A horse lover and rider all her life, Bridget Murphy made the move to Para Dressage three years ago and has not looked back.
Q. Is your family horsey?
A. My mum, grandfather and great-grandfather all had horses, but I’m the only one of my siblings with the ‘horse gene’.
Q. When did you begin riding?
A. As a toddler I sat on any horse I saw and I was ten when I started riding properly. I’m now 33.
Q. Do you live on a property with your horses?
A. No, but I’m lucky to have them agisted very close to home in the Yarra Valley.
With Welsh x Dutch Riding Pony Penmain Promise (Image courtesy Bridget Murphy)
Q. Do you have someone assisting you?
A. Mum was a huge help when I was younger but now I do much of it myself, or with help from a friend who’s stepped in to groom since I began Para Dressage.
Q. You’ve had a long-standing relationship with Pony Club.
A. I joined when I was 11. I ran the Junior Committee when I was a riding member and when I ‘left’ I returned as a coach and am presently on the Club’s committee. I was very honoured to receive the Pony Club Award of Merit.
Q. Do you still hold a PC Instructor’s Certificate?
A. Yes, and I’m looking forward to getting back to coaching and judging now restrictions are lifting.
Q. Are you still in a leadership role in your local Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria branch?
A. Unfortunately I’m not involved at the moment, but I might come back to it soon!
Q. Do you have other work away from horses?
A. Yes, I work in the disability sector.
Q. Who was behind your move to Para Equestrian and how old were you?
A. I was 30-years-old and Sharon Jarvis can take the blame for that one!
Q. About your current horses.
A. Macey (Penmain Promise) is a five-year-old Welsh x Dutch Riding Pony who I bought during the 2020 lockdown. I’ve been enjoying bringing her along, and I also have Tash (Dracmoore Flirtacious). Unfortunately, she had a paddock injury last year but her rehabilitation is progressing well.
Temperament and trainability are a priority in a para horse (Image by Susan Jeffers, Equine Images Victoria).
Q. What’s your Para Equestrian grade?
A. I’m classified as a Grade 2 which means my tests comprise walk and trot movements, with leg yields and lengthening too. We can show lateral work in our freestyles but aren’t allowed to canter.
Q. What do you look for in a suitable para horse?
A. For me temperament and trainability are a priority. Then the horse should have good paces, especially those specific to your grade. In my case as a Grade 2, the horse doesn’t need a good canter.
Q. How are para horses trained?
A. Any horse with a willing and trainable temperament can be a para horse. Training will differ as each rider has different needs, for example learning whip instead of leg aids, or being more responsive to voice aids. There are no rules regarding breeds, types, or height requirements but to compete at FEI level they must be six years or older. To be competitive on the international stage they need to have flash, quality paces and the temperament to cope with big crowds and arenas, which can be a rare combination to find.
Q. What is the highest level you’ve competed at?
A. FEI level in Para Dressage.
Q. Do you get nervous before an event?
A. I don’t like people watching me ride so I do get nervous, but I’m learning how to redirect that energy into something helpful.
Q. Do you have any pre-competition superstitions?
A. Maybe socks. If I’m having a good run I make sure the socks I’ve been wearing get packed for each comp – washed, of course!
Q. Do you compete in open company and are you competitive?
A. Before starting Para Dressage I only ever competed in open company. I hope to soon get my young horse out to some open competitions while she’s still too young for the Para Dressage classes. I always want to do better against myself, but I don’t see me as ‘competitive’ – that’s not what drives me.
Q. Like many riders, do you regularly visit a physio or the like?
A. Yes. I have realised how important it is. Of course, the horses get treatments first but I try to go at least once a month to my physio or myotherapist.
Q. Is there rivalry between Para Equestrians?
A. Yes and no. There are definitely some who are competitive and you don’t want to get in their way on game day. But riders are mostly pretty supportive and want to see each other do well.
Q. Are there any improvements you would like to see made to the Para Equestrian landscape in Australia?
A. The sport is constantly changing and there are some great people behind the scenes working on it. I think two things would make a huge difference. Firstly, more competitions offering Para Dressage at a grass roots level. This would help riders get involved without having to go straight out to the big comps. The other thing would be for more owners to get involved with the sport. We have some brilliant riders who could potentially bring home more medals if they just had the horsepower to match the international riders. There are lots of ways for owners to get involved and it’s a fantastic experience for everyone.
Q. Do you have lessons from a regular coach and have any pupils yourself?
A: I’m currently part of Brett Parbery’s Performance Riders Program which I’m finding absolutely fantastic, especially for my young horse. I was recently the recipient of Brett’s 2022 Para Equestrian Scholarship. I enjoy going to clinics with coaches who align with my training philosophy, and I also teach a nice little group of young riders.
Q. In 2019 you won a Weekly Times award – what did that represent?
A: I was humbled to win the ‘Belief’ category of the newspaper’s Shine Awards. These are for women who are making a difference in rural communities and it was an honour to be among such inspiring women.
Q. Are you affected by the postponement of the CPEDI3* competition, a World Championship qualifier, which is now to take place at Boneo Park in mid-June?
A: My horse is too young to campaign for WEG but I do feel for those riders who are trying to build their training programs around events which keep being re-scheduled. However, I think most riders are just pleased that there are competitions happening again after so long.
Q. Do you communicate with any of the international para equestrians such as Sir Lee Pearson or Sophie Wells?
A: Apart from having them on social media not really. But I chat regularly with the Australian riders.
Q. Do you have any advice to aspiring equestrians?
A: Keep your mind open, heart kind, values strong and your horse as Number One – always.
Feature Image: Bridget and Dracmoore Flirtacious (Image courtesy Bridget Murphy).