Meet Kentucky favourite Tsetserleg TSF: ‘He looked like an oversized pony – a bit fat, a bit woolly’

  • US rider Boyd Martin will start as one of the favourites at next week’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event (22-25 April) on Tsetserleg TSF, who was the runner-up at the event in 2019.

    There’s no doubt Tsetserleg – who is named after a town in Mongolia and is known as Thomas at home – is now one of the best event horses in the world, but Boyd didn’t immediately pick him out as a star when he first saw him.

    “When I first came to America [from Australia], I did a clinic down in Waco, Texas, and there was a four-year-old 15.3h black little horse with a South African rider. I remember the horse just because his sire was Windfall, who I knew well from Darren Chiacchia riding him around the Olympic Games, so it caught my eye,” remembers Boyd in an interview on episode 46 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

    Tim Holekamp’s Trakehner Windfall 2 won the modified division at Kentucky in 2004, the year the event ran a traditional format section (with roads and tracks and steeplechase) and a modified division (without roads and tracks and steeplechase), as a test for the first short format Olympics that summer in Athens. The stallion went on to be a team bronze medallist and finish 12th individually at the Olympics the same year.

    “It goes to show how long breeding takes – obviously Windfall was a great champion, a great American representative,” says Boyd. “He bred and bred and bred, but it’s not until now that there’s two or three horses at Kentucky by Windfall. It just takes generations for these horses that are bred by Windfall to end up in the right hands and a bit of luck and now Windfall looks like the greatest sire in America, whereas the past 10 years he kind of got looked over.”

    Despite his breeding, Tsetserleg didn’t impress Boyd immediately – he says he “didn’t look that special” at the clinic as a four-year-old.

    “Years went by and he sort of got passed from rider to rider and ended up with a good friend of mine, Michael Pollard,” he explains, adding that Michael produced the horse to two-star (now three-star) level. “Then he quit riding so he was kind enough to recommend me to be the next rider to the owner, Christine Turner.

    “I’m going to be honest with you – when he first turned up at my stable I really didn’t think anything of him. He’d grown a little bit since I saw him at the clinic years before, but he just looked like an oversized pony. He moved ok, he jumped ok, he was a bit fat, he was a bit woolly and I didn’t give him that much attention for the first couple of weeks.

    “But I finally got around to taking him to a show and holy moly – talk about a horse that changes at a competition. I hopped on him and he felt like he was 17 hands and he was strong and he was brave and he jumped beautifully. I was thinking, ‘Talk about a diamond in the rough’. Right from that moment I knew he was a special one.”

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    Looking back at their success at Kentucky in 2019, Boyd says: “In 2018 we bombed out at the World Equestrian Games [in Tryon] – we had a stop at that boat in the water. I was miserable and depressed and then I came out firing in 2019.

    “Sadly I think he was just a little bit too green for Tryon the year before, but by the time we got to 2019 he went like a champion – he did a great test and zipped around the cross-country and then showjumped really well so we were just behind Oliver Townend. It goes to show what six months more training and work does and a bit more experience counts for a lot.”

    Hear about Boyd’s other rides for this year’s Kentucky, as well as his memories of previous rides at the US five-star, by tuning in to episode 46 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here, or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find out more about getting the magazine delivered to your door every week.

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