Journey in Honor: Boyd Martin and Fedarman B’s Unexpected Partnership for Paris

U.S. Olympic Eventing Team member Boyd Martin talks about the tragic and unlikely turn of events that ultimately paired him with Fedarman B and how he prepared the gelding for the biggest event his career.

With three Olympics to his name, it’s fair to say that U.S. Eventing Team member Boyd Martin is well versed in preparing horses for major events like the Summer Games. As with any Olympic athlete, the process of priming and peaking a horse is in many ways a science of its own.

“I’ve made every mistake you could ever imagine,” Martin mused. “The biggest thing is learning from the errors and thinking back to what you did right, what you did wrong and trying to refine it each time.”

With his Olympic team horse, the Annie Goodwin Syndicate’s Fedarman B (Eurocommerce Washington – Paulien B, by Fedor), Martin said his focus in these final few weeks is fine-tuning using short, intensive work sessions to keep the 14-year-old KWPN gelding fresh.

U.S. Eventing Team member Boyd Martin and 14-year-old KWPN gelding Fedarman B competed in their final mandatory outing before the Paris Games at the Stable View Horse Trials this past June. © Alana Harrison, Practical Horseman

“Dressage is probably the part where we’re slowly but surely always improving,” he said, crediting his wife, Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin, for her help in this phase. “He’s a nice, laid-back, quiet horse. He never gets wound up, but for some reason I’ve never had the ‘perfect’ dressage test on him.”

Martin noted that the gelding can get a bit long and strung out, so they work on training him in an uphill frame by getting his withers and shoulders up.

“That way it’s more about short, intense sessions rather than drilling him to where he gets a bit sour,” he added. “And we give him a lot of walk breaks to freshen up; I feel like if you try and hold them in an uphill frame for too long, it can be a bit taxing on them.”

Finding Hope Through Tragedy

As well as he knows the horse and what he needs in terms of training now, learning the ins and outs of “Bruno” didn’t come without its trials.

In the summer of 2021, Martin was in Germany with his fellow American teammates preparing for the Tokyo Olympics when he received a crushing phone call. It was Barry Olliff, owner of Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina.

Annie Goodwin, a talented rising star in the sport of eventing, had produced Fedarman B since his 3-year-old year up through the Advanced/CCI4* level. During a routine cross-country practice ride, Annie took a devastating fall. She did not survive the accident.

“It was just a surreal thing that you almost didn’t believe it was true,” Martin reflected. He had coached Goodwin throughout her career.

Upon returning from Tokyo, Martin received another phone call. This time, it was from Goodwin’s father, Putter Goodwin. He wanted to know if Martin would be willing to take over with Fedarman B, who’d been his daughter’s top eventing horse, to get the gelding in training again.

Working Through the Kinks

“We had no real plan,” Martin said. “It was just the idea of getting him going and seeing how he went. And when I first got him, I don’t think he liked me at all!”

To that point, Goodwin had virtually been the only rider to ever sit on Fedarman B, and her style of riding naturally differed from Martin’s. Here, Martin admits he might have pushed too hard or moved up too quickly.

“Bruno was very unsure of me, and to be honest it showed up in the riding,” Martin explained. “He was very nervous and backed off on cross country, and I didn’t know if that was just the way he went or if he just didn’t like me. I stupidly moved him up to Advanced and got eliminated a couple times, and at that point I didn’t know if we had a future together.”

While Martin and Fedarman B didn’t have an instant connection, the three-time Olympic rider persevered and took his time establishing a solid foundation with the gelding to improve their partnership. © Amy K. Dragoo

At the same time, Martin wanted to do the best by Goodwin’s parents. So, he took Bruno back down to Intermediate and kept chipping away at their progress. In hindsight, Martin said he took the wrong tactic in trying to inject bravery into his new partner before the gelding was ready.

“I think I was going down the wrong track. Bruno was nervous of ditches and corners and that sort of thing. I tried to correct it through aggressive riding, and to be honest, it kind of backfired and made things worse. So I tried a different tack of slowing down and steadying him up, letting him measure and see the jump.”

