Each issue, MSEDA will highlight a member who is active in the organization to give other members a peek into their horse-loving lives. Interested in being featured? Email Sarah at email@example.com.
By Sarah E. Coleman
All photos by Veronica Feth
One would be hard pressed to find a trainer more concerned about the care of horses as individuals than Ellen Murphy of Georgetown, KY. Now based on her home farm, Ellen Murphy Sporthorses is even more hands-on, which translates into many things, including happy horses and a supportive, team environment among boarders. One of Ellen’s favorite things about training horses is discovering what makes each horse happiest and creating a training plan tailored to each horse’s quirks and talents.
MSEDA: Where are you from?
Ellen Murphy: Lexington, KY
MSEDA: When did you begin riding?
EM: I began riding at the age of 7 at Windy Knoll Farm in Lexington. I took group lessons there for several years before moving to Antebellum Farm where the Newton family very graciously allowed me to ride, compete and Pony Club on their children’s outgrown mounts.
MSEDA: What is your background in horses?
EM: My husband and I own Castle Park Farm, a Thoroughbred farm located in Georgetown, KY, which he runs. Being around the Toughened industry has been a great educational experience, as the attention to detail that is necessary for turning out successful sales horses and having a successful breeding program is tremendous.
In addition to the Thoroughbreds, I own and operate Ellen Murphy Sporthorses, a dressage training and lesson facility in Georgetown. Prior to going out on my own, I was very fortunate to have some wonderful educational experiences.
I spent almost 10 years as an instructor for LFUCG’s Masterson Station Park Equestrian Program. There I gained a lot of experience with teaching all ages and levels of riders, as well as learning how to care for a large herd of horses. Lessons were taught in a group setting and learning that skill was very valuable as I do a lot of work these days with three of our local Pony Clubs: Keeneland, Wilderness Trace and Bluegrass Pony Club. All three of these Clubs offer clinics that typically involve group lessons.
After college, I went and worked for several dressage trainers, riding horses and grooming. It was super to get to work under several different trainers and see how they handled training, horse management and client relations. Learning how each handled these tasks that are so integral to running a business was wonderful—I took pieces from each of the trainers and apply them now to my own business.
I also worked for a few years at the Kentucky Horse Park, managing their Education Department. This involved overseeing a wide variety of educational programs, in addition to looking after a large herd of horses.
MSEDA: How long have you been competing?
EM: I began competing in eventing as a young child, but I never really enjoyed jumping much, especially competitively. In high school, I was offered the opportunity to ride and compete a really nice American Saddlebred mare who did dressage. It had never occurred to me that this was an option to do JUST dressage! I loved it. Since then, I have been competing only in dressage.
MSEDA: When did you get your first horse?
EM: I didn’t truly have my very own horse until I was 19! Galea was a beautiful, but extremely challenging, Belgian Warmblood mare. I was so excited to finally have a horse of my very own! I remember all of the boarders who had watched me grow up out at Antebellum all gathering around to congratulate me as she pulled up in the van from Michigan.
MSEDA: What horses do you own now?
- EM: Ummm ... 8 (But don’t tell my husband!).I know I am a horse hoarder but I adore them all!!!!
- Acorello is a lovely Saxon Warmblood gelding who I purchased last year. He had been competing in upper-level jumpers, but had become show ring sour so we took a gamble on making him into a dressage horse and it seems to be working out. He has been with me and in dressage training for one year now and is schooling 3rd/4th level and parts of the PSG (on his less sassy days!). He is still working through some tension and show ring anxiety issues, but he is getting better every day and is fascinating to work with and figure out!
- Solstice is a Friesian Sport Horse who came to me late this summer, so he’s super new, but very cool. He is also just learning the dressage ropes, he had previously been used as a pleasure-type horse, but he’s catching on quickly. He is the first Friesian I have done much work with, so it’s been interesting to learn more about the breed. He is probably the sweetest and kindest horse I have ever met. He very genuinely wants to please you all day every day.
