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 two sons, Nox and Leo. 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.
What sort of stabling do you recommend for your horses?
When we first bought our property in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, we were based at Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm in nearby West Grove. Our first task was to move Silva’s dressage horses into our new facility; she had about 18 horses in work, and we only had six stalls. Lucky for us, we learned about a company called Horizon Structures, whose manufacturing facility is located just down the road.
We found out what they had to offer and met with the owner of the company, Dave Zook, who recommended their pre-fabricated shed row stalls for our purposes. We had 12 stalls built by his crew of Amish men; they are 12 x 12 stalls with automatic waterers and windows, so the horses have room to move around, are easy to take care of and relaxed in their stables. The stalls have weathered well and still look great.
My event horses live in somewhat less glamorous conditions, though their stables are workmanlike and our horses are happy. Due to the barn fire at True Prospect Farm, where six of our horses perished, we needed to move quickly into our new farm, which was still undeveloped. Fortunately, we found some second-hand prefabricated stalls, which were built by Horizon Structures, at a farm in foreclosure down the road. We were able to snap up 26 stalls and quickly move the horses in and get my business up and running.
After the fire, it is important to us to have easy access to all of the horses, and I find our shed rows, while lacking some of the amenities of today’s more glamorous modern showplaces like a luxury tack room and interiors that rival most peoples’ houses, are extremely functional. We actually like the Horizon products so much that we added a gazebo for viewing our dressage ring and some run-in sheds for the pastures.
My horse tends to drop weight every winter, and by spring he’s in pretty poor condition. Do you have any suggestions for horse management in the winter?
Boyd’s groom, Stephanie Simpson, stepped up to answer the question.
As the temperatures start to drop, it becomes critical that you begin to monitor your horse’s weight. A horse that tends to lose weight is a much harder creature to manage than one that packs on the pounds over the winter months. However, there are a few tricks to keeping every type of horse looking and feeling their best during this off season. Generally, horses that have a harder time maintaining and/or gaining weight expend too many calories trying to keep warm. In addition to adequate blanketing, I supplement their normal feed ration with Purina Hay Stretcher. This is a roughage pellet that acts as added forage when grass begins to die off. Hay Stretcher is also a good alternative for horses that don’t need added energy. Another product that we have found very beneficial is the Purina Hydration Hay, a compressed hay and alfalfa mixture. The block is added to a bucket of water, creating a mash. This is not only good for added calories, but also helps horses stay hydrated.
In addition to weight management, water consumption is also a very important factor in keeping horses healthy in the winter. Horses that do not consume enough water also benefit from Hydration Hay, which delivers water disguised as food. It’s also very important that horses are able to be active, even on the coldest days. Riding, hand walking, turnout, whatever the mode may be, it’s important not only for them mentally but also for their digestive systems. Most often, some kind of activity will encourage them to drink. Electrolytes are just as important in the winter as they are in the summer: Although your horse may not be sweating as much, electrolytes promote adequate drinking.
How do you get your young event horses started?
Since the upper-level horses are having a break after the competition season, November and December is a good time to break in a few racehorses and spend a couple months focusing on the 3-year-olds that will start competing mid-year next year. We first break them in the spring, in April or May, then give them six months off in the big field to be young wild horses. Then, come November, we put their first set of front shoes on and get started with their training.
When they come back to work in November it’s the first time I ask them to come into a round shape on the flat. Personally, I don’t use any side reins or draw reins. I learned from Heath Ryan, who’s very natural in his approach and we teach them in a gentle way that they can relax and stretch their necks and backs. In this time, I also start preparing my horses to jump; we’ll start with some trot poles and then small fences with a placing pole encouraging them to push off close to the fence and make a round shape.
The rest of the training with the young horses is quite fun for them; I often put them in a big group and get my assistant riders to hop on and we go riding in a big group for about 45 minutes to an hour. We head to Aiken on January 1st, and after this first two months of training, it’s time for the youngsters to have a rest. They’ll get a vacation until we get back in April and from that moment on they become proper competition horses, like any other horse in work.
Starting these young horses is incredibly important. I make a point to anyone who works for me that this is where horses learn to be even on both reins, relaxed and happy, and not to take these two months lightly, as habits learned now will stay with these horses forever.