Keller senior Grace McMurray signed a letter of intent to join Division I New Mexico State University’s equestrian team this week.
McMurray is a nationally-ranked Hunter/Jumper competitor. Hunter/Jumper riders are scored on the ability to command a horse during specific jumps as well as speed and agility. The other aspect of scoring is based on the beauty and elegance of the horse and rider working together.
“It’s always been my dream to ride with a collegiate team,” McMurray said. After competing in numerous prestigious competitions across the country and following the collegiate teams, McMurray said she knew which programs she wanted to send her resume and videos to for consideration and recruitment.
Being ranked seventh in the country helped McMurray easily draw the attention of several schools, including TCU. But the local university didn’t have the right academic mix for her desired major of environmental engineering.
McMurray’s dream started when she first started riding at age 5 after watching the Discovery Kids program “Saddle Club.”
“I went running to my mom and told her I wanted to run fences,” McMurray said.
McMurray has been around horses ever since she was able to tack her own horse at age 7.
There is no UIL equestrian competition, although Keller does have a non-UIL rodeo club. McMurray doesn’t ride with the rodeo team, but participates in many of the group’s activities in order to stay close to other “horse people.” She got special permission to sign with other seniors at her high school in the recent signing ceremony.
“No other team is really related to my sport,” McMurray said, “but it’s a closely related style of riding. They do Western riding and I’m an English rider. I help with the concession stand and give them moral support,” she said of her connection with the rodeo team.
By age 10, McMurray started competing and knew that’s what she really wanted to do. She began competing nationally through the United States Equestrian Federation.
Along with the long hours of practicing, McMurray has had to learn how to “get back on the horse” after been thrown.
“Oh, yes,” she said of being thrown in her years of riding. “I’ve been head-butted and thrown. The pony wasn’t feeling it that day and almost broke my nose,” she said of being head-butted. “I also broke my arm in third grade.”
In addition to the bumps and bruises, McMurray said the misconceptions about the sport normally center around the thought that the person in the saddle is just along for the ride while the horse does all the work.
“The misconception is the horse does everything,” she said. “That we kind of sit there and the horse is doing everything. The trick is to make it look that way. It takes hours and hours to make our subtleness in the saddle seem like we’re doing nothing.”
The rider has to judge distances prior to the jump and provide the necessary pressure with their knees and know how to loose the reins at the right moment, as the horse normally can’t see the jump three strides in advance. “The rider has to tell the horse where it is,” McMurray said.
That expertise truly comes into play during collegiate competitions. The host school provides the horses for both teams and the actual horse given a rider is by random draw.
“You get to warm up for five minutes and then you go to the competition ring,” McMurray said. “You’ll be riding the same horses as your competitor.”
Because of the format, schools recruit riders who display an aptitude of adaptability.
McMurray has plenty of credentials, including being a 2014 USHJA Hunterdon Equitation Cup Classic qualifier and USEF Medal Finals qualifier. She was the 2010 and 2011 Reserve Champion, Equitation, in the State of Texas as well as several other national competitions qualifier.
As McMurray has improved her skills, she has worked with local trainers such as Natalee Newton of Hillcrest Farm up to age 13, and then worked with Debbie Divecchia at Windswept Farm. At 17, she started working with Matthew Cyphert at Woodhill Farm.
McMurray will continue competing during the summer, but will leave for NMSU in Las Cruces in August. The NCAA season runs from late September until the national meet in April.