Rock Center | May 09, 2012
BRIAN WILLIAMS: there know every animal has a unique personality, and if you've ever loved a horse you know it can be an intense relationship. Well, the horse you're about to meet is a larger than life character, just like the man who rides him. They have been bonded together in life in a way they hope will now carry them all the way to the Summer Olympic games in London . Harry Smith has our report tonight on an intense display of horse power .
HARRY SMITH reporting: This is the US Equestrian Federation 's Horse of the Year , a horse that has cheated death not once, but twice. His name? Neville Bardos. The 12-year-old chestnut thoroughbred was a washout as a racehorse, so much of an also ran that, when Neville was three, it looked like he was destined for the slaughterhouse, until trainer Boyd Martin , an Australian turned American, rescued him.
Mr. BOYD MARTIN: I remember seeing a chestnut horse a friend of mine was actually looking at to buy for himself, a guy called Gordon . And Gordon said that he didn't think the horse was any good and he couldn't jump. And I remember looking over the arena wall, and I said, 'I'll buy him.' And that's sort of how I bought Neville .
SMITH: Purchased for less than $1,000, the bargain soon turned out to be a burden. The horse had an attitude, and not a particularly good one. If you were talking about the personality of this horse , how would you describe him?
Mr. MARTIN: I'd probably compare him to a bouncer at a nightclub that was throwing out someone for disorderly conduct.
SMITH: You? And so he named the beast Neville Bardos after a gangster from the Australian cult movie "Chopper."
SMITH: Along with the attitude, Neville has a bad habit . He nibbles on just about anything he can sink his teeth into. It's called wind sucking.
Mr. MARTIN: This is how much of an addict this horse is.
Mr. MARTIN: Once you take this off...
Mr. MARTIN: ...you'll notice that this horse 's instinct is to...
SMITH: Just nibble on the door. It's definitely not the type of behavior typically associated with a champion.
Mr. MARTIN: For a long period of time I really thought that I might have bought a lemon...
Mr. MARTIN: ... and I was stuck with him, basically, so.
SMITH: In time, though, Neville 's nervous habit would prove to be a blessing in disguise . If Neville could talk, how would he describe you?
Mr. MARTIN: I think a pretty similar character. Like Neville , I was probably a bit wild and out of control as a young man growing up and have somehow learned to channel that excitement into something positive.
SMITH: Australian by birth and now American by choice, the 32-year-old is currently one of the top-ranked US riders. But then Boyd himself is a bit of a thoroughbred. His mother was an American speed skater, his father a cross country skier for Australia . They met at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble . Boyd was a bust at school, but he had a way with horses and a need to compete. Do you both thrive on adversity?
Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I think both of us love the idea of proving people wrong a little bit, maybe.
Mr. MARTIN: Through thousands of hours of training, Boyd has transformed the failed racehorse with a neurotic habit into a superstar in a sport called three day eventing. It's the equestrian equivalent of a triathlon and is considered to be the ultimate test of true horsemanship. It demands the horse
and rider perform three distinctly different disciplines: cross country , show jumping, and dressage, which test balance, precision and harmony. For Neville , it's a little like trying teach a football play how to pirouette.
Mr. MARTIN: Unfortunately, the dressage is where you've got to try and tone it down and be a little bit quiet and relaxed, and he finds that difficult.
SMITH: While Neville is feisty and a bit of a hothead, he's tough as nails and outrageously athletic, gobbling up those cross country fences like he does carrots for breakfast.
Mr. MARTIN: This horse has got no quit in him, and I think that's something that separates him from the rest.
SMITH: These days Neville 's living the good life, pampered like a rock star. He has round the clock care and his own personal assistant who waits on him hand and hoof, tending his every need. He even has his own chiropractor. Not too shabby for a horse once destined to become dog food. Since moving to the US in 2007 , the dynamic duo has taken the equestrian world by storm, winning a 2009 US National Championship and finishing 10th at the 2010 World Equestrian Games , the top ranked American pair on the team that year. But just as they were riding high, disaster struck. After midnight last Memorial Day , a fire broke out in Boyd 's barn in Pennsylvania .
Mr. MARTIN: I remember driving out there, and there was just this massive yellow glow in the sky. And I remember at that exact moment I thought to myself, you know, 'This is -- this is real bad, and my life's about to change.'
SMITH: The blaze had been burning for more than 30 minutes by the time Boyd arrived at the scene. Seven of his horses, including Neville , were still trapped inside.
Mr. MARTIN: You could see down the aisle way of the barn, and I remember the first sight I could see was a horse , dead.
SMITH: The next thing Boyd remembers was fighting his way past the firemen as he raced into the flames and smoke.
Mr. MARTIN: I found a stable door, and I remember hearing a noise in there, and it was like a gurgling noise. And I think I had my shirt over my head, and I remember running in there and then I could feel like a horse carrying up in the corner. And I put my hands on the horse , and then I felt this collar, this wind sucking collar.
