Getting the opportunity to be part of a team that won a second-straight national championship last season was a fulfilling experience for Becca Murray.
However, in a collegiate equestrian realm that is seeing more parity with each coming season, Murray — a 2009 Burbank High graduate — and her Texas A&M University teammates realized winning a title at this season's 11th Varsity Equestrian National Championships was going to be a difficult task.
But the Aggies were indeed up to the task, as they captured their fourth straight championship by the slimmest of margins, winning a tiebreaker against Oklahoma State to capture the overall title.
Texas A&M also accomplished a first in the victory, as it became the first team in the sport's history to place both Western and English squads in the finals.
Murray, a junior, said being able to win a third national title is a bit overwhelming.
"It's pretty awesome, really," said Murray, who went 2-1 in the championship in the reining discipline. "Having three championship rings is pretty unbelievable. I would have been happy with just one. But it's pretty cool to have three."
In the finals April 14 at Waco's Extraco Events Center in Texas, the Aggies, who claimed the overall national title the day before — the program's second overall and first since 2002 — made it four in a row and nine total on the Western side less than 24 hours later to continue their reign as the nation's top collegiate Western program. The victory also gives the program a combined total of 11 national championships.
But the title didn't come without some drama. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State finished the competition deadlocked at four, which invoked the raw-score tiebreaker to determine the overall champion. The judges then went to video review, replacing the Cowgirls' final rider's score with a zero, which clinched what was already a likely Aggie victory. Officially, Texas A&M won the tiebreaker 1,116.5-975.5.
"The fact that both of our English and Western teams made it to the championship round, which of course hasn't been done by any other team, was pretty awesome," said Murray, 21. "It was definitely close at the end; I'm just glad that we were able to win it."
The title ends a successful season for Murray. She went 11-5-1 to tie for the team lead in reining and is now 4-1-1 in national championship matches. For her efforts, Murray was named an honorable-mention All-American.
Aggies' Coach Tana McKay said Murray has worked hard not only this season, but throughout her three years at Texas A&M.
"The thing about our sport is that the girls have really never done this and they come from the type of competition where they are showing on their own," McKay said, "There is also an acclimating period that they have to get used to in the competition, and it's a lot more mental then they're used to. Becca's definitely adjusted to that quite well. Some girls struggle with that, but she's really done a good job."
Murray has been riding for more than 15 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: reining, horsemanship, flat and fences.
Although the program has four straight national titles under its belt, Murray said her team is not about to take its success for granted. She also looks forward to the opportunity to end her collegiate career with a fourth championship ring.
"We don't take anything for granted at all," she said. "Next year we start fresh and it would be amazing to help the team win it five years in a row. It will be a challenge next year, but I think we'll be up for it."