Here, Martin credits advice he received from Goodwin’s longtime friends Erin Kanara and Caitlin Silliman. They knew both Goodwin and Bruno well. “I sort of got a ‘half-halt’ from a few friends,” he laughed. “They knew him and his training more than me. And it was going so badly I knew I had to listen to someone.”

‘Aha’ Moment

While Martin can’t pinpoint a specific point in time when his training felt wholly different with Fedarman B, he recalls the 2022 Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase in Aiken, South Carolina, as a pivotal juncture in their partnership.

“At that time, things really started to click. Bruno went like a legend and won the Grand-Prix Eventing,” he said. “From that moment, we never looked back. Suddenly, he understood me. And I understood him. I rallied a group of 10 people to chip in and purchase him.”

That year, Martin and Fedarman B competed in Europe, placing seventh in the CCIO4*-L at Boekelo in Anschede, The Netherlands. Later, they finished in eighth at the gelding’s first CCI5* debut at Luhmuhlen, Germany. The consistency the pair has demonstrated since then earned them a berth on the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team heading to Paris this summer.

Path to Paris

Martin notes that his path to the Olympics this year has been different than in the past. “It’s the first time I’ve gone to the Olympics without doing a spring five-star,” he explained. “For London, Rio and Tokyo, I did Kentucky in the spring. And by the time we got to the Olympics, the horses were a bit knackered and tired. So I felt by doing four stars, I would arrive in Paris with a fresher horse.”

As assured as someone with Martin’s CV could be in their preparation for a competition like the Olympics, he admits he wasn’t always bursting with confidence in his plan.

Martin opted to compete with Fedarman B in the CCI4*-S at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event last spring to help keep the gelding fresh for the biggest event of his career. © Amy K. Dragoo

“In hindsight, it was the right choice, but it was a bit of a nerve-wracking decision. It’s always challenging because you have to get on the team. And the U.S. has so many top options,” Martin noted. “I was terrified there would be a lot of top results in the five-star at Kentucky this past spring. And if I was mediocre in the four-star, I would be left out. But I also decided to push the horses [Fedarman B and Yankee Creek Ranch LLC’s Commando 3, who is Martin’s direct reserve mount] a bit last year, and did Luhmühlen and Pau for a flatter five-star that’s similar to the Olympics to prove they’re up to the standard.”

Timing, Fitness Are Key

The biggest lesson Martin said he’s learned about preparations like this is that it truly is all about timing. “It’s about making sure you and your horses are in good health, good form and performing well in April and May ahead of the Olympics.”

Martin maintains a robust fitness program for his horses at home. They do some variation of conditioning work every other day. This could include a long walk and jog before dressage or a jump school. Other times, he might trot them on the conditioning track, do long, slow canters or gallop sets or have them do a session in the conditioning pond.

“Fitness is a cumulative thing,” Martin noted. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible horsemen and women to provide our horses with regular conditioning. This really builds up the base of fitness they need for big-time events.”

Gratitude Through Heartache

As he puts the final touches on Fedarman B (as well as onto Commando 3, who will step in should there be any last-minute issues with Fedarman B), Martin feels a combination of sorrow and gratitude for the many doors this special horse has opened.

Martin and Commando 3, his direct reserve mount for the Paris Olympics, also competed in the U.S. Olympic Eventing Teams’ final mandatory outing at Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina. © Alana Harrison, Practical Horseman

“It’s an unbelievable thing to take a horse after that sort of situation and move forward,” he expressed. “The Goodwins have been very generous in allowing me to take Bruno on and see what he had. And he’s turned out to be one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden. I think and hope Annie would be proud of what he’s become and what he has yet to do.”

For More:

  • To read more about our coverage of Boyd Martin going into the 2024 Paris Olympics, click here.
  • To read more about our overall coverage of this year’s Summer Games, click here.

Thanks to Cosequin for our coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympics. It includes rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.

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