Lexington Lead-Up: Boyd Martin & Tsetserleg

Boyd Martin shares what he and his 2018 World Equestrian Games partner, Tsetserleg, have been working on in preparation for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
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Less than a week before the Kentucky Three-Day Event kicked off, I made my way to Boyd & Silva Martin’s Windurra in southeastern Pennsylvania, where I sat in on Boyd’s dressage training sessions with Olympian and USEF ‘R’ Eventing Judge Peter Gray. “There are great riders; there are great trainers; and then there are great competitors—those that have the competitive gene. It’s incredibly rare to have all three qualities in one person, and he’s got it,” said Peter, nodding at Boyd.

Olympian and judge Peter Gray works with Boyd Martin and Ray Price. 

Olympian and judge Peter Gray works with Boyd Martin and Ray Price. 

I watched Boyd work with the 12-year-old Trakehner gelding Tsetserleg (Windfall x Thabana by Buddenbrock), his 2018 WEG partner and currently most seasoned mount, and his 11-year-old homebred Ray Price (Raise A Stanza x Fair Fiona W by Salute). Boyd’s wife and dressage rider, Silva, was also there to critique his dressage rides and offer advice, and a student recorded Boyd practicing his test so he could review it later.

See also: Winning a Day with Boyd & Silva Martin

After Boyd’s rides with Peter, we chatted a bit about his Kentucky Three-Day Event contender Tsetserleg, or Thomas, and about his rising stars Ray Price and Long Island T, both of whom he has since decided to withdraw from the competition.

Although Boyd got a late start to the season after breaking his left collarbone in February while foxhunting, he and Thomas took first at the Tryon CCI4*-S two weeks ago. It was an especially sweet victory for the pair who overcame the troubles they had at the infamous boat in the water complex during the 2018 WEG.

What’s Thomas like in the barn and to ride?

He’s a funny horse, he’s like a big pony. He’s sort of the favorite horse of everyone who works here. I didn’t think much of him when he first turned up. We’ve had him for three or four years now. Up until now he’s been a bit of a green horse, but now this is his second year of five star, and he’s probably quite seasoned. He’s a real workman in all three phases. He’s probably the quietest five-star horse I’ve had. For the dressage, he doesn’t mind if there’s a big crowd or a big atmosphere. For cross county, he’s a great galloper—I’ve got him very, very fit. For the show jumping, that would be his harder phase. He’s a good jumper but he’s a bit awkward in his jumps, so I’ve really got to give him a spot-on ride to get a clear round. It’s the first time that I’ve had him at this level where I think he could really give it a good shot. It’s exciting—I think he could do it.

Boyd says that show jumping is Tsetserleg's hardest phase.

Boyd says that show jumping is Tsetserleg's hardest phase.

You’ve just eluded to it a bit, but what are you goals for the Kentucky Three-Day Event with Thomas?

A five star is a funny thing. Even if you do everything right, prepare perfectly and ride well, it’s a funny sport where it can still go all wrong and on cross-country day, which is obviously the hard day, you really do have to go for it if you want to be competitive. If you play it safe and go a bit slow or take a long route on the cross country here or there, it’s very, very hard to be competitive. There is a point where you’ve got to really go for it. The good thing is, up until now it’s been a bit on a wing and a prayer, and this year he’s up for it so it’s a little bit more of a calculated—he should do well. Up until now we’ve sort of been hoping for the best.

Boyd and Tsetserleg finished 11th at the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Boyd and Tsetserleg finished 11th at the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Two weeks ago you and Thomas were able to get some redemption at the Fork Horse Trials at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. How did it feel to not only overcome the problems you had at WEG, but to win the event?

It’s a great event at Tryon. I hope they keep that one going because it’s a wonderful preparation for Kentucky. It was an identical sort of feeling to the WEG except there weren’t as many spectators. The cross country was a very similar course and obviously the infamous boat was in the water and it was good to ride down to it and ride over it and he jumped it very well. Thinking back on the WEG there were a number of things that went wrong. I gave him not a very good ride and then also at the same time he was a bit distracted by all the bustle and hoopla and everything around it and that combination led to a refusal. This year I rode it a lot differently. I came in pretty strong and we jumped in the water well and got a good shot over that boat, so that was rewarding. It was good day to get a win, but also, you have to remind yourself not everyone was trying to win there, and not all the best horses were there, there were some at Chattahoochee [another CCI4*-S in Fairburn, Georgia], so it was good to get some prize money and win the class, but it still doesn’t mean that he’s the best horse in the country.

What have you been working on with Thomas to prepare for Kentucky?

