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A horse with a burning desire

This is an Olympic story to warm your heart … it’s not just a story about a man; it is about a man and his horse.

With the Olympics just around the corner I have been scanning various news outlets for extraordinary stories of triumph. These notable recollections regale remarkable achievement even prior to competing in London and I think you will agree that although a medal will be cherished, they have already discovered gold.

Boyd Martin is half American and half Australian and is expected to qualify for the soon to be named USA equestrian team. If he does his beloved second chance horse, Neville Bardos, will be smiling, trusting and thanking him again.

Boyd’s mother was a US speed skater at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, when she met and subsequently married an Australian cross country skier. Boyd, who grew up in Australia, discovered an early combined love of horses and sport at a local pony club. As a young equestrian rider, who had not tasted any great success, he decided he needed to explore other career options to earn some income. He didn’t stray from his devotion and his interim career decision kept him close to his equine friends providing a new lease on life for many.

His new business was basic but extremely emotional and rewarding. He firmly wedged himself between disgruntled racehorse breeders and hapless animals that were being discarded to the slaughterhouse. He was the middleman who bought ‘reject’ horses from the racing stables and steered a path to rehabilitation instead of death. Those lucky horses that were saved by Boyd would be taught to jump and then sold to weekend recreational riders.

In 2002 a friend recommended a feisty thoroughbred that was destined for the scrap heap. Neville Bardos, named after an Australian thug, was ear-marked for greatness as a thoroughbred racehorse but a severe stubborn steak and a fiery temper abruptly curtailed his racing days and his owner lost patience. He was consigned to the slaughterhouse and on his way to a premature end when fate intervened.

In stepped Boyd after noticing Neville Bardos’s athletic potential during a training run. The horse, like Martin, was also half American and half Australian and Boyd thought him worth a gamble. A minor on-the-spot financial transaction of $850 took place and that secured his latest acquisition. Martin knew that a hard road lay ahead to rehabilitate his newest charge but the challenge escalated his interest.

Eighteen taxing months later, Boyd Martin was suddenly making some headway. This horse, though still lively, feisty and stubborn, was bonding. Martin had recognized something he liked and decided he wanted this one for himself to attempt to resurrect his own stumbling equestrian career. A local ribbon or two provided essential motivation as a partnership was forged and mutual respect was developed.

After further success and necessary travel to America, all was on track for both to reach goals that were previously unthinkable. That is until one night in 2011 in Pennsylvania, when disaster struck. Martin was stabling Neville Bardos in an elite barn with eleven other horses when an electrical fault resulted in a massive fire that engulfed the stables. Boyd feared the worst.

He rushed to the scene of devastation and confronted shocked stable workers who confirmed his fears. Neville Bardos was still in there. Already six other horses had died. An officious fire chief was blocking Martin’s way to his horse and he knew only one action to take. A right hook removed that obstruction and into the furnace Boyd sprinted to hopefully find his chestnut gelding. The thick black smoke made vision impossible, the heat and ash was unbearable, but a death-cheating Martin bravely groped on.

After what seemed an eternity, with zero visibility, he miraculously located a stable door and a terrified Neville Bardos cowering and shaking at the back of his stable. Boyd had to act fast. Emboldened with renewed trust Neville Bardos stood and bolted from the burning wreck, with Boyd in tow. The horse was saved from certain death and Boyd simply burst into uncontrollable tears.

Neville Bardos’s true fight had now unfortunately only just begun. His lungs were seared, his throat burned and internal damage was extensive. That was the end of the dream, or so Martin had thought.

After four months of extreme intensive care, Neville Bardos made a miraculous recovery that even his veterinarian could not explain. As his strength was regained and his desire renewed, a stirring comeback followed. They were both soon back where they wanted to be and rider and horse were smiling, trusting and winning again.

Earlier this year, the once reject racehorse with two death sentences, was named Horse of the Year by the US Equestrian Federation.

Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos now have a burning Olympic desire ahead.

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