more about what actually gets you there. It's a sound horse that’s in fantastic form that’s had some great results. I feel like if you can do that part, everything else happens afterwards.”

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