Top riders Boyd and Silva Martin prove the strength of working together.
Equestrian power couple Silva and Boyd Martin find synergy to create a winning system that prevails in the face of adversity.
From the highway in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, Windurra USA looks like an eventer’s paradise, with a world-class cross-country course sweeping away from the road. But follow the drive past the massive tree on the left, past the pastures and back to the barns and you’ll see the other side of the story: a tidy dressage arena, flanked by red roses, with a viewing pavilion to the side. The stables also tell a story: The dressage horses live in the original barn, also surrounded by roses, with a neatly swept aisle and perfectly folded blankets. The eventers live in shed rows, and the horses are equally well-cared for, but the structures are more workmanlike and buzzing with action as one horse comes in from fitness work and another is prepped for a jump school.
This is the balance that works for Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin and her three-day eventer husband, Boyd. The synergy between the seemingly opposite styles is impressive: The young dressage horses learn to hack out and go up and down hills, even school smalls jumps and go through water, while the event horses benefit from top-class dressage training.
The couple met at the races in Boyd’s native Australia, where Silva was elegantly dressed for a day out and he was tossing back beers with his mates. Somehow he worked his charm and convinced the gorgeous blonde to go on a date. They were married in 2007 and shortly after that traveled to the United States; Boyd arrived a few months ahead of Silva since he has dual citizenship thanks to his American-born mother. Silva followed him over and they worked out of eventer Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm for a few years before purchasing their own farm nearby. They have slowly and steadily built their business through successful partnerships with each other, their coaches, their students and supporters.
“In our personal lives Boyd and I couldn’t be more opposite, and I think that might be a good thing,” says Silva. “I’m very organized and tidy and Boyd is not. In the beginning it drove us crazy, but we’ve figured it out. It can still be annoying at times, but I’ve learned from him, too—I’m probably a little more relaxed and he’s more organized now. I’ve also learned to look at things in a more positive way. I’ve always been positive, but thanks to Boyd I think I generally have a better outlook on life.”
While Silva and Boyd keep two different barns, and the horses are very different, considering feed, fitness and so on, they use each other’s help all the time. “He breaks in my young horses and I help him with the dressage,” says Silva. “So we both benefit from both worlds.” (For techniques you can try, see the exercises on pp. 36–39.)
Considering that it can be challenging to accept criticism from someone to whom you are close, Boyd says that a respect for Silva’s talents makes it easy for him to accept her riding advice. “Silva’s definitely an expert in her field and has way more experience than I do. I think it would be harder to take advice from each other if we were both event riders, but her level of dressage expertise is far beyond what mine will ever be, which makes it easier to accept her advice.”
Silva helps Boyd with his horses
leading up to big competitions, usually in the morning.
“From 7:30 to 11:00a.m. is when the big action takes place at Windurra,” he says. “Silva will schedule me in during that time. Leading up to a big four-star we’ll close the arena to one or two top horses so they’re not distracted working through their tests. In the afternoons the young horses get done, so it’s a little more relaxed.”
While it might seem that they see an awful lot of each other, the division of dressage/event horses means that they mainly cross paths on horseback in the dressage ring or when Silva is out in the field doing fitness work with her horses. The barns and turnout fields also are all very separate.
“Everyone works hard, and I think we’re all a good team,” says Boyd. “We mutually chip in with the upkeep and maintenance of general stuff.”
Both Boyd and Silva were injured in early 2014: Following her win at the
Gold Cup, Silva fell off a horse in a schooling session and sustained a brain injury (which would have been worse had she not been wearing her helmet at the time). A couple weeks later, Boyd broke his leg when a horse ran out at a cross-country fence during the Carolina International three-day event. Thanks to Phillip Dutton keeping his horses in training and competing, Boyd was able to focus on physical therapy and just managed to make the World Equestrian Games Team with a strong finish at the Luhmuehlen CCI**** in Germany, riding Shamwari 4. After a successful spring season together, Phillip rode Boyd’s horse Trading Aces at the World Equestrian Games.
