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Clydesdales: Keeping up with the family tradition

Four generations of Martins have been producing Boulder Bluff Clydesdale horses

When George Martin purchased the east half of 1-16-22 in the Strathclair district in 1931, and began his small breeding operation of Clydesdale horses, he probably had no notion the farm and descendants of those horses would still be in the family nearly nine decades and four generations later.

“When you can say you are the fourth generation of any business, it makes it sound like you are doing something right,” said Trinda Martin of the breeding operation that her husband, Blaine’s grandfather started all those years ago.

“We are proud of our breeding program and what we have accomplished and look forward to watching the next generation improve upon our foundation as we did upon the foundation handed to us.

“We are hoping that the fifth generation is as passionate about the Clydesdale breed,” she added, on the pending arrival of Charity and her husband, Eric’s first child in a few short weeks at the time we spoke.

The Martin family and the Boulder Bluff name are synonymous around Strathclair as well as in draft horse circles around the world for raising quality Clydesdale horses.

What makes their operation even more unique, is that the fourth generation is carrying on the family tradition through the women in the family. Blaine and Trinda’s daughters, Charity and Britney are accomplished horsewomen in their own right and are proud to carry the Boulder Bluff name into the future.

“Being a fourth-generation Clydesdale breeder is something that is held close to my heart,” Britney, the younger of the two Martin girls, said.

“The very first Clydesdale mare Charity and I co-owned together was a gift from our grandparents when we were just old enough to help with barn chores. That mare went on to produce some of the best offspring Charity or myself have ever raised, and it is all thanks to Grandma and Grandpa that we got our start and the passion for breeding Clydesdales of our very own at such a young age.”

“That was all I ever wanted to do,” said Blaine, of the obvious choice to take over the farm from his parents and continue the Boulder Bluff name.

In 1992, when the girls were quite young, the Martins were contracted to produce pregnant mare urine (PMU) which they continued to do until cutbacks by Pfizer forced them out of the business in 2013.

“I do not remember a time from my younger years that we had any less than 150-170 horses on the farm,” recalled Britney. “Some years we had up to and over 200 head of Clydesdales.”

“Someone once told us that at the peak of our production years, we were the largest Clydesdale breeders in the world,” said Trinda. “That’s pretty awesome if it is right.”

The family still maintains a herd of about 100 head and continues breeding, showing and selling quality Clydesdale horses internationally.

The know-how that Britney and Charity possess has come from many mentors along the way as they develop their own style. However, many of the tricks of the trade come from right within their own family and have been passed along with each generation, as showing Clydes dates back to great-grandfather, George.

Apparently, George would drive his team, maybe a four, around to the local fairs in the area or load them on the train to go to the fairs that were farther away, like Brandon.

Back in the day, the show horses were also used in the fields and the numbers kept were far fewer. Bloodlines were important to George and his son Clarence. According to Clarence’s widow, Reva, there used to be travelling stallions that serviced the area which gave them access to better-quality genetics. The stallion would be tied to a horse-drawn cart and travelled around from farm to farm breeding mares. This is the type of service that George and Clarence would have used when they first started their herd of Clydesdales.

George passed away in his mid-50s leaving the farm to a young Clarence, who was only 18 at the time. He, too, used the horses to feed livestock in the winter and haul manure, and continued what his father had started, showing his prized Clydes and exhibiting a six-horse hitch at the local fairs in the area, as well as at Brandon.

Naturally, along with breeding and showing Clydesdales, comes the selling of Clydesdales and the stories that go with it.

Ever heard the saying, ‘everything is for sale for the right price?’ It would seem that approximately 45 years ago, Clarence owned a fairly good gelding which he was showing at Carberry Fair. Having seen the gelding, a rather persistent fellow proceeded to follow Clarence around all day asking to buy him. Clarence, having had enough of this gentleman’s constant pestering, finally put a rather high price tag of $10,000 on the gelding, with no intention of selling the horse, only to deter the admirer and otherwise get rid of him. The tactic did not work out quite the way Clarence had planned, as the gelding sold at that price.

