A good horse story should always be shared. But the story of former racehorse, Neville Bardos, and his owner, Boyd Martin, is so good that it should be shouted from the rooftops! Theirs is a story of triumph over tragedy, but it’s more than that . . . so much more! In fact, their story is so rich and so full of twists and turns that I am going to break it down into chapters, or better said, into my version of Cliff’s Notes!
Chapter 1: Neville the Racehorse
This is a very short chapter because Neville Bardos wasn’t much of a racehorse. By the age of three, it looked like Neville was pretty well washed up and would be making his way to the slaughterhouse.
Boyd Martin accompanied a friend who was potentially interested in buying Neville Bardos. The friend decided to take a pass, leaving Neville one step closer to the slaughterhouse. But the chestnut gelding intrigued Martin, a professional horse trainer. Perhaps it was the horse’s feisty and opinionated attitude, or his high energy, rough and tumble approach to life that sparked something in Martin . . . but buy him he did, for the rock bottom price of $850.00, considerably less than his per pound value at the slaughterhouse. Martin thought that at that price, Neville was worth the risk . . . perhaps he could make something of the horse, and sell him at a tidy profit.
Chapter 2: Martin Questions His Investment
If attitude is everything, then Martin was pretty sure he had made a mistake in purchasing the horse. Perhaps, he shouldn’t have been too surprised that the horse was a handful. After all, he had been named “Neville Bardos,” after a gangster in the Australian movie, “Chopper.”
Neville wasn’t just a horse with an attitude; he was a windsucker. For the uninitiated, windsucking simply means that a horse bites into objects and sucks in large quantities of air. It’s a nasty habit that can cause major damage to fencing and other property, as well as the horse’s teeth. Horses that are windsuckers are also more likely to develop gastric ulcers. In the case of Neville, the windsucking was bad enough for Martin to have him wear a windsucking collar to restrict the habit. Remember this collar folks. . .it will come back again later in the story, in a very important way!
Chapter 3: Channeling Energy
In 2007, Boyd Martin, his wife, Silva, and Neville Bardos moved to the United States. Martin continued spending countless hours channeling Neville’s energy in 3-Day Eventing competitions. And the hard work was paying off! In 2009, Martin and Bardos won a U.S. National Championship, and, in 2010, they finished 10th in the World Equestrian Games. Martin and Neville made a great team, and the high-energy pair really understood each other.
Chapter 4: FIRE!
Life was good until a massive, barn fire, in 2011, killed 6 horses and critically injured Neville Bardos. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that a hero is someone who runs into a burning building when others are running out. Well, Martin and his mentor, Phillip Dutton, were heroes on that day. Dutton was the owner of the farm and rented stables to Martin. Firefighters told Martin that the barn was, at this stage in the blaze, too dangerous to enter, and refused to allow Martin to go in to rescue his beloved horse. Martin felt clear-headed, as sober as a judge, and he knew what he had to do. So Martin punched the fire chief who was blocking his way, covered his face with a T-shirt and ran into the thick, black smoke. Dutton followed closely behind, and there they found Neville, gasping for air. They were able to rescue the horse by Dutton pushing, while Martin pulled on Neville’s windsucking collar! It was an odd twist of fate that it was Neville’s windsucking vice that made it possible for him to be saved.
Though his external injuries were fairly minimal, Neville had been stuck in the burning barn for almost an hour. Blood tests revealed that he should have been dying from smoke inhalation. Instead, he was windsucking in his recovery stall! At that point, Martin knew he would not lose his equine companion.
Miraculously, Neville was released from the hospital in only one week, but the recovery process had only just begun. It included putting Neville in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber on a daily basis, which was healing his lungs at a surprising rate. He was getting stronger by the day! That’s when Martin noticed that his horse’s high energy level was returning, and the recovery team agreed that it might be good for Martin to take his horse out for some easy rides.
Chapter 5: The Road Back
The intensity of those first rides grew so quickly that Martin had what some might have viewed as a crazy idea. Martin had always wanted to compete at the Burghley Horse Trials, in England—one of the most rigorous 3-Day Eventing competitions in the world. With only eight weeks until the event, it seemed like an impossible dream.
Then, suddenly, Martin faced a different type of tragedy. His father died in a cycling accident. That could have been more than enough reason to put his dreams of Burghley on hold. The shock and grief paralyzed Martin, and there were days, he admits, when he would have liked nothing more than to stay in bed and give in to the advancing depression. But Martin knew that Neville needed him, and Martin, as the son of Olympic champions, recognized that he could not allow himself to fail. In fact, his parents had met while competing in the 1968 Winter Olympics. His mother was an American speed skater and his father was an Australian cross-country skier. So, return to training he did, and it is not surprising that he found solace with Neville in training for the event ahead.
Three months after the fire, Martin and Neville finished 7th at Burghley. For me, that would have been enough to make for the happiest of endings, but their story was far from over. Neville was then named the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Horse of the Year for 2011, and Martin set his sights on the 2012 summer Olympics, in London.
And dream of dreams. . .at the Olympics, the $850.00 wonder horse would be competing against horses that cost $500,000.00! Enter stage right, “The Angels”! A syndicate of ten horse lovers stepped in to relieve Boyd Martin of the financial responsibilities of maintaining Neville, which were staggering. Keep in mind that Neville is a gelding, so the syndicate could never hope to recoup their investment in the horse through breeding rights . . . they were just a group of horse lovers who wanted to help. Let’s not call them “sponsors”, let’s call them angels.
Chapter 6: Life Isn’t a Fairy Tale
In the end, Martin did make it to the Olympics. However, the selection team choose one of his other mounts, Otis Barbotiere, to compete. But, happily, Neville was the back-up horse!
No, it isn’t quite the perfect fairy tale ending. But, in many ways it’s better. Even before the 2012 Olympics, the movie rights had been signed for the story of Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos. You see, they didn’t need an Olympic medal because everyone already knew that life isn’t always about “happily ever after.” It’s about the ups and downs and how you weather the storm. Life is about the journey, and it is about friends helping each other through the tough times. Boyd Martin saved Neville Bardos’ life not once, but twice. And Neville Bardos saved Boyd Martin’s life, during one of its darkest moments. There’s your happy ending! And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see this film!
Watch this touching video interview with Boyd Martin, as he talks about his experiences with Neville Bardos!
Happy Trails, y’all!