The U.S. Eventing star – no stranger to adversity – savors his double-gold effort at the Pan Am Games while looking to the challenges ahead
The Pan American Games were Team USA’s last chance, and even Boyd Martin — one of the United States’ leading international riders — was feeling the heat.
After a lackluster showing at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, the U.S. Eventing Team had failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Everything was riding on the Pan Ams in Lima, Peru.
“We went down to Lima knowing we had to get the gold or silver in the team event to secure the U.S. a spot at the Tokyo Olympics,” Boyd says. “It was a little bit of pressure. I think the U.S. Team had very strong horses and four great riders and we had just an unbelievable team of coaches, managers, therapists, blacksmiths and grooms. We went down there feeling very, very confident.”
Determined and steady, he and his 12-year-old Trakehner partner, Tsetserleg (known as Thomas), won individual gold, and the United States put up gutsy performances in all three phases of the eventing competition to secure team gold – and a trip to Tokyo.
Despite a string of challenges and tragedies, Boyd, 40, has built a wildly successful career. So when the pressure was on in Lima, he brought his best.
“I’m glad I got to (stand on the podium) twice, because it was a bit of a blur when I was there for the Team,” Boyd recalls. “It wasn’t until I got the individual medal when I actually took a deep breath and thought about how hard everyone had worked for that moment. It was just a very, very humbling and gratifying experience.”
A Model of Resilience
A two-time Olympian, Boyd is no stranger to standing on the podium. In fact, the quest for athletic excellence is deeply woven into his DNA: His mother, a speed skater, and his father, a cross country skier, both competed in the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.
Raised in Sydney, Australia, Boyd arrived in the United States in 2007 with hopes of achieving his three-day eventing dreams — and he did just that, making his Olympic debut for Team USA at the 2012 London Games.
But that achievement was bracketed by a series of devastating events in Boyd’s life. In 2011, a barn fire claimed the lives of six horses, including his top mount, and later that year, Boyd’s father died in a cycling accident. Shortly afterward, the family’s mourning continued with the death of his father-in-law. Then, in 2014, Boyd’s wife, Silva, a dressage rider, suffered a brain injury in a schooling accident — just three weeks before Boyd would break his leg in competition.
To many, such a sequence of setbacks would seem insurmountable. But Boyd and Silva are nearly single-minded in their passion for their careers, and the duo weren’t about to give up. In 2015 — only a little more than a year after his injury — Boyd was part of a team gold-medal win at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, and he’s shown no signs of slowing since then.
Today, Boyd’s life revolves around their sons, Nox and Leo, his horses and Windurra, the farm he and Silva own and operate in Cochranville, Pa., where the two help train each other.
“I’ve said it before, but I feel terribly spoiled marrying a dressage trainer,” Boyd writes in his blog. “She’s put thousands of hours of her own time into me and my eventing horses.”
The Next Goal: Tokyo 2020
One of those horses is none other than Thomas, Boyd’s Pan Am mount. Ironically, Boyd wasn’t terribly impressed when he first met Thomas, owned by Christine Turner of Indian Creek Farm, in 2015.
After Thomas’ original rider retired, Boyd was handed the reins and noted that Thomas was laid-back — even lazy — until his first show. “He just changed completely and became an incredible competitor,” Boyd recalls of their first official outing together.
From that day on, Boyd knew Thomas was special, destined for an eventing career in the limelight. And with Boyd’s training, Thomas has blossomed. This fall, Boyd is giving Thomas a well-deserved break after a string of victories.
“I’m starting to think about gently gearing him up toward Tokyo and working backward from there,” Boyd explains. “I think the key with all teams is timing. You’ve got to be in form at the right moment.”
But first, Boyd and Thomas will have to make the U.S. Olympic Team. Similar to the Pan Am selection process, riders participate in a designated competition, and then a team of selectors, including the team coach and team veterinarian, will make their official recommendations for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
“If you’ve been to the Olympics a couple times, you can’t get comfortable and start thinking you’re entitled to be on the team,” says Boyd. “You have to work very hard and stay hungry. There are a lot of American riders doing everything they can to be the best in the world. It’s going to be a very competitive challenge to make the Eventing Team come Tokyo.”