Bobby Murphy Advances Education at NCAA Varsity Equestrian National Championships
RELEASE: April 24, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Jenny Ross
As a horse show manager, course designer, and jumper judge, Bobby Murphy of Lexington, KY, is no stranger to equestrian competitions. He has attended the most prestigious equestrian events in the country and has watched some of the very best international shows in Europe. He is involved with the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) and was on the WEG Business Opportunities Panel last year to educate small businesses on marketing strategies pertaining to the equestrian industry.
However, this past week, Murphy experienced horse shows in a new light and discovered what he feels has been missing. By managing the NCAA Varsity Equestrian National Championships, which is the year-end finals for varsity equestrian teams, Murphy witnessed a site unseen: riders working together, as a team, and supporting one another through thick and thin.
As an NCAA sport, the disciplines of Western and hunter seat equitation are now part of the athletic program at numerous universities, and the program has made incredible strides every year. Although the shows differ greatly from the recognized competitions that hold hunter and jumper classes, these differences are possibly the key factors needed to transform hunter/jumper shows into a spectator sport.
"I'm intrigued by the ambiance of the event and the atmosphere at the finals," commented Murphy. "Being around the varsity riders this week sparked a new passion in me to help progress equestrian sport on a college level. Tack room curtains and tack boxes had school colors and logos, and flags were hanging everywhere. All of the riders wore coats with their school colors, and you could hear teams in the distance chanting their schools' fight songs. It was incredible," he said. "Parents and fans were representing their teams by wearing school gear from head to toe, and each team ate their meals together and had meetings to create their strategy for the day. Everything was team oriented. The behavior I saw was truly that of a team sport. I've never seen such unity."
Murphy feels it would benefit the hunter/jumper industry if riders attended Varsity Equestrian competitions and observed the sport from "that side of the fence." He explained, "I think they could learn a lot. At the NCAA Varsity Equestrian show, fans and teammates would cheer each other on from the grandstands as riders approached the in-gate, and a big group would meet them after their round to support them, regardless of what happened in the ring. The team stretched far beyond the riders and coaches; there were parents, fans, team vets, team athletic directors and team photographers."
Auburn's Assistant Hunt Seat Coach Lindsey Neubarth reported, "The collegiate setting, the team setting and the atmosphere are what people want to see. Young people want to have someone to cheer for; they want to know who is in the ring. People know when an Auburn girl walks in the ring, and I think that is important for hunters and jumpers to be exposed to."
After Auburn University defeated number one-ranked Oklahoma State, Auburn qualified to compete against Texas A & M in the final bracket, and the show grounds lit with energy. "TV cameras were everywhere, and everyone was chanting their school's fight song. It was a moment to remember! It truly was!" exclaimed Murphy. "Huge celebrations were held back at the Auburn and Texas A & M stalls!" On the final day, Auburn came away with the overall win and secured the championship title. As national champions for hunter seat equitation, the Auburn Equestrian Team will parade their trophy this fall at one of their school's home football games and share their victory with about 100,000 Auburn fans.
With new insight into the varsity equestrian season and year-end finals, Murphy feels that hunter/jumper shows would attract more spectators if the sport was structured in a format similar to the culture of American sports, with seasons,