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Silva and Boyd Martin: Building Partnerships

The top riders prove the strength of working together.
Credit: Amber Heintzberger

Credit: Amber Heintzberger

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. 

Opposites Attract

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.”

Credit: Amy K. Dragoo

Credit: Amy K. Dragoo

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.”


Support Crew

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 business agreement. While people own horses for all kinds of reasons, many owners really enjoy being involved in the horse’s training program and the social aspect of traveling to competitions. Keeping this relationship on good terms can be rewarding far beyond the financial rewards for riders.

Silva says that her owners provide an important support network. “I like to have a partnership with my owners because I think it’s so much better training and showing with a group of supporters rather than doing it alone,” she says. “I can talk to them about when things are going well or whether I’ve had a really good lesson or when something bad happens. They help out financially, but they’re also going through everything with me.”

To keep everyone happy, she says, “It’s very important to keep everyone informed. Boyd likes to talk to his syndicates through YouTube videos. I don’t talk on the video, but I share training sessions with the owners so they can see how the horses are going. 

She adds: “Sponsors are also an important part of keeping our business going, and it’s important to communicate with them as well. The outpouring of support after we were injured was unbelievable. Even people who aren’t directly related to the horses have been so generous through our recoveries.”

Silva has become close friends with many of her owners. She often stays with them when she’s traveling to shows and says, “It’s not just about the horse. I have a friendship with pretty much all of them. I love that.” 

Silva Martinis a Grand Prix dressage rider, popular instructor of dressage and event riders and a talented trainer of many types of horses from warmbloods to off-the-track Thoroughbreds. A native of Germany, she studied in Warendorf and holds her Bereiter instructor’s certification. Now a U.S. citizen, she represented the U.S. for the first time at the Nations Cup at the 2014 CDIO Wellington in Florida, where she helped bring home a team gold medal. Though wearing a helmet, Silva sustained a serious head injury in a schooling accident shortly after the Nations Cup and only recently has returned to competition after intensive rehabilitation. 

Boyd Martinwas a member of the 2014 Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, riding Shamwari 4. He was also the top-placing member of the U.S. team at the 2010 WEG and a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Boyd was The Chronicle of the Horse 2010 Eventing Horseman of the Year, and his horse Neville Bardos was the 2011 USEF International Horse of the Year. Boyd has a talented string of horses, including several world-class competitors. Boyd and Silva own and operate Windurra USA in Cochranville, Pennsylvania.