Olympic event rider Boyd Martin has looked back on the devastating tragedy of losing six horses in a barn fire and how powerful the support of the equestrian community can be in life’s darkest moments.
Boyd, who grew up on the outskirts of Sydney and switched nationality in 2008 to ride for the US at London 2012 and Rio 2016, spoke openly about the fire and what followed as part of the FEI’s #ForTheLoveOfEquestrian film.
The release marks nine years to the week since Neville Bardos, one of the horses rescued from the blaze and who is still with Boyd aged 21, came back to finish seventh at Burghley.
“Things were humming along, we had a lot of horses in training, we were renting the top barn from Philip Dutton and we got a phone call about midnight from one of the girls who worked for us just screaming that there was a fire,” said Boyd.
“I quickly jumped in the car and drove down and will never forget it. You could just see this massive, yellow glow in the sky as you approached the farm.
“The whole barn was ablaze, black smoke everywhere, fire engines and sirens. It was a horrific sight and you sort of go a little bit numb when you encounter something like that. We were lucky in the sense that we had a couple of friends there and we ran into the barn and managed to free a couple of horses that were hiding and cowering in their stables.”
They saved several horses, but six were lost.
The “tough, rugged Australian thoroughbred” Neville Bardos was pulled from the barn by Boyd and Philip and went straight into intensive care at New Bolton Centre.
“I’ll never forget it,” said Boyd. “I didn’t know it was his stable, but [I remember] going in there, hearing a horse in the background and feeling his windsucking collar and then trying to drag him down the aisle way. Philip’s behind him like a rugby player, trying to push him down [through] the burning building. It was like a movie, the roof was falling in and you couldn’t see anything.
“He had burns and went straight to the intensive care unit at New Bolton Centre. There he started healing up and we ended up getting the nod to keep going with him and we got him to Burghley that year, which was a huge goal of mine. He roared around the course and finished seventh, so he was a good boy!”
The chestnut gelding is now enjoying retired life in the paddock at home.
“He’s always inquisitive at the barn, always has his ears pricked and loves being part of the action,” said Boyd.
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“I think like any sports person, you have a couple of highs and lots and lots of lows. Over the years I’ve just learnt to roll with the punches a little bit. Just have the mentality of ‘this is not going to define us, this is a bump in the road and you’ve just got to keep soldiering on’.
“The amazing thing is there’s a huge equestrian community around and as soon as something terrible happens like this, you feel the absolute warmth from all the other people who love horses and are around you and everyone is helping you out to get back on your feet.”
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