Murray takes reins for national champion

Becca Murray got her first taste of collegiate national championship competition as a freshman last season at Texas A&M University. However, as some her teammates were busy winning a title at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships, Murray wasn't chosen as one of the Aggies' riders and didn't get the opportunity to compete.

"Even though I didn't compete last year, it was kind of nice to be able to just watch everybody and see what happens at the competition," said Murray, a 2009 Burbank High graduate. "I helped out a lot and I was able to warm up horses. It was nice to be there supporting our team and seeing what it was all about."

This season, Texas A&M's western team again made its way to the championship event — the 10th Varsity Equestrian National Championships April 14-16 at Waco's Extraco Events Center in Texas. But instead of watching from the sideline, Murray, a sophomore, got her chance to shine as a participant at the event.

"I definitely felt more prepared this year after watching last year," Murray said.

Murray didn't disappoint. As a matter of fact, she came through with the decisive win in the reining competition that put the No. 1-ranked Aggies over the top in a 5-3 victory against Kansas State.

It was Texas A&M's third straight national championship and ninth in the history of the program since the national event began in 1999.

Murray said being able to compete, and to win her event, was thrilling.

"It feels pretty amazing," she said. "I really, truly can't believe that we were able to win it. For the school to win its ninth title is incredible."

A 145-point ride and victory by Aggies sophomore reiner Courtney Dawe, and a narrow Kansas State win to keep the Wildcats alive, set the stage for Murray's winning ride. Murray earned the decisive fifth and clinching point that successfully defended A&M's title by defeating Alecia Zimbelman, 140-0. Zimbelman ended up being disqualified for not executing a required pattern.

Murray was watching Zimbelman's ride, and knew her competition had made the mistake before she took her mount.

"Some of the pressure was off of me because I knew I didn't have a huge score to beat," Murray said. "I just tried not to over think it too much, and I just wanted to be calm and not get too nervous."

Aggies Coach Tana McKay said Murray definitely earned her spot among the riders at the national championship.

"Becca is just really calm, cool and collected," McKay said. "I never truly know if she gets nervous because she doesn't show it. She's a very focused rider and she obviously has a lot of talent. She is also very adaptable to any type of horse.

"For someone who hadn't had the experience on the national stage, she really proved herself, especially in that championship round."

Murray, 20, has been riding for more than 14 years, mostly as a reiner. Reining is a western riding competition for horses where the riders guide the horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops. All work is done at the lope (a slow, relaxed version of the horse gait more commonly known worldwide as the canter) and gallop.

Reining is often described as a Western form of dressage riding, as it requires the horse to be responsive and in tune with its rider, whose aids should not be easily seen, and judges the horse on its ability to perform a set pattern of movements.

In the national competition, each college's coaches pick just 16 of the team's athletes to compete in four classes: reigning, horsemanship, flat and fences. The Aggies have a team 60 riders strong, which includes 12 reiners.

"I felt honored that I was picked for one of those spots, and I'm grateful for it," Murray said. "I just kept working hard all year to try and prove that I should be in one of those spots for sure. We have a really deep team and we have a lot of talent. It really makes it hard to narrow it down with that much talent."

With her first national-championship competition under her belt, Murray said she can't wait to see what her final two years at Texas A&M will bring.

"I absolutely love being on the team, and I can't believe I'm already halfway through," said Murray, who is majoring in animal science. "I'm excited for the next two years, for sure, and I plan to help out at least a year after I graduate and stay with the team. My plan is just to stay as close to it as I can because it's so much fun."

McKay said she is expecting more success from Murray in the coming two seasons.

"I think she can kind of settle in a little now that she's gotten that experience in her first national show as a competitor," she said. "We know she'll continue to do well for us."

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