Photographs by Jim Graham
Everybody knows how important it is to get a good education. For Boyd Martin, however, spending time in the classroom wasn’t a preferred activity. “I was a terrible student, absolutely horrendous,” he says. “When I finished high school, there was no mention of college.”
Instead of pursuing a degree, Martin was “shipped off to a bunkhouse” in his native New South Wales, Australia, where he learned how to train horses. “It was obvious I wasn’t going to be an accountant or a brain surgeon,” he says.
Instead, Martin has channeled his competitive energy into becoming one of the world’s most accomplished equestrian athletes. At last summer’s Pan American Games in Peru, in the middle of an up-and-down year that included a broken collarbone, a hip-muscle tear and a broken pelvis, he won the stadium-jumping gold medal and was part of the American team that took the gold. He also logged wins at the Devon Horse Show and was second at the Kentucky Three Day Event (where riders participate in dressage, jumping and cross-country).
Now 40, Martin has competed around the world, and his record is filled with wins and medals. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t sit still in class. The best part of it all is that Martin might just be on the precipice of his prime in the sport. “As you get older, your reflexes slow down. But because it takes so many years to understand how to train the horses, the experience you gain counts for a lot,” says Martin. “When you look at the Olympics, most of the riders are 35 to 50.”
Martin’s wife, Silva, was born in Germany and is also an accomplished dressage competitor. In 2011, the couple purchased Windurra, an 80-acre farm 10 miles from Unionville, Pa. There, they house and train horses in dressage and eventing at a state-of-the art facility that caters to riders at a variety of skill levels. The Martins handle the demands of running and expanding their business while still training to remain competitive at elite levels. Members of Unionville’s Cheshire Hunt Club, they’ve become engrained in the Chester County horse community. “We purchased property here because it’s hunt country,” says Boyd.
In order to become the best he can be at dressage, Boyd takes lessons from Silva—and he’s an obedient student. “I’ve been coaching Boyd since 2002, and he doesn’t let me tell him anything in any other aspect of his life,” says Silva. “But he’s never talked back to me once when I’m teaching him dressage.”
Silva and Boyd met in 2002 when she was training horses in Australia and learning English. They were married four years later and moved to America in 2007 because Boyd felt he needed to compete against a broader base of riders. He’d won the major competitions and shows in Australia and New Zealand, but he felt isolated. “I felt I could be one of the best,” he says.
Accomplished equestrian Phillip Dutton was a friend of a friend who lived in West Grove. He welcomed Boyd and Silva, providing shelter, employment and a launching pad for their competitive endeavors. Boyd started competing from his new base, and he and his wife grew more and more comfortable in Chester County. After about four years, they purchased Windurra, thanks to “a lot of financial juggling” and help from the National Bank of Malvern. “We had to borrow every which way,” Boyd says. “The income of equestrian riders is sporadic.”
The couple weathered a major scare in 2014, when Silva took a nasty a fall from a horse. She suffered a traumatic brain injury that forced her to learn how to walk and talk again. Since then, the Martins have developed an interesting balancing act, training and participating in their own competitive pursuits as they welcome riders to Windurra for instruction. They also have two boys under the age of 5, Knox and Leo.
People come from as far away as New York and Virginia to ride and train at Windurra. The Martins want to make it into “one of the best training facilities in the world.” Each has a barn from which to work and a specific collection of pupils. “It’s a real juggling act,” Boyd says. “We want to make enough to pay the bills and our staff—but at the same time, I’m driven to become the very best in the world at three-day eventing.”
Last year’s Pan American triumph was an important one, and he hopes it signals the beginning of a run of competitive prosperity. Silva has faith that her pupil can get it done. “Boyd is one of the most disciplined people I know,” she says. “To be as good as he is, he has to be a little selfish. He’d rather die than come in second.”
Sounds like a proud teacher—one that Boyd Martin actually listens to.