LONDON (Reuters) - Dragged from a raging fire that killed six other horses, Otis Barbotiere and Neville Bardos could reward the man who risked his life to save them when they compete at the London Olympics next week.
Boyd Martin said he did what anyone would have done by racing into an inferno but his bravery could pay dividends if one of the horses he saved on a chaotic night in May 2011 can carry him to a gold medal for the United States in the equestrian three-day eventing.
Eleven horses under Martin's care were put into their stalls that night. Five were alive the next morning the rest buried under the smouldering remains of the barn.
"I got the phone call, it was a pretty horrific thing to go through it was about 1am and it was just this massive yellow, orange glow as we were driving up," Martin told Reuters. "Right then I knew my life was about to change horrifically.
"It was a hard thing. People pay to have their horses trained and looked after.
"It was a hard thing to call people up and tell them their horse was dead and bury them the next day dragging them out with a tractor and digging a hole and that's it.
"A hard thing to go through."
Otis Barbotiere, a 10-year-old French Bay gelding sired by Quidam Du Revel, one of the most prolific Selle Francais sires, was bred for Olympic greatness, his pedigree shining through when Martin qualified for the U.S. team with the horse as his main mount.
Martin had always expected that the roguish Neville Bardos, a washed up racehorse he purchased in Australia for under $1,000 would be his mount in London but the chestnut gelding will instead go to the Olympics as his back-up horse.
The fire was not the first time Martin had saved Neville Bardos from almost certain death, having rescued him from a glue factory and bringing him to America when he relocated to the United States in 2007.
While their backgrounds are as different as night and day, both horses possess the same qualities and personalities that make them ideally suited for the gruelling eventing programme that includes show jumping, dressage and cross-country.
"Otis happens to have a few wonderful traits that I also associate with Neville Bardos: a glaring white eye, a big white blaze, and he's an avid wind sucker," Martin excitedly explained on his website shortly after the syndicate he assembled purchased the horse.
"They'll make a good team, or partners in crime anyway."
While Neville Bardos's road to the Olympics has been a long and winding one, Martin's journey has also included some dramatic twists and turns.
Certainly, Martin possesses an Olympic pedigree, his mother was an American speed skater and father an Australian cross-country skier who represented their respective countries at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games.
He grew up just outside Sydney riding horses and competed for Australia internationally before deciding his future in the equine business, buying and selling horses, was in the United States.
Martin and his wife Silva, a Grand Prix dressage rider from Germany who also recently became a U.S. citizen, finally settled in rural Pennsylvania where they operate a farm training and boarding horses, coaching and competing.
"It was just a decision I made," explained Martin, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009. "My mom is American, she represented America in speed skating so I had dual citizenship.
"I was living here and loved the culture and country and thought, 'You know what, I should represent this country if I can to support the people who own the horses who give me a business here'."
In some small way Martin hopes to be able to pay back those who have supported him by winning a medal in London and at the same time honour a father who will not be there to watch his son follow in his Olympic foot steps.
Still reeling from the devastation of the barn fire and struggling to regain his focus for Olympic qualifying, Martin was struck with another tragedy when his father was killed in a cycling accident, slammed by a truck while competing in a veterans road race.
"Qualifying had just started and at the time the Olympics was the last thing on my mind because my father was killed a week or two after the fire," recalled Martin.
"It was just one thing after another.
"But I got over all that and regrouped and here we are with a good chance."
Editing by Greg Stutchbury