Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos, the highest placed US horse at last year’s World Equestrian Games, were shortlisted for the London Olympics. Martin and Otis Barbotiere were named to the US Eventing Team July 2, while Neville and Remington XXV were listed as alternates.
One year ago, Neville Bardos’ lungs were black and charred from smoke inhalation. Boyd Martin knew the deadly barn fire that claimed the lives of six horses at True Prospect Farm last Memorial Day weekend had likely ended the four-star event horse’s career.
But Neville, known for his feisty, ornery personality, beat the odds. Martin and Neville have been named to the USEF’s short list for the 2012 London Olympics, along with the horse’s barn mates, Otis Barbotiere and Remington XXV.
Martin is the only rider on the short list to take three horses to compete at the Barbury Castle International Horse Trials in England at the end of June, the final test before the USEF names five horse and rider pairs to the Olympic eventing team.
Martin spoke about his Olympic aspirations while in Germany preparing to ride Ying Yang Yo in the Luhmuhlen CCI4* event. At the time, only Neville and Otis had been named to the list, with Remington surprising Martin as a last-minute edition to the short list after Luhmuhlen.
“It was a sigh of relief to be officially named to the short list, and it’s another box ticked toward the goal of getting on the team,” Martin said. “With horses, everyone knows things can always change in an instant, so I’m relieved I have two horses on the short list. There’s still a lot of hard work to do. The goal is not just getting picked for the American team; it’s also contributing to a phenomenal performance.”
Preparing for London
A spectacular showing in London is highly likely for Martin, who currently sits in third place in the HSBC World Rankings, behind this year’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI4* winner William Fox-Pitt and New Zealand powerhouse Andrew Nicholson.
Now Martin is looking to prepare the three horses as best he can for what will be the competition of a lifetime for one of them. Each horse brings different advantages and unique challenges to training for the Olympics, Martin said.
“Neville is a fiery cross country horse. What I’m smartest to do to set him up for the Games is give him a slow, sort of relaxing ride on the course at Barbury — same with Otis,” Martin said. “I won’t be going full blast. I want to make sure they are thinking clearly.”
When asked which horse he thinks will ultimately serve as his mount for the Olympics, Martin is hesitant to choose. All three horses have performed very well this spring, with Otis and Remington placing third and eighth at Rolex, respectively, and Neville most recently jumping a clean observation round at the Bromont Three-Day Event CCI3*.
“I think both Neville and Otis are neck and neck,” Martin said. “Both are very, very good cross country horses. Neville is a little more experienced. Otis is more extravagant. It’s a wonderful luxury to have the option to go with either horse.”
Because of Neville’s thrilling performance at last year’s Burghley CCI4* event — where the horse rallied to a seventh-place finish mere months after the barn fire — the horse has been spared from a heavy competition schedule this year. As the 2011 USEF International Horse of the Year, Neville has little left to prove.
“It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to buy a horse for not much money from another country and go through all those challenges and adversity and still come out on the other side,” Martin, who bought Neville for $850 in Australia, said.
Overcoming the trials and hardship brought on by the fire have skyrocketed Neville and Martin to eventing stardom. The pair have graced the front page of the New York Times and been covered by virtually every major newspaper and many primetime television news programs since making their comeback at Burghley.
“Neville doesn’t care too much for all the attention,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, horse and rider have to believe in each other and trust each other. It might be a great feeling to have the applause, but it’s the same old Boyd and the same old Nev.”
After that buoyant run at Burghley, the eventing community mused that the pair’s resiliency could inspire a film based on their tale of tragedy to triumph.
The excitement doubled in May after Brian Williams announced to the world during NBC’s Rock Center that Martin was indeed in the process of selling the movie rights to Neville’s story. But Martin, ever humble, insists the movie deal is nothing to scream at.
“I still haven’t completed the agreement with Warner Brothers,” Martin said. “At the moment we’re in the negotiation to sell the story rights for a very modest amount of money. It’s not as crazy and exciting as everyone’s made it out to be.”
Hollywood might disagree should Boyd be riding Neville down the center line in London come late July.