Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery Ph: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

In the 2017 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, 65 horses competed at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. In total, 11 breeds were represented, and of that number, 28 percent were Thoroughbreds, with all but seven having raced before.

We recently discussed the management of event horses with Dr. Laura Werner of the Haygard Equine Institute, but when it comes to maintaining the physique of those rare, super-atheletes—the elite Thoroughbred event horse—there’s a delicate balance between top fitness and strength, and one person with plenty of experience walking that line is American eventer Boyd Martin.

After years of managing Thoroughbreds up to the highest levels of the sport, Boyd has seen plenty of success, especially in recent years. Martin competed aboard the then-12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Blackfoot Mystery (Out of Place x Proud Truth), in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and this spring, he piloted the 14-year-old OTTB gelding, Steady Eddie, at the 2017 RK3DE. So what sets Thoroughbreds apart from other horses?

“With TB’s, I find that fitness is quite easy to build into them, and the good thing is, they’re usually naturally fit from their first career—especially if they were raced,” said Martin. “When event horses are young, I do a lot of trotting in trot sets, and once they get up to the CCI two- to four-star level, they start doing long, slow canters, and [then] we’ll gallop and go up hills.”

The multidimensional sport of eventing requires both the horse and rider to have a varied set of skills that uniquely encompass the three disciplines. For Thoroughbreds already in training for eventing, or for show jumping or dressage, fitness is often a given. But what about building the physical and mental strength required by these disciplines?

Here, Boyd shares three of his favorite exercises for training (or re-training) horses across three disciplines:

Show Jumping

For show jumping, Martin does sets of bounces to help his horses, regardless of breed, quicken their shoulder movements. “Bounces are small, vertical fences that are about 3 yards between each other. [They’re good for] all horses because it’s an athletic exercise, and it helps to slow their jump down and build their technique.”

Dressage

For dressage, the serpentine exercise is his weapon of choice, and he first learned it from his wife, dressage trainer Silva Martin.

“This is good for a horse that struggles to use itself for big movements, and I do lots of stretching work, long and low, to get the horse really using its back. I do serpentines with a long rein, with the horse stretching with their head lower than their withers. It really helps to get their toplines nice and strong.”

One note of caution, however: “I don’t do it too much, because if the horse gets too good at it, the judges often think that they’re over-bent.”

Cross-Country

For cross-country, Martin says the key is to keep it simple, believing that the biggest asset any horse can have on the obstacle course is self-assurance. “Confidence is the biggest thing, and I think trotting a lot of small fences, trotting up banks, and trotting over ditches [builds] a clear understanding of that,” he says.

-Featured photo by Erin Gilmore.