Around the World and Then Some: Boyd Martin Reflects on Finishing All 7 CCI5* Events

With his completion of the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials aboard the Turner family’s Tsetserleg TSF, Boyd Martin became the second rider to complete all seven permanent CCI5* events around the world. We wanted to hear his thoughts on the accomplishment:


Twenty four years ago, Boyd Martin cantered up the centerline in his first CCI5* (then designated as a CCI4*).

It was a different time; two and a half decades all at once seems like the blink of an eye – “a bit of a blur” as Boyd describes it – and a lifetime.

The Adelaide International is the sole CCI5* event located in the Southern Hemisphere and Boyd’s home country of Australia. To this event in 2000, Boyd brought his Pony Club horse, an off-track Thoroughbred named Flying Doctor. He rode cross country sans body protector, as most of his counterparts did in that time. The event was still run in its “classic” long format, with four phases of cross country.

“Looking back on it, I remember walking the course and I didn’t walk it with a coach, and I wouldn’t have known how many strides were between the jumps,” Boyd says wryly. It was a different lifestyle that the then-19-year-old lived: he’d stay out late each night partying and then roll out of bed (often a sleeping bag in the back of the trailer), hangover be damned, to go and compete at the highest levels of the sport.

Inexperienced or not, Boyd made good on that first 5* start, finishing fifth and even more importantly, recognizing within himself that he’d found his purpose in life.

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Boyd competed a handful more times at Adelaide, even collecting his first win at the level quite early on, in 2003 with True Blue Toozac. This would be the final year the event was run as a long format, and it had featured a competitive field vying for selection for the following year’s Olympics in Athens.

“Looking back now, I had no idea what I was doing, but I did know one thing: I loved it,” Boyd said. He’d spent many years under the mentorship of Olympic veteran Heath Ryan, who laid the foundation of hard work and tough love that cultivated Boyd’s existing scrappiness. “That win in 2003 was a big one because no one really knew who I was, even in Australia. I was just a scrappy kid, and it was the year before the Olympics so it was hotly contested. That sort of was the competition that really put me on the map.”

Boyd Martin and Ying Yang Yo. Photo by Denise Lahey.

The result would likely have given Boyd a one-way ticket to Athens, but an ill-timed injury to True Blue Toozac would put that dream on ice for the time being. He’d have to wait two more Olympic cycles to get his first shot, representing the U.S. in London (2012) with Otis Barbotiere.

Most Boyd fans will know the story from here fairly well: a few years later, Boyd felt he’d done what he could do in Oceania, and packed up his bags to pay a visit to another Australian who’d relocated to the U.S.: one Phillip Dutton. In 2006, he brought another OTTB, Ying Yang Yo, to America and contested his first U.S. 5* at Kentucky, finishing 11th. That sealed the deal – Boyd returned to Australia, married his wife, Silva, sold everything he owned, and set sail for a new life in the States.

Since that first outing in 2000, Boyd has contested an impressive 62 CCI5* events with 24 different horses, including three appearances at the Olympics and four at FEI World Championships/World Equestrian Games. His completion of Badminton this month with the Turner family’s Tsetserleg TSF now makes him just the second rider behind New Zealand’s Tim Price to finish all seven permanent 5* events (Tim’s got a slight one-up here, as he also contested the “pop-up” 5* at Bicton in the UK that was run in 2020).


Boyd Martin and On Cue. Photo by Abby Powell.

Like many involved in the sport through its evolution, Boyd’s borne witness to the changes eventing has seen from his view as a rider and producer of horses.

“The design of the course now is a lot more testing of rideability and accuracy,” he explained. “Over the years we’ve seen a lot more technical fences with corners and narrows and humps and lumps, going fast and then slowing right down and getting your horse concentrating and thinking. I do think that’s made it a lot more challenging, where it’s not just big big jumps that scare the crap out of you – it’s more of a test of training and adjustability.”

I asked Boyd how he’d characterize each of the 5*s now that he’s had a good crack at each one.

“Doing them all now, I would say Adelaide, Lühmuhlen and Pau all have a real correlation among them,” he said. “Flatter courses in a smaller space, so it’s much more sort of high speed to low speed with twists and turns and accuracy. I also think it requires a different sort of horse – more your championship-type horse can go there and the heavier warmbloods that lack a little stamina you can actually get around those flatter courses at those three. So riders with big stables can now sort of point their horse toward the five-star that suits.”