- Slainte CPF, better known as Baby Simon, is my first homebred Warmblood. He is lovely and has an amazing temperament. Everything is just OK with him--and that’s a really nice quality! He truly is not fazed by much!
- Simon has a 2-year-old half brother, Jasper. I am super excited to get him started in the spring and see what he will be like.
- Then there are Copper and Calypso. Copper was my first OTTB sales project ... 13 years ago!!! He is the coolest horse I will ever own and is more an overgrown Golden Retriever than a horse. He lets the dogs lead him all over the farm, including up the stairs on to the front porch! Copper is trained up to 3rd level, but an injury prevented him from going further with his training. Today he is used as a lower-level schoolmaster for my students. He is the king of lateral work (thanks to many hours of Judi Tudor yelling at me years ago!), so he is a great horse for students to learn the mechanics and feel of lateral movements as they try to learn them and teach their horses. Calypso is my first FEI horse. I bought him many years ago to learn what the heck all these things were supposed to feel like. He is such an amazing teacher and kind soul. He is a giant at 18.1 hands and used to be pretty explosive at times, but now that he's an Old Man, he he has left those days behind and I use him to let my more-advanced students learn the feel of some of the Grand Prix moves. He thinks being a teacher is very cool!
- Givenchy is my retired mare. She was a bit of a heart break. I had big dreams for her, but a pasture injury ended her career very early. I tried to bring her back a couple of years ago, but it ultimately didn't feel right, so she is retired and had her first foal, Pippa, this spring. She is a huge mare and we bred her to a small stallion for her first foal. My husband said it would be perfect for a maiden foal and she probably would slip it out without even noticing. Instead, it was the exact opposite of everything we expected! The filly was huge and upside down and backward. Luckily my husband was extremely quick to notice the problem when she went to foal, and a trip down the road to Hagyard and a C-Section later, I am extremely lucky to still have my beautiful mare and her beautiful filly. The experience was pretty scary and touch-and-go for a couple of days, so I am not breeding anyone for a while until I recover from that trauma!
MSEDA: What horses do you compete and what do you compete them in?
EM: This year has been mostly focused on training and forging relationships with my horses. I competed some client horses and have had many students out competing with great success, which helps to make being patient a little easier--horse showing is possibly my favorite thing! Acorello will show some 3rd and 4th level this winter and spring. The biggest goal is to make him like and enjoy showing dressage, so we are taking our time because when he is ready I think he will come along fast, and slow and steady always wins the race in the long haul when it comes to training horses. Solstice will do some training level over the winter and we will go from there. And Baby Simon will do the same. He is only 3, so he did a couple schooling shows over the summer for the experience, but next year I will start to formulate more of a plan.
MSEDA: How long have you been a MSEDA member?
EM: I have been a MSEDA member for 20+ years! It’s such a great organization and great group of supportive people! We are lucky to have it!
MSEDA: What is your favorite show and why?
EM: That’s a hard one! I think my favorite show is the Snowbird Dressage series run by my long-time mentors and friends, Julie Congleton and Judi Tudor. It always has such a fun, laid-back vibe and it’s such a great way to get horses and students out to get their feet wet at new levels in an environment where they can school through issues. During the regular show season, we all get sucked in to “putting Band-Aids” on problem areas in tests sometimes, so it’s so nice over the winter for students and horses to work on problem spots and test it out once a month at a schooling show to see if things are on track.
MSEDA: What level do you compete in?
EM: I have competed from Introductory level through the Grand Prix level and am lucky to have been able to achieve my USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals.
MSEDA: What are your horse's favorite treats?
Our whole barn is obsessed with Enviro Equine’s Healthy Pony treats! They are good for the horses and help promote healthy hooves and coats so we don’t have to feel guilty about feeding them ... around the clock!
