I was lucky enough to compete at the London Olympics and the Rio Olympics, but I’d have to say that the Olympics we experienced in Tokyo was one like no other. Obviously, it was quite a tricky event to get prepared for: Exactly a year ago, we were ready to go and fired up to execute, and the Olympics were delayed by a year. Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it was still quite tricky in 2021—even in the lead-up this year, there was talk that it might all be canceled.
Beyond that, the American horses had a heck of a challenge even getting there: We flew to Germany to quarantine for 10 days before we flew to Tokyo, so it was a marathon to even get to the “starting line.” There was a fair bit of negative press leading up to the Olympics, but I decided to go with the mindset that I would enjoy every moment. I knew it would be awkward and inconvenient, but in future years I’ll look back at photos of the empty stands and all of us with masks on and think, What an extraordinary time.
Tokyo itself was an unbelievable venue. When we got there, the first thing that really took my breath away was the heat and humidity. We had to ride early in the morning and late in the evening. Everything stopped in the middle of the day when it got really hot. In the 10 days leading up to our competition, we’d get a bus to the venue at about 5 a.m., ride the horses, go back to the hotel and swim, read books and have a nap, then go back to the barns for another session at 6 or 7 p.m.
It was quite a small team compared to my past experiences: We had three on the team and Mai Baum as reserve. I feel like the riders all got on well and there was good, positive energy amongst the group of Team USA.
The event was an exciting one: Team USA selected three strong horses and riders, with an emphasis on finishing a team. In other Olympics, sadly, we’ve had a few unfortunate rounds and America didn’t compete at team. Being completely honest, I went to Tokyo with aspirations of getting in with the top placings, but it wasn’t to be. Right from the start, things didn’t go well for me and Thomas, with a less-than-stellar dressage test, but I will say on cross-country he was very good and in show jumping our first round was brilliant. Sadly, in the last round of show jumping, to decide the individual placings, he definitely felt tired and overwhelmed by the massive course, and we had a couple of rails down.
It was a bit of a weird feeling coming home: It was a moderate success, finishing the team in sixth place, but I felt a bit empty at missing my goals for a top finish. I can honestly say no stone was left unturned in my training and preparation, and it just didn’t come off on the day. This is the nature of competitive sport, and Thomas and I will bounce back.
I feel like the USA is in a very strong position coming into the World Equestrian Games next year. The group of horses and riders that were at the mandatory outing at Great Meadow in Virginia was a good, strong group of nine or 10 horses. If they all keep trending well over the next year, America will be a force to be reckoned with.
I will add that Thomas has been an incredibly special horse for me. I must give thanks to his owner, Christine Turner, for her ongoing support. Thomas is an absolute tryer and a very resilient animal. I don’t believe there are too many horses in the world that have done a WEG, Pan Ams and Olympics, as he has, and I feel like there’s still plenty left in the tank. He’s 14 years old and I think if I play my cards right, there will be plenty more big events in his future.
Boyd Martin and Thomas, owned by Christine Turner, competing on the cross-country course at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Photo by FEI/Christophe Taniére