Reddick, Fla.—Nov. 16
If you’re superstitious, you might have heard the saying that bad things come in threes.
This spring, Sara Kozumplik Murphy thought her luck was ready to turn around after fracturing her knee in a freak accident in 2017 and losing her best friend’s daughter suddenly, then breaking her back and neck in a fall in 2018.
With her body finally healed, Murphy came out of winter ready for some good results with her advanced horse Rubens D’Ysieux, but then he colicked and underwent surgery in April.
Now the pair are finally in sync again and ready for the Ocala Jockey Club CCI4*-S this weekend, and whatever happens, Murphy has learned over the past two years that listening to her horse and herself and taking it slow will reap rewards in the future.
Murphy and “Rubens” are currently sitting in second place in the CCI4*-S after dressage.
“I haven’t really dealt with that before; he’s never been sick ever, and I’ve actually never had a horse that had to go through that,” said Murphy of the colic surgery. “I’ve just been sort of taking my time making sure he feels good and playing it one day at a time but he honestly feels really good. I was very happy with him; he feels very strong.”
Murphy’s troubles began in September 2017 when she was competing a young horse at a local event. Another horse kicked out in dressage warm-up and she sustained a tibial plateau fracture to her knee. She had been getting ready to meet up with Rubens at the Pau CCI5*-L (France) after a strong finish at the Millstreet CCI4*-L (Ireland) that summer.
Even with the injury, Murphy tried to keep it in perspective.
“A couple days later, my best friend’s daughter died unexpectedly,” she said. “Obviously breaking my knee wasn’t great, and I would’ve come home [from Pau] anyway, so I think that the timing of it, while horrible, I think I would’ve felt really out of control if I had been in Europe and tried to get back because it was just a horrible time.”
After six weeks in bed, Murphy was eventually able to start walking and riding, and looked ahead to a big goal with Rubens in 2018.
“It’s kind of a tough thing because I had finally made it back on the training list, and I was really kind of excited about the long shot opportunity of going to the [FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) in 2018]; all that kind of stuff,” she said. “I just got so out of shape. I’ve never in my life not ridden for more than two weeks and then you’re trying to not give up on a goal, and I just went about it totally the wrong way. But hindsight’s 20/20. I didn’t have a good spring season. I was like looking at it like, you’re not fit enough, you’re mentally stressed out because you’re putting this pressure on to not miss an opportunity, and so I kind of reined myself back in.”
A late run-out on cross-country at the MARS Bromont CCI4*-L (Canada) was disappointing, but Murphy took the blame and still felt like she was on track for a good finish at the Millstreet Nations Cup that summer in Ireland.
But it wasn’t meant to be. In their prep run in the advanced at Millbrook (New York), Murphy was leading after show jumping but had a fall on cross-country at a gallop fence.
She cracked her C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae, broke her T6 and T8 and shattered her T7 in her back, requiring surgery to install two plates and 10 screws.
She was cleared to start riding in late February this year and chose Rubens as her first mount.
After two events though, Rubens didn’t feel well one day after a big storm, and he was sent in for colic surgery.
“He’s really good at telling you what he’s thinking, and he just said, ‘look this is not good.’ And I tried very hard to not go to surgery, but the pain was too much to watch,” she said. “They didn’t have to take anything out, which I’m told is so much better. He just had a twisted colon. So, now we’re back, and I think I’m just going to play it one day at a time. I think in the winter and in the spring he’ll be 150 percent back to where he was. He feels really good right now, he feels strong, all of that.”
After a few months of rest and then working his abdominal muscles on an Aquatred, Rubens was ready to get back out again this summer. Murphy says she wasn’t scared to get back out competing, but knows to listen to her body and mind if something feels wrong with her.
“At the end of the day, it’s my passion. I absolutely love it, I feel most alive on the cross-country course than I do anywhere else,” she said. “I think I would still be absolutely fine if I lost my heart or if I lost my bravery. I would be absolutely fine changing my lifestyle a little bit. I would always do something with horses, maybe it would only be riding to preliminary, or show jump a little more.”
Murphy and Rubens, a 14-year-old Selle Français gelding (Balougran—Orenda D’Ysieux), completed a preliminary horse trials in March and have slowly moved back up to intermediate at their last two starts.
After their first event back, “I felt good in the warm-up, because you can’t ride cross-country thinking about falling, and I’ve never been scared of falling; I’ve been scared of getting in my horse’s way or making a mistake, that’s where my fear comes from.
“I was curious—after this, now will you pull or be doing something weird, which oddly enough I did do when I broke my knee because I was out of shape and making bad choices,” she added. “But I did not after this injury. I went out of the box, and I felt totally fine. I’m still riding to my fences, and I’m on horses that I know and that I trust, and this is what I’ve done my whole life and that has not changed.”
Murphy, Berryville, Virginia, says she’ll watch how she and Rubens feel in each phase this weekend at their first advanced back and determine what to do.
“You can’t ride at this level and mince about, so if you’re going out of the start box, you’ve gotta go,” she said. “But if I go up the hill, and he’s just a little tired at fence 14—fine, all right, no problem. And if he’s not, then that’s great too, so that’s kind of where I am. He’s just too nice of a horse for me to take any chances on, but I am lucky because he does. He’s just so communicative, so I know what the right thing is to do, I just have to make sure that I listen to him.”
Follow along at COTH.com all weekend for more from the event and check out the Dec. 2 print edition of the Chronicle for more.