The Future of Eventing: an AMA with Sara Kozumplik Murphy

Erin Lassere stands next to a bay horse wearing a black bridle

By Erin Lassere

Eventing, like all equestrian sports, thrives on community. Behind the scenes of every success story, there are many people who contributed. From beginner riders to celebrated professionals, we all share the desire to support the sport. 

You may be thinking, “What can we do to serve the sport?” How can we form deeper connections? How can we hear the ideas of riders and enthusiasts around the world to incite passion and encourage change? These questions inspired Sara Kozumplik Murphy, Sinead Halpin Maynard, and Ride iQ to create In Stride’s Ask Me Anything. 

Ask Me Anything (AMA), a product of the In Stride podcast, is an opportunity for In Stride podcast guests (a list that includes the likes of David O’Connor, Linda Parelli, Tamie Smith, Tik Maynard, and others) and listeners connect and discuss important topics. 

AMAs take place in an inclusive and casual forum and—as the name suggests—any question is allowed. To be kept in the loop about upcoming AMAs and to participate in the conversations yourself, join the In Stride Podcast Community Facebook group

The inaugural AMA featured Sara Kozumplik Murphy. Sara has been successfully competing at the 5* level for over 20 years, completing her first Kentucky 5* at just 20 years old. She is an “A” Pony Club graduate, and has competed at many of the world’s most challenging 5* competitions including Badminton and Burghley.

The AMA followed Sara’s In Stride podcast episode revolving around how to improve funding in eventing in order to get more competitive as a country and grow the sports’ fan base.

During the AMA, listeners shared their questions, thoughts, and ideas. Sara offered her thoughts as well and led a productive conversation about how we can work together to inspire change. Here’s a preview of the Q&A from the AMA on May 20, 2022:

Q: You discussed that in order for the US to be competitive on the world stage, there needs to be one main source to connect the grassroots community with upper-level riders. Does the show jumping world have something like this that eventers could emulate? Or any other sport for that matter?

A: Someone mentioned to me the other day that the CrossFit community does a really good job with this, and I’ve been told the same about a few other newer sports. I think we have to be careful not to get stuck in old traditions and models that might have worked well 30 (or 100) years ago. Our sport has quite a long history, and often an elite one. 

“We must not be scared to radically change our image to become more identifiable to a larger group. We have a lot to offer and share, but we must be seen to offer it.”

I think jumping and dressage are easier in this sense because they do not require the land. The land required for eventing makes our ability to turn a profit much harder.

Q: How do you feel about the arena eventing competitions?

A: I think they are important because we get in front of an existing, die-hard horsey audience. That audience mostly thinks eventers are crazy people and that they only event because they are not good enough to show jump. Once they see what we do, they completely change their minds. I believe that helps grow our audience. It also gives our riders and horses the chance to practice under pressure with a serious crowd. And, there’s money!

Q: If the majority of people can’t afford to even take lessons and compete at the lower levels, how can we expect the sport to thrive? How can we remodel