Enviro Equine is a sponsor of mine and most of the horses in our barn use their products. Company owner Angela Brackett Knowles doesn't have a horse at the moment, so she comes and rides with us when she has a rare free moment. She adores “her horse” Acorello, so as soon as the treats came out, she came to the barn to hand deliver some for him!
MSEDA: Do you have any good luck rituals?
EM: I do not have any real good luck rituals, but I am super blessed to have the two best horse show helpers ever in my students Veronica Feth and Dani Ritter. They have me so spoiled that I think if neither one could come to a show I would panic! They are both so amazing at checking that every last little detail is just right, that each horse is tacked up and handled exactly as that horse likes, and they both have the timing down to a science of when I need to put on my helmet, when I need to put my foot in the stirrup to arrive at warm up with exactly the right amount of time for each horse.
Having that kind of help and support is so incredible because it truly takes all the stress out of showing and makes it really fun! All of my students are extremely supportive of each other and really take pride in making everyone feel like they are an equally important part of a team and that type of environment helps make everyone enjoy showing and feel relaxed and taken care of. This summer the girls were a little slap happy after spending 4 days in the 95 degree sun and decided to dub themselves “Team EMS.” They get a big kick out of it, but it is so nice to see our eventers come to cheer on the dressage riders and dressage riders out running XC to cheer on our event riders! It’s a lot of fun!
MSEDA: What do you do full time? Do you enjoy it?
I own and operate Ellen Murphy Sporthorses in Georgetown, KY.
I teach dressage lessons, train, and sell horses. My husband and I own a Thoroughbred Farm, Castle Park Farm, which my husband, Noel Murphy operates. We recently purchased a beautiful 200-acre farm here in Georgetown so that his business would be consolidated to one farm rather than leasing additional farms. That left the 60-acre farm where we live, which formerly housed part of the Thoroughbred operation, sitting empty. So this August I moved my operation home. It has been so nice to be able to walk out my door and go check on a horse, etc. We have a wonderful group of boarders, primarily with horses in regular training and sales horses. In addition, I teach lessons on the farm, as does my assistant, Danielle Ritter. We have a super group of riders and horses and are really enjoying being able to provide and extremely calm, peaceful atmosphere for horses and riders to train in; living on-site really allows me to give each horse that absolute attention to detail that is so necessary if you are really doing things right!
MSEDA: What do you most enjoy about training horses?
EM: I absolutely love the journey of training horses. No two horses are the same and no two horses should be trained the same. Figuring out what program will work best for each horse is a fascinating process to me because they are all so different, physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s really important to take the time to see what techniques they will respond best to, what exercise schedule and program they will do best with, what turn out schedule they like best, etc. We really try to tailor our program to each horse’s needs. Some of the dressage horses jump and do grid work weekly. Some hack 4 days a week and do dressage training only 2 days a week; some do mostly dressage. We recently had an event horse in the barn who was sent for work on his canter. We found that what helped his canter work the most was doing less of it. He really thrived on doing at least two rides a week where I just worked on free walk, medium walk, halt. It’s so exciting to find what works for each horse and helping them reach those little light bulb moments!!! Sometimes a horse figuring out how to stretch or gaining confidence in seeking the bit is more exciting than a first passage or tempi changes!!! It’s really all about the journey!
MSEDA: What do you enjoy most of all the roles you play at your farm?
EM: Totally being with the horses. I love to feed them and to tuck them in. There is no more amazing moment than sitting and listening to them happily munching on feed and hay in a clean, quiet barn at the end of a long day!
MSEDA: How did you get into this job?
EM: I sort of accidentally feel in to this job. I left my job at the Horse Park with a verbal promise of being hired at a different job, which I felt would lead me more on to the path I wanted to take. Luckily in the long run, that job fell through and my husband, Noel, and friend Julie Congleton, both pushed me to take the plunge. I felt ridiculously under qualified and was convinced that everyone was probably laughing at me. But so many professionals who I really looked up to encouraged and helped me along the way. That is one of the really cool things about our local dressage and eventing community: It is so supportive and encouraging!