“Badminton, Kentucky and Burghley – they’re the classics,” he continued. “The ones with the big prize money and the crazy spectators and just this special aura about them, Kentucky being in the mecca of horse sports in America and Badminton and Burghley just having this huge history of 75 years with almost sacred ground.”

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B compete at Luhmühlen in 2023. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Maryland I would describe as in alignment with Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky in terms of scope and size of jumps and the test of undulating country. As time goes on, I hope that it will become even more recognizable and attract more of those crazy amounts of spectators.”

And surely the way he has had to evolve his own training has adjusted with the times. “The horses, to start, have just changed so much,” he agrees. “My first twenty five-stars were all on off-track Thoroughbreds, and now I hardly have any Thoroughbreds in work. I think the dressage and show jumping have gotten way more competitive and influential, but I still feel like just to finish at a place like Badminton you’ve got to select a horse that’s got unbelievable stamina and endurance. I still look for as much Thoroughbred blood as I can in my horses; horses that are at least half Thoroughbred.”

“I did probably shift, once the five-star shifted to the modern format, with my fitness program, very lightly,” he said in terms of preparation, though it’s true that the foundations of conditioning set out by those classic long format riders are very much applicable to today’s iteration of the sport. “But honestly, not by much. I still get them as fit as humanly possible. These five-stars are still a whole different ball game; the courses are relentless and the designers are really sticking it to you, especially the last four or five minutes when there’s fatigue.”


Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos on course at Kentucky in 2011. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

While of course Boyd’s career is far from over, this milestone of finishing all 5* events in the world serves as a reminder of the incredible amount of dedication that’s required to even reach the start box at a 5*.

“The early days in Australia just getting started, I was so unbelievably excited to just be there,” he reflected. “It is so hard just getting one horse there – when you think of the thousands and thousands of hours of practice, the years of training, the qualifying stage by stage, year after year. It’s really five, six, seven years of chasing that dream and I’ve got an unbelievable amount of admiration for anyone who even just gets to the starting line because I know how hard it is to find the horse, put those years of work in, and then also have a bit of luck on your side.”

So despite the understandable blur that is the last 24 years, Boyd is sure of one thing: “A five-star competition is the ultimate high where you’re on cloud nine for weeks and weeks after a fantastic performance. It’s also true in reverse, where when things don’t go well, it’s a huge emotional adrenaline dump where you’re just heartbroken and all that training and prep goes in a split second when you fail. It’s a huge, empty, depressing feeling.”

“I do think as you get older, it gets a little easier. But I look back at Badminton and it was just there for the taking. I had a good dressage, it was an open field with some of the Olympic horses not there, and just one mistake on cross country really just takes the wind out of your sails a bit.”

What pulls you out when you’ve found yourself in one of those emotional holes? You remind yourself of what you’re here to do.

“To be honest, I’ve dedicated my life to this, and the five-star is what I live for,” Boyd continued. “All those thousands of hours of practice and picking out the young horses and going to the smaller events – all of that with one goal in mind.”

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg in Tokyo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

My final question was to ask Boyd for some of the strongest memories from all 63 5*s he’s done now. He picks out a few off the top of his head: winning the inaugural Maryland 5 Star with On Cue for one, and his first win with True Blue Toozac all those years ago.

A few minutes after we got off the phone, he called back.

“I’d have to say that Neville Bardos getting to Burghley, after everything that happened with the fire, was a top high for me,” he said, having had some time to collect his thoughts (by the way, one of the best tellings of the Neville Bardos story exists within this Purina documentary from 2017). “But I also think it’s important for as much as we talk about the highs to also recognize the lows, and that for me was losing Crackerjack at Pau [in 2017]. I just remember having the absolute round of the day and he’d had such an incredible story of being bred by Colin Davidson, who later passed away in a car accident and his mother sent him to me to finish his work. It was just a bitter reminder of how tough this sport is, that horrible ending. When it goes well, you’re a champion, but when it doesn’t go well, you’re just kicked in the gut over and over again.”

It’s true: like many riders with Boyd’s tenure in the sport, he’s come back from the lowest of lows more times than you can count. He’s still coming to terms with a finish at Badminton that he knows could have been much more competitive than it was. He spends the countless hours of time in the saddle, building relationships with owners and sponsors, and surrounding himself with a team of professionals to assist him.

All in the pursuit of a goal that, truthfully, feels out of reach more often than not.

Completing seven different 5*s isn’t just a competitive accomplishment, it’s a personal triumph – but it’s far from a bookend for Boyd. He’ll always be hunting the next horse, the next 5* – after all, as he puts it, “it’s what I was put on this earth to do.”

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