Bobby Murphy’s Quest for the Hunter Derby ‘100’ Begins at Chicago Hunter Derby

© Kenneth Kraus/ Hunter Harrison and Bobby Murphy 3-7-09
Bobby Murphy (right) with Hunter Harrison

Bobby Murphy made major hunter headlines this August thanks to his ingenious incorporation of sand sculptures – and a daunting 1.57m wall – into the courses for the 2016 United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) International Hunter Derby Championship. The Lexington, Kentucky, based course designer has made a name for himself through his creative and innovative courses for more than a decade, and now he is on a new mission – one that starts this weekend at the Chicago Hunter Derby, presented by CP.

Murphy, 33, sat down at Caroline and Rush Weeden’s Annali Farm in Antioch, Illinois, overlooking his course – the ninth he’s built at the Chicago Hunter Derby – to talk about what comes next.

Q: You’ve talked about moving in a different direction for the hunter derbies and at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, you incorporated a wall that was 1.57m high. What’s next?

© Emily Riden: CHD sand sculptureA: The goal of the hunters is to score a perfect score, a 100. We did the wall for 2016 to highlight the USHJA Hunter Derby Program and to highlight the hunter industry and say, “We can jump a 1.57m. Now let’s go for the perfect score.”

I’m trying to get to the perfect score. I’m going to build courses, and the Chicago Hunter Derby is the first of this concept, that we’re trying to reach the raw score of 100 – no high option points, no bonus points, no handy points. We want to show perfection now.

Derby Finals 2016 made a statement about where the program is, now I’m focused on the style. Now let’s show everybody and see if the industry can gather around the concept. Can the hunter derby horse get a 100? It’s very, very rare, but you’ve seen it in the hunters before.

You look across this field right now, and I have a number of different styles of jumps. A score of 100 means that everything was perfect. That doesn’t have to be just the horse’s round. That has to be the course too, so that it creates the perfect picture to allow the horse to get that score of 100.

Q: Is the Chicago Hunter Derby somewhere that you think we could see a 100?

A: This is the perfect setting. The Chicago Hunter Derby sets the bar for the whole program in my opinion. The hunter derby course here in Chicago not only grows with its own concepts and themes, it has grown us as a hunter derby team to be able to produce better and better courses across the country.

The setting to me is the best setting that you can have for a hunter derby anywhere. When you look across there, you see a hunter derby course and what it should be. We learn a lot about how the horses jump jumps on this field. Now I’m going to use this field as my 2017 testing ground to find the perfect jumps to get the perfect score. The starting point for the legacy of that 100 score in the hunter derby is this course.

© Emily Riden: Derby Field
The field for the 2016 Chicago Hunter Derby at Annali Farm

We’re going to put all the different types of obstacles out on this course, and we’re going to watch the horses jump this year. We’re starting with the Chicago Hunter Derby, and we’re going to try to build that perfect course. Maybe everything will align perfectly, and we’ll get that perfect score. You can’t have a jump that doesn’t allow the rider or the horse or the trainer to showcase their best possibility.

For the year 2017, when I do any hunter derby anywhere, I’m building for perfection. I’m going to design the jumps in a way for perfection, and hopefully, if I take that route for this year, by the Finals we will have perfected the perfect course.  

Q: You mention all of the different types of jumps and obstacles here at the Chicago Hunter Derby, and there’s a bit of history to some of them. Can you tell me about the wall that the horses are jumping this weekend?

A: It was originally built for Jenny Sutton’s Wrenwood Hunter Derby that was in Naples, Florida. That was the first derby that really put the derbies on the map as far as derby productions. Part of that production was building this big, classic stone wall. It got a face lift from Rush Weeden. It got new stone work put on it, and it’s getting a second life. If the horses jump the wall well, and we build it good, you might see it at Derby Finals. The Chicago Hunter Derby course this year is a lead up to the Derby Finals. What you see here on this Chicago Hunter Derby course is what we’re aiming for at the 2017 Derby Finals.

© Emily Riden: derby jump
The stone wall used in this year’s Chicago Hunter Derby course and orginally built for the Wrenwood Hunter Derby in Naples, Florida. 

Q: For those of us not familiar with the process, what goes into building something like this hunter derby course here in Chicago?

A: You can’t compare this course to the normal processes of other courses just because of the amount of landscape architecture that goes into these designs.

We’re dealing with five truckloads of rock – round rock stone that we put all over the property, railroad ties. This design continues outside of the ring. From the moment you come through the front gates, we try to introduce you to the course far before you ever get to the ring. It takes a lot of logistics. We sent a trailer load (of jumps) up here, and then I got here last Wednesday. I had a small team, and we started to build the infrastructure. Then on Monday a full team came in to play. You’re looking at last Wednesday – we had nine days of preparation before we even let a horse flat on the grass. We’ll still be working until the last minute before Sunday for the main event.

Q: How has the Chicago Hunter Derby helped revitalize hunter sport?

The Chicago Hunter Derby has not only evolved the USHJA Hunter Derby Program, it’s evolved the hunter derby horse, the hunter derby trainer, and me, a hunter derby designer.

I think at the end of the day, and saying about how the Chicago Hunter Derby leads the way, it all comes down to some people are needed a big thank you. Those people are Rush Weeden, Carl Weeden, Lynn Jayne, Diane Carney, and others. They’re involved in the deep roots of the hunter derby program, and they’ve sweated and sacrificed and given their blood for the program. I can sit here and talk about the course and what I’m doing, but without them and the Chicago Hunter Derby, you wouldn’t see these courses. You wouldn’t see sandcastles at Derby Finals; you wouldn’t see the fences that you’ll see at Central Park. This class is what’s pushed it. It’s those people who have been involved since day one, and it’s these people who will help take it to the next level.

Q: Since you’ve been spending a good deal of time here in Chicago, have you found a favorite spot?

A: Have you ever seen the show American Pickers? About 15 miles down the road, Rush Weeden told me about this place, and I spent $1,000 there yesterday. This guy had a field that was at least half a mile long. I’m not sure exactly what it’s called but there’s a sign on the front that says “Wizard of Odds.” You can’t look it up because I don’t think this guy even has a cell phone. It’s straight out of American Pickers. We went in there and dug around yesterday.

© Emily Riden: CP Train Jump   “This design continues outside of the ring. From the moment you come through the front gates, we try to introduce you to the course far before you ever get to the ring.” 

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