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Golden Gal

Successful youth rider Rebecca Murray fills her passions with horses and reining

By DANIEL K. LEW / Horsetrader staff - January 7th, 2010 - Cover Story

Waltenberry photo

Californian Rebecca Murray and Gatolotto win the 2009 NRHA North American Affiliate Finals' Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2 division.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Many Californians traveled to Oklahoma City for the National Reining Horse Association Futurity and North American Affiliate Finals held Nov. 26-Dec. 5 at State Fair Arena. One of the many riders who represented the Golden State well was Rebecca Murray, 18, of Burbank. For the past several years, the up-and-coming youth rider has consistently excelled at California Reining Horse Association and NRHA Affiliate competitions–and her peers say she has a bright future ahead.

Horses and Reining: No Looking Back
Murray started riding when she was 4 years old and horses have been the focus of her life since then. “It just happened–my older sisters quit riding and my mom asked if I wanted to start, and I said yes,” recalled Murray, whose riding progressed to competing in pleasure and all-around classes.

Six years later, her mother, Lisa, would indirectly steer her horse-loving daughter into a new direction–reining. “When I was 10, my mom bought a reining horse and put it into training with Tom Foran,” Murray said. “I went over, watched, it looked like a lot of fun, so I tried it a couple times and decided to switch over. Since I started reining, I haven’t looked back and have never even questioned going into another discipline.”

Accomplished World Champion reiner Tom Foran has helped guide Murray’s training and horse-show success. But she has been more than willing to put in the barn hours to ride, train and keep practicing at Foran’s ranch in Santa Paula, Calif. “I’ve definitely had to practice a lot; I spend all my summers at the ranch,” Murray said. “Pretty much every summer, for as long as I can remember, I’ve spent it at the ranch–riding all day, every day and getting as much practice as I can.”

Murray has been training with Foran for almost eight years. “She’s become a great horseperson, a good showman, does well in school, and is a class act all the way around,” Foran said of Murray.

While many teenagers fill their lives with a variety of activities, Murray said some of her non-equestrian friends did not always comprehend the love and bond she and other riders share with their horses. “They didn’t understand why I was always with my horses. It’s something you need to have a strong passion for–to get why I’m always out there, why I spend so much time with my horses,” she said.

In the last few years, Murray has achieved much of her success on her beloved Quarter Horse gelding, Gatolotto, who she has owned for seven years. “He’s been such a great horse. We’ve had our moments when things don’t go as planned, but every time it really matters, he really pulls through for me,” Murray said. “He’s 12 now and he just keeps going. Gato has always been a very special horse for me; I learned how to ride on him.”

Rebecca Murray and Gatolotto win an invitational freestyle competition at the 2009 NRHA Futurity.

Waltenberry photo

Rebecca Murray and Gatolotto win an invitational freestyle competition at the 2009 NRHA Futurity.

Meeting Goals
At the 2009 NRHA Futurity’s North American Affiliate Club Finals, Murray accomplished one of her goals by winning a saddle–and taking both first and second place in her division, too. Murray, representing the Southwest Region, took champion and co-reserve champion honors in NAAC Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2 aboard Gatolotto (213.5 score) and Dun It With A Boom (212.5 score) respectively.

“One of my goals in showing has been to win a saddle. I’ve always come very close, within a half point several times. In 2009, I won it on ‘Gato’ and I won my first saddle–so that was really exciting,” Murray said. “I drew up pretty early, I marked a 213 and I didn’t think my score would stick and hold the whole time. When it came to the awards, I didn’t even have Gato out there because I didn’t think I did very well. Then, when they announced it–it was just amazing.”

Murray also rode in the NRHA Futurity’s invitational freestyle performances event for the second, consecutive year. The riders, chosen for their established freestyle performance achievements, performed in front of cheering crowds. Murray notably performed a bridleless freestyle routine for the past two years, and rode in honor of her friend Rebecca Goss, a 16-year old reiner who died in a car accident in March 2007. “I do the freestyle in honor of her memory and to raise awareness for the foundation that her parents created,” Murray said of the Rebecca Goss “Boo-Yaah” Memorial Foundation (www.beccaboo-yaah.org), which provides financial support to assist grieving families with medical, burial and counseling expenses, in addition to offering college scholarships to veterinary medicine students.

At the 2009 NRHA Futurity, Murray rode Gatolotto to the song “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked.” “I dressed up like Glenda the Good Witch, made my horse the Wicked Witch of the East–dressed him in green with a witch’s hat. I was bridleless again and ended up winning the freestyle as well.”

Rebecca Murray has achieved much of her success with her Gatolotto, a 12-year-old Quarter Horse gelding.

Daniel K. Lew / Horsetrader photo

Rebecca Murray has achieved much of her success with her Gatolotto, a 12-year-old Quarter Horse gelding.

Humble Success
2009 was one of the highlight years for the grounded and mature 18 year old. In addition to innumerable wins at CRHA and NRHA Regional Affiliate shows, Murray and her steady horse, Gatolotto, were the CRHA Jackpot Show Series Year-End Award winners in the Non Pro, Limited Non Pro, and Youth 14-18 divisions.

