Joseph Murphy is a consistent powerhouse competitor for Team Ireland since riding in his first CCI4* (now CCI5*-L) in 2011. Confident and stylish in his cross-country riding, Murphy has achieved victories on self-produced horses at some of the world’s most challenging three-day competitions. Throughout various team experiences including the World Equestrian Games, London 2012 Olympics, and European Championships, Murphy’s riding and training system piqued the interest of the American eventing community.
Event Clinics caught up with Murphy after a week of teaching stateside in North Carolina and Florida. Since 2018, Murphy has been crossing the pond from his base in County Down, Ireland with increased frequency to teach clinics and share techniques with eventing enthusiasts throughout the United States.
With a style of jumping that may appear to some to be propelled by a bit of ‘luck of the Irish,’ Murphy’s riding has a foundation in good forward-thinking and self-assurance. With a methodical way of teaching that carefully guides riders and their horses through a variety of exercises, Murphy’s clinics are helping riders of all levels and backgrounds to achieve more confident, forward-thinking rides.
“At the head of my list in riding is confidence. If you don’t have a confident horse and rider you’re not going to achieve anything. My goal is to educate riders, to get riders to understand that they can do this process on their own, eventually. To become confident to walk a show jumping or cross-country course and become a little more independent, and have a little more confidence in themselves.”
“It’s inevitable to have bad days, but it’s so important to have confidence. If you have a day with a fall or a runout you have to realize it sometimes happens. But, if that happens and you don’t have confidence, you’re probably about to quit. Confidence means you can take the hit and it can bounce off you.”
The desire to instill more confident, detailed thinking in those who ride with him stems from Murphy’s own riding background. A competitive Gaelic football player in his youth, Murphy began riding at age 16 with the local fox hunting club. He later earned his jockey license and was a successful point-to-point race rider before shifting gears to eventing. Murphy developed much of his feel and instinct for riding outside of an arena, and he attributes his reliance upon forward riding to exactly that. “It creates a forward mindset from the beginning when you start really naturally with riding up and down the roads and around the field, hunting, and games with ponies and all that.”
Murphy’s transformation from gutsy field hunter to talented cross-country competitor had much to do with so many of the talented riders he has been able to learn from throughout his career.
“I started a bit late and had to fast-track myself, so there was a lot of self-training, and I worked with who I could. I became quite independent as a person and a rider,” said Murphy.
“Ginny Elliott has been the most influential on my cross-country riding. ‘Incredible’ is the word I would use for her. She’d still be winning if she was riding now, she always rode technically very well and in a way with a modern style that suits exactly what our cross-country courses demand from us now. I’ve taken on her attention to detail and it’s been serving me very well!”
To help riders better use their instinct and independent thinking when approaching certain lines or exercises, Murphy uses the social nature of small group clinic lessons to his advantage. At the same time, he is meticulous about details, and is quick to understand the individual needs of each combination in the group.
“From my experience, it’s important to get each rider involved with the other riders - watching, listening, and learning the lines. Seeing what other riders do well, or are struggling with, can really fast-track your learning. Having a comfortable atmosphere with everyone feeling relaxed makes a difference, and then the learning becomes very fun and positive.”
“As a coach, I always want people to learn something from each other, especially in a group setting - for better or for worse. I want them to relate a bit to me and how I ride - for better or worse - and then be able to take the exercises we work through and relate them to a lot of situations so they can better tackle the dressage, show jumping, or cross-country.”
In his teaching, Murphy encourages riders to shift the barriers of their comfort zones. He expects riders to truly give the exercises their best shot, even if that requires trying something a bit new or different that may result in a mistake or two. “I don’t worry about [riders and horses] making mistakes in my exercises, because that’s where they learn so much more.”
“I put riders into situations where they have to use instinct and feel to find the distance or the line. I’m always putting riders into situations where they consistently have to work with the horses to get the best results, and that’s very much my system.”
“From my own riding I understand that confidence is a massive thing, and I feel I go through a good process of building this in the horse and rider in lessons, especially by speaking to and treating the rider as an equal to me.”
With his students, Murphy truly strikes a balance of teacher and teammate. “I love the fact that riders have a will to train and to try to get better . . . I always tell my students that ‘if you have a question or need anything I am always available by email, phone, or WhatsApp.' I’ve invested a lot of time in myself going to the best riders and trainers in the world, and having a relationship with them. If riders can get that enthusiasm and feel from me that’s brilliant.”
“I want to be a good teacher and trainer to horses and their riders,” Murphy told EC. At their facility in Ireland, Murphy, alongside his wife Jill (and daughter Daisy, of course) make a huge effort to expand educational opportunities for young riders and students of all ages. Their family-oriented training business is hugely supportive and encouraging, which Murphy carries over to his clinic teaching.
“I can’t do the sport on my own, it takes a real team and support network. We really strive to create a good, positive feeling from start to finish. Everybody is supporting everybody - that’s what you want in the sport. [My wife] Jill and I really believe if you put good things out there, good things usually come back at you.”
You can find and register for upcoming clinics with Joseph Murphy via Event Clinics by clicking here. For more details on Murphy’s program, plans, and exciting string of young horses, head to www.josephmurphyeventing.com or contact [email protected].
Find more photography from Radka Prieslerova at www.radkaprieslerphoto.com.
The USEA is heartbroken to hear about the loss of James “Jimmy” C. Wofford. A lifelong lover and supporter of the sport, Wofford has had an astounding influence on where eventing is today and has tirelessly supported the goals of the United States Eventing Association. He served as president of the American Horse Show Association (now U.S. Equestrian (USEF)), was the first vice-president of the U.S. Equestrian Team (USET), and served as secretary of the USCTA (now USEA). He served two terms as a member of the FEI Eventing Committee, including two years as vice chairman. In addition, he has served on numerous committees during his career.
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For seasoned and novice riders alike, it is always good to revisit the basics. Serving as the foundation for any eventer, the positions used on the cross-country course differ from those in the dressage or show jumping ring. The USEA tuned into five-time Olympian, three-time World Equestrian Games rider, two Pan-American Games rider, and USEA ECP certified coach Karen O'Connor as she walked coaches and students at the USEA ECP Symposium through the basic positions for effective cross-country riding.