MSEDA: What are your favorite equestrian brands?
EM: I love my friend and sponsor, Kimberley Phillips’, products from Enter At A LLC! She makes the most amazing custom browbands for all of the horses in our barn. She also makes gorgeous stock ties, belts, bracelets, key chains and on and on--I pretty much live in her products all the time!
I am also in love with my Custom Saddlery saddle. When I got Acorello, we had big concerns with saddle fit for him and I called Kate Wooten because I had heard she is the best around at saddle fitting. She introduced me to the Custom saddles and now I want one for every horse in the barn—It’s like heaven to ride in!
MSEDA: What are your horse's quirks?
EM: I have a lot of quirky horses. In fact, my husband recently said that from now on he is coming with me to try horses because he is tired of dealing with all my quirky horses! I warned him he might have to up the budget if we are going to go quirk-free! I am pretty sure all my girls in the barn would agree that Acorello is the quirkiest. You cannot clip him, get near him with a needle, or scissor his bridle path and some days you can’t even braid him. He often throws a fit about things like currying his head, but then once you get him to let you, he loves it! If he were a person, he would for sure be a difficult to deal with, temperamental movie star; he is hands-down the most arrogant horse I have ever met. But he is also incredibly sensible. Nothing really scares him, I can hack him bridleless to and from his paddock, and he loves nothing more than a good grooming.
MSEDA: What is your favorite clinic you have taken part in? Where was it and why did you enjoy it so much?
EM: I have been exteremly lucky to ride in many fantastic clinics. Clinics with Condrad Schumacher are always incredible. I have gotten to ride several times with our good family friend, Donnan Sharp, who rode on the Olympic Team and has coached many, many, many top riders. She is married to one of my husband’s main partners in the Thoroughbreds, so I got super lucky! She is so incredible to ride with; she doesn't miss a single mistake. One slightly crooked stride and she will catch it. It always makes me stay so much more accountable in my riding! I have also been enjoying riding with Alfredo Hernandez for the past year. His sense of timing and when to push and when not to is truly special. Every time I ride with him I feel like my horse truly dances and what seems so complicated becomes so simplistic. It’s really all about timing and feel in dressage.
MSEDA: What is your favorite part of your barn?
EM: I love the camaraderie we have in the barn. Everyone is so much fun and so helpful and encouraging to each other. I think that is a hard situation to find. Also, everyone is so devoted to doing whatever is needed for the horses, no one ever leaves if there is still something to be done for a horse. I love that “all for one” feel!
MSEDA: What other animals do you own?
EM: We have two dogs, Harry and Bentley. Bentley is a Yellow Lab and is worth his weight in gold. Our toddler son, Rory, sits on him, brushes his teeth, dresses him up. The dog is so kind! We also have a barn cat, Chiquita, who also gets a gold star for happily letting my littlest barn helper carry her upside down and drag her around; she spends many a Sunday morning sitting in a chair in the barn watching Micky Mouse Clubhouse on my phone with Rory while sharing his breakfast!
MSEDA: What are you passionate about other than horses?
EM: I love to spend time playing with our son, Rory. He is 3 now and nonstop entertainment! It is the most amazing thing in the world to watch a baby turn into a little person. I am astounded by is innate sense of fairness. If he gives one dog two treats, he is adamant that the other also get exactly two.
MSEDA: What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were younger?
EM: When I was very young, someone warned me that when showing horses “the deck is not stacked evenly”; that there will always be someone with a fancier, more expensive, more trained, more talented horse, and who has more access to lessons, help, etc. This is very true. I have found that it is so important to understand in life, and riding, that we are all on our own journey and we need to focus on our journey, not those of the people around us. Just because a friend has a horse competing upper levels does not mean that you are failing because you are not. Every horse and every rider has to move at their own pace and accomplish their own goals. What is right at the time for one pair is not right for another. And that is just fine.