Well known for both his fun-loving approach to life and his indefatigable work ethic, Boyd Martin has represented the U.S.A. in three-day eventing at two Olympic Games and two World Championships, and was on the gold-medal-winning Pan Am Games team in 2015. Boyd’s wife, Silva Martin, is a grand prix dressage rider and they have a son, Nox. Boyd and Silva train out of their own farm, Windurra USA in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, and spend winters at Stable View Farm in Aiken, South Carolina.
How can I get my horse to lengthen his stride to make a five-stride related distance when he keeps putting in six strides? When I put my leg on, he just gets nappy and sometimes throws in a little buck.
One of the first things to do is work on changing the length of his stride. I had the same trouble with a horse a few years ago and I contacted my buddy Mark Beecher, who’s a winning timber racing rider. Mark is really an expert at jumping at speed, and we took the horse out in a field and made him go quite fast in an effort to open up his stride. At the start, the horse was sort of short and choppy in his gait, but the more we did it the more he began to open up his stride. Obviously this is critical for cross-country, when you’re galloping and jumping. A big ring or an open field is the ideal place for this.
With a nappy horse, turn into a “Pony Club kid” and give the horse a good boot! It’s a sign the horse isn’t in front of your leg; sometimes it gets worse before it gets better but you’ve got to address it.
When it comes to schooling for show jumping, I also like to throw a couple rails on the ground, at no particular distance, then go through on a regular pace. Then I leave out a stride, then add a stride, which is a very definite way to show if the horse is lengthening and shortening the stride. The next step is to use that exercise in a jumping course.
My horse keeps cross-cantering when I do a flying lead change. Do you have any suggestions to help him make clean changes?
Usually this is a reflection of your flat work; for me, I train a lot of counter-canter so they understand that when we change direction we don’t necessarily want to have a lead change. Over the years, this has been handy so the horses don’t anticipate that you’re changing leads. But schooling the flying change is important and should be done under a watchful eye so the horse understands it’s a change of lead in one stride, not the back end a few strides later. Getting a clean change goes back to the connection from the inside leg to the outside rein. The horse has to understand a flying change isn’t a change of direction — they need to stay very straight, not pull the shoulder from one side to the other.
I am thinking about having a saddle custom made for my horse. Do you think this is worth the money?
I just visited the Stubben headquarters in Germany; I’ve been working with them for years and they make fantastic saddles and all kinds of equestrian equipment. After I competed at Luhmuehlen, I visited my wife, Silva’s, sister Laura in Dusseldorf and one of Stubben’s head offices is there, so I was lucky enough to meet with saddlemakers Jan and Johannes and they really spent some valuable time showing me the attention to detail and the process that goes into making their saddles. I was blown away. It’s really a blend between old-fashioned, handcrafted saddle making combined with the latest technology in the way they’re building some of the saddle trees; they’re really on the cutting edge. It was interesting seeing where all the saddles come from, from the raw bits of leather to the saddle makers cutting and stitching, and seeing how customized each piece of equipment is.
I’ve been lucky that they’ve customized the saddles for a lot of my horses over the years, and I must admit that I never really thought too much about things like the design of the tree. But they pay absolute attention to every detail, from the gullet size to the material for the flocking. It’s amazing how precise they can be to make sure the horses don’t get sore backs and can perform as well as they can. I would say that a custom saddle is well worth the money.