Two lessons were learned that day: that one can’t judge a book by its cover and ‘a show is a sale, and a sale is a show.’

Reva recalled another story about her husband’s business ventures, as told to Trinda.

“Probably close to 55 years ago Clarence sold two geldings for $3,000 apiece, to a man who met him in Brandon. When it came time to pay, the man opened the trunk of his car where he had a cream can full of money. Grandma recalls Clarence saying he’d never carried around that much money in a bag before. It was quite memorable, him taking it to the bank to get counted out and deposited, and as Reva said, ‘And it wasn’t in $100 bills either!’”

The entire family credits Clarence as being the one to instil the love of the breed and the knowledge to go with it, as he was a well-respected Clydesdale breeder and judge.

“I love to hear the stories that my grandma tells of my grandpa judging horse shows all over North America,” said Charity. “He judged everything from local fairs to national Clydesdale shows. She is very proud of him for following his passion of raising, showing and judging Clydesdales and for doing it so well for so many years.”

“Clarence definitely had his opinion on what constituted a good-quality horse, the majority of which was passed down from his father and he in turn passed on to his family which is continuing to be passed down to Charity and Britney,” said Trinda.

“Dad has taught us to have a keen eye for a good horse, what you want, what you don’t want, and what you can’t do without,” said Britney.

Both Britney and Charity credit their knowledge and success to their parents.

“Mom and Dad have taught us everything they know but most importantly they have encouraged us to keep trying with everything we do and gave us any advice they could think of along the way,” Charity said. “At home Mom and Dad are our biggest critics, but at the shows they are our biggest supporters. They are perfect for when we need an honest opinion.”

“Mom’s favourite saying is ‘the best way to ruin a good horse is to ask it to do too much,’” said Britney. “I remind myself of this almost every time I bring a horse to the cross ties.”

Just as the Martin daughters are carrying on the family tradition as fourth-generation breeders, so too, are the horses that they continue to raise.

“Our equine herd consists of many mares with the Boulder Bluff prefix, which represents many years of selective breeding and hard work from my great-grandfather, grandfather, and my dad,” said Charity.

“Raising and showing Clydesdales is a passion that runs deep in our blood and I couldn’t stand the thought of that passion ending with our generation.”

Britney Martin takes the reins, along with her sister, Charity, in the unicorn hitch at the 2018 World Clydesdale Show.
photo: Submitted

 

As well, the six-horse hitch that they exhibited at the 2015 World Clydesdale show in London, Ont., along with the one they plan on taking to the 2021 world show in Brandon are not only home-bred, but home-raised, -trained, -driven and -exhibited by the family.

“As far as I know we were the only hitch that exhibited all home-bred, home-trained horses at the world show (in 2015). To take eight horses to the world show is something to be proud of, but for each one of ours to be at least second-generation Boulder Bluff; to be foaled out, raised, trained, fit, and show driven by ourselves, that’s something we are extremely proud of,” said Britney. “In fact, one of the fillies in the hitch was a seventh-generation Boulder Bluff.”

“I know their grandpa would sure have been proud,” said the girls’ Uncle Calvin. “I heard that several times around the barns at London.”

Trinda agreed. “We wish that the second generation could have witnessed the accomplishments of the fourth generation. Clarence would have been proud.”

The girls repeated this stellar performance at the 2018 world show in Madison, Wisconsin, winning three world champion cart titles with a second-generation gelding, Boulder Bluff Hummer.

“I am incredibly proud to be a part of such a great family tradition,” said Britney. “It is something that we are all very passionate about.”

Blaine agreed and hopes that the legacy that he acquired is also the legacy he leaves.

“After I’m dead and gone, I’d be really happy if someone saw a really good horse and said, ‘that goes back to that Boulder Bluff breeding.’”

Britney added, “I want people to recognize and associate the Boulder Bluff prefix with honesty, integrity, quality and conformation. Breeding is very important to me because it’s in my blood; it’s what the Martins do, we breed, raise, train and show Clydesdale horses.”

 

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