Last year, Murray riding Gatolotto also admirably took reserve championship at the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association’s Jack and Linda Baker Reining Classic Finals. Murray barely finished in second place, but she was just as happy for the Baker Classic winner, Keri Blackledge of Costa Mesa, Calif. Blackledge similarly praised Murray: “I’ve known Becca for six or seven years now–and she’s an amazing rider, so whether it was her or me, I was happy for either one of us to win,” Blackledge said. “The competition was very hard; there’s a lot of outstanding riders like Becca out there and it was very close.”

Win or lose, Murray also had a very special experience at the 2009 American Quarter Horse Association’s Youth World show. “I made the finals on Gato. One of my biggest goals has been to win the World show, and last year, it was very close. I ended up being in a three-way tie in the finals, so we had a three-way run-off,” she said. “I ended up third because Gato kicked out in a lead change, but it was one of the best moments of showing. Just the fact that there was a three-way tie was amazing–I can’t even begin to describe the experience. It was truly amazing and I ended up getting a bronze globe.”

Regarding her third-place finish after the tie-breaker, Murray said: “I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that. It was very cool, especially the run-off. I have one more year left of being a youth, so I hope to go back there next year and try again; I’m pretty happy.”

Thankful for the Support
Murray said she realizes it takes a lot of dedication and time to improve one’s riding and hope for horse-show success. “There were times when I didn’t think I was ever going to win–I just worked very hard and put a lot of time and dedication to it. Much of it comes from experience as well and never giving up,” she said. “You can’t expect to go out there and win every time; you need to have passion for it as well.”

She is also thankful to her long-time trainer Tom Foran and ever-supportive parents, Craig and Lisa Murray.

“Tom has been a great trainer. I have to say–in the beginning–coming from pleasure was a little bit of a hard transition into reining. I think he always knew what I had in me–he pushed me and worked with me a lot,” Murray said. “Over the summer, I would go out there and ride every day and he would always be out there helping me. He taught me pretty much everything I know about horses and reining. I owe a lot of my success to him–I don’t think I could have done as well as I’ve had without his help.”

Murray also said her parents “have always been behind me every step of the way. They always knew what I had in me, even when I didn’t. They’ve helped me with everything; I couldn’t have come so far without them.”

College Bound to Texas
Murray’s reining skills caught the eye of Texas A&M University coaches, who recruited her for the college’s equestrian team as a reiner. But Murray’s consistency in the classroom also earned her an academic scholarship to Texas A&M, where she recently finished her first semester in college.

Prior to making a final decision about which college to attend, the Southern Californian visited Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, and fell in love with the school. “It’s amazing and the equestrian team is amazing–I love it,” said Murray, who also immediately found a liking to the Lone Star State’s horse-friendly people.

“Texans are a lot nicer, and in some ways, Texas is a lot different from California,” she said. “Just going around town, you see everyone in boots and cowboy hats. I go around wearing my boots and spurs, and it’s just normal,” she laughs. “Doing the same thing in California or Los Angeles, you just get looked at funny. In Texas, it’s just normal–it’s really cool, actually.”

Outside of academic studies majoring in animal science, Murray continues practicing and riding the school’s horses each day, while also competing on the Texas A&M equestrian team.

After college, Murray said one of her long-term goals is open a hippotherapy program–a physical, occupational and speech-language therapy treatment which uses horses and equine movement as part of rehabilitation. “The ability horses have to rehabilitate is truly amazing. They can help improve speech, movement, walking, and motor skills for people,” said Murray, who has read up and written school research papers on the subject. “I think it would be a really rewarding career.”

For complete show results from the NRHA Futurity, visit the Web site: www.nrhafuturity.com

5 comments have been made on “Golden Gal”

  1. Lisa Murray Says:

    Thanks so much for the amazing cover and article on our daughter, Becca Murray. It was accurate and well written and so deserving for a wonderful girl like Becca.. She is as dedicated and talented as the article stated. We really appreciate your magazine and the wonderful coverage you have always given to us crazy “Horse Loving ” California Reiners! Craig and Lisa Murray

  2. Dan Birch Says:

    I remember the first time I saw Rebecca with her horse. She must have been 6 or 7, a tiny little thing, and there she was with with a hoof between her legs. She was digging and scraping, then moved on to the next hoof. Slamming her body against the horses thigh, shouting MOVE, bumping him over so she could reach the other hoof. I mean the horse was 50 times her size and she was totally in control. I knew then that she was either serious or crazy. I was totally stunned. Last time I went riding I knew she was really something and now I know she’s the best!

  3. Kelsey Nichols Says:

    Love the article! I am so happy for her and everything that she accomplished last year. The memories from last year will last forever, from crawfish in OKC to saying bye in August. I wish her the best of luck in everything that is ahead!!!!

  4. Anna Marie Says:

    Way to go Becca!!! what a great article I have had the privilege to see you and and feel the love and respect you have your horse and sport .. and that is a mark of a true champion ..

  5. Mary Swindell Says:

    Great job, we are proud of your accomplishments, the Swindell’s in Florida.

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