“I think time off recovering from injuries counts as our vacation time,” says Boyd. “It’s hard to take time off after eight weeks out of the saddle. We both enjoy our time in the saddle and find satisfaction improving the farm and facilities, so I think that counts as our leisure time.”
The Horse–Rider Bond
“I think a partnership with any animal or person takes a long time,” says Silva. “When I look at horses to buy, they have to be very honest, especially for an amateur. I’ve got to be able to do everything I want to do. What you have that day is what you’re going to have. You have to spend time with them. It’s not that easy. It’s a hard thing to find a horse in the first place that works for you.”
Boyd agrees: “Building a partnership with a new horse, the first ingredient is time. It takes time together, time for you to learn the quirks and subtle things about the horse. Once they get the hang of how you ride and train, as time goes on, a partnership does build. There’s no fast track for this. The more
experiences the better. Getting out in the real world of competition, with pressure and atmosphere, will help build a bond and create a team between you and your horse.”
Silva says, “I think it’s very important to spend a lot of time with the horse. I try to take them out of the ring, too. It’s important to go out and hack and see how the horse feels and what he thinks. You can’t be impatient; you have to give it time. Patience is the name of the game.”
The old saying, “It takes a village,” couldn’t ring more true than in the case of Boyd and Silva. When the barn at True Prospect Farm burned to the ground in 2011 and both Boyd’s and Silva’s father passed away that summer, they discovered how supportive the equestrian community could be. This year was also off to a bumpy start, and they are quick to recognize once again how important their support network has been.
“I’ve always got a theory that everyone is just as important as everyone else,” says Boyd. “The person feeding the horse is just as important as the person tacking up, training, etc. Every detail is important. I feel like we’ve created wonderful riders, so when we’re out of commission the horses are brilliantly trained and ridden just as well.”
Silva agrees: “Of course, this hasn’t been a great year physically since I had a head injury and Boyd broke his leg, but it’s still been a success with the horses. I couldn’t do it without Gracia Hueneberg, Scout Ford and Kimberly Pullen, who stood behind me 100 percent and kept the horses going while I was supposed to rest. Maybe they can’t train the horses exactly as I do, but they can keep them fit and going for me.
“It’s important to treat them right. They’re good people and 100 percent behind us. Scout has been riding Rosa for me while Scout and Kimberly have been showing the young ones. It’s so important that they go out and see things and get experience, and I couldn’t be happier. They’ve all been bringing home blue ribbons, too!”
The Owner–Rider Partnership
“We’ve got a number of owners and each of them is a slightly different partnership or connection,” explains Boyd. “A couple of them don’t want to talk to us at all—they communicate just by email. I totally get that. Some of them want to hear from us every day. Some have a connection with you and want to help you out while some are infatuated with their horse and want to be a part of that. Everyone’s involved for different reasons and it’s important to figure out what makes everyone tick and over time provide that service.”
The partnership between rider and horse owner can extend well beyond a
Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin and her three-day eventer husband, Boyd, mainly cross paths on horseback. But at the end of the day, Boyd can be found on the sofa in the rustic but elegantly furnished farmhouse, with his feet propped up and a couple of cats curled up on his chest as he watches a boxing match on TV. Nearby, Silva peruses fashion magazines and thinks about starting her own line of equestrian apparel.
LEFT: Silva and Boyd agree that it would be harder to take advice from each other if they were both event riders. But Boyd recognizes that Silva’s level of dressage expertise is far beyond his, and that makes it easier to accept her advice.
BOTTOM LEFT: The couple enjoys travel, and Boyd is a serious sports fan who avidly follows his favorite boxing competitors and has traveled to a few big matches. But they are both so intensely into equestrian sport that they rarely take time away from the farm, except to travel to competitions and clinics.
RIGHT: Silva says patience is the name of the game when it comes to building a good partnership with any animal or person.
ABOVE: The partnership between rider and horse owner can extend well beyond a business agreement. Here Boyd is with syndicate members Gretchen and George Wintersteen at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.