A bit of everything. You’ve got to get them very, very fit; you’ve got to keep them sound. The dressage is a funny one, we’ve got to get them through and soft and using themselves, and then on top of that you’ve got to actually work hard on the particular movements in the test—it’s a combination. Jumping—same thing—you’ve got to get them jumping well, get them careful, get them using themselves, but then also ride really well around the course. And then cross country, same thing, not just jump all the jumps but you got to do it fast. Sometimes going fast rattles them a little bit, it’s just a very, very tough sport because there’s all tiny little things you’ve got to keep working on and then you’ve got to put it all together really well and when it really counts.

Can you tell me a little bit about your homebred, Ray Price?

He’s really, really green. To be honest I’m in two minds whether to run him or not. He’s by far the least experienced of the three, but he’s the fastest of the three. He’s nearly all Thoroughbred. I bred him in Australia and a syndicate owns him. He’s a great horse. He did two four-star longs [Jersey Fresh CCI4*-L and Fair Hill CCI4*-L] last year, and then this would but his first five star, if I decide to take him. I’m not sure, I’ve still got a bit of time to prepare and make sure—I’m trying to think of the Olympic Games in the back of my mind—I’ve got him going very well and I’ll make a decision whether it’s the best thing for him or not.

[Ray] is a really, really sweet horse. He’s very kind and charming and loves little kids. But then he’s also a bit quirky when you run him. You couldn’t take a rain coat off [when you’re on] him. He gets a little bit spiced up or stirred up when a horse is coming straight at him so he’s a little bit sharp. On the ground, he’s very sweet. Probably the hardest thing to do is catch him. I often giggle watching the staff trying to catch him and they’re trying to persuade him with some grain and trying all different techniques to try to convince him to come in to do his work. But he loves being out in the field and he’d stay out there all day, every day if he had it his way.

Boyd and Ray Price at the $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at Bruce's Field in Aiken, South Carolina, in early March.

Boyd and Ray Price at the $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at Bruce's Field in Aiken, South Carolina, in early March.

Can you tell me where his name came from?

His father is a stallion called Raise A Stanza, which is an American Thoroughbred stallion that was a shuttle stallion [a breeding stallion who travels between the Northern and Southern hemispheres for their respective breeding season]back to Australia so that’s sort of where the Ray name came from, and then my father’s most favorite rugby player was a guy called Ray Price. Ray Price was the toughest, meanest, ugliest rugby league player you’ve ever seen—missing teeth, blood all over his face, and mud, and my father used to idolize him. He played for the Parramatta Eels and he was bred in Australia and Ray being by Raise A Stanza became Ray Price.

Boyd and Ray Price working on their dressage at home.

Boyd and Ray Price working on their dressage at home.

What’s Long Island T like?

He’s a very exciting horse, Long Island T—Ludwig we call him in the barn. A syndicate owns him as well. We’ve just had him about two years now. He’s very, very strong in the dressage, good in the show jumping, he’s brave cross county, but almost too brave. He gets very strong and a little bit wild and a little bit hard to control and he’ll jump anything you point him at now, but he gets fired up and holy moly, he’s hard to hold when he’s fired up.

Long Island T is almost too brave on cross country, says Boyd. 

Long Island T is almost too brave on cross country, says Boyd. 

How to get yourself physically ready for a big competition like Kentucky?

I try to get quite fit. I get a little bit heavy and unhealthy over November and December so basically the beginning of January I start watching my diet and what I’m eating and try to get a little bit fitter and stronger. I’ve had a bit of a rough winter. I broke my collarbone in February and then I injured my back a couple of weeks ago, so I am trying to keep myself in one piece as well as the horses. Usually on Monday mornings I go to the personal trainer, on Wednesdays I go to the chiropractor and Friday mornings we have yoga in my basement. I try to stay on quite a healthy diet and stay fit and strong and try to and get pretty light because it is quite a test of endurance—I think [the cross-country course is] 4 miles around the Kentucky Horse Park, so you want to be in shape.

How do you stay focused at a competition like Kentucky?

You got to try to block everything out in the moment you sit on[the horses]. Don’t answer your phone, don’t talk to anyone and just really try to take a deep breath and concentrate in the moment that you’re riding your horse because it can get very hectic and overwhelming. We don’t have many events like this, so it can freak you out a little bit, but I always look at it as just an absolute privilege to ride there and you should be honored that that many people are interested in what you’re doing. I think for that small, short period of time it’s exciting and everyone wants to be part of it but to get the best performance, you’ve got of remain in your own little bubble or your own little world and try to concentrate and get the best out of you and horse. 

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