SMITH: Remember Neville 's vice? Well, that night it became his virtue. Boyd once able to drag the horse out of the stable by his wind sucking collar just moments before the roof collapsed. So you get outside then, you get a chance to look at Neville . What did he look like?
Mr. MARTIN: You couldn't recognize the horse . He just had his eye -- you could just see his eyes, and everything else was just black.
SMITH: Only five of Martin 's 11 horses made it out alive. The survivors were rushed to a nearby hospital. Incredibly, the burns to Neville 's flesh were minimal, but the horse had been in the fire for the better part of an hour. He suffered severe smoke inhalation and was in critical condition. Did people think the horse was going to make it?
Mr. MARTIN: The vets told me that he was going to struggle for his life. She said, 'We had to take a second blood test because the blood results showed that he should be lying down dying.' And the horse is wind sucking in the stall.
SMITH: And chewing on the...
Mr. MARTIN: Eating hay. And I laughed. I knew he'd be all right.
SMITH: True to form Neville "the devil" was once again defying the odds. Released from the hospital just a week after the fire, he began daily treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in an effort to speed his recovery.
Unidentified Woman: There's Neville inside the tank.
SMITH: His condition improved so rapidly, the results seemed miraculous.
Mr. MARTIN: You could see the horse every day getting fresher and stronger and more antsy. And that's when I sort of talked to my coach and my veterinarian, and they said, 'Well, why don't you hop on him and just start walking him.' And I did that, and the horse 's ears pricked up and were wagging.
SMITH: And a walk turned into...
Mr. MARTIN: A trot. Yeah, and then...
SMITH: And the trot turned into a...
Mr. MARTIN: A canter, yeah.
SMITH: It had always been a dream of the Boyd 's to compete in England at the Burghley Horse Trials , one of the toughest three day eventing competitions in the world. But by the time Neville was on the mend, only eight weeks remained to get the horse ready. Yet, just as things were getting back on track, Boyd suffered another serious blow. His father died suddenly, the result of injuries from a bicycling accident.
Mr. MARTIN: I've got to say, I think if it wasn't for Neville or something to focus on, I think I would have probably hit deep depression or spun out of control a little bit. It was something that made me get out of bed in the morning and work towards and think about and dream about.
SMITH: When you decided to take Neville to Burghley in England , did some of your friends think you were crazy?
Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. I had a lot of experts tell me that it was a dumb idea and 'Why would you do that?' But what people didn't understand is how much I knew this horse , and what I was feeling every day and what I was reading as the trainer. And I knew before I got to Burghley that this horse was ready to go.
SMITH: And boy did he go, rocketing around the cross country course like a bat out of hell . Against the very best teams in the world, Boyd and Neville finished seventh, a remarkable performance just three months after the fire.
Mr. MARTIN: It confirmed, you know, me as a person and Neville as a horse could make it happen and can do it when everything is going against us.
SMITH: Would it be too much to say that you saved that horse 's life? And now, it seems to me that horse is saving your life.
Mr. MARTIN: I think if it wasn't for Neville , I often question where I'd be now.
SMITH: This story already has enough of a happy ending, but the two old mates have now set their sights on what would be the ride of their lives, competing at the Olympics this summer. What will it take for you and Neville to be together at the Olympics in London ?
Mr. MARTIN: All I can do is try my very hardest, and all Neville can do is try his very hardest, and if it's meant to be, I think it's going to happen.
WILLIAMS: Harry Smith here with us in the studio who informs me the movie rights have indeed been sold to this story. That's amazing.
SMITH: Even as we were there, that was one of the issues, was we needed to make sure we could clear it with those folks to go ahead and tell the story.
WILLIAMS: Now, I am cautioned because your last profile...
WILLIAMS: ... Rulon Gardner , would he wrestle in the Olympics in London ?
WILLIAMS: What are the chances for this duo actually that we're going to see them in London ?
SMITH: Quite good. The short list comes out in June, and then the final list is in July. Boyd is one of the best riders, Neville 's one of the best horses. I think if you're going to put money down, it was -- probably be a pretty good bet.
WILLIAMS: And this is not an inexpensive pursuit.
WILLIAMS: They have a tricked-out horse and rider . Where is all the money coming from?
SMITH: Yeah, some of these horses that participate in this three-day eventing go for half a million dollars or more.
SMITH: This is a horse that cost less than a thousand? A syndicate came together and said to Boyd , 'We're going to help you out. We're going to take the financial burden off your hands.' Ten members of this syndicate. The best
part about it, just like a racing -- racehorse......
SMITH: ...the horse is a gelding. There's no payoff at the end for this thing.
WILLIAMS: Ah, yes.
SMITH: They're doing it for the love of the sport .
WILLIAMS: All right, for the love of the sport . Harry, thanks. That was a great, great story. Beautifully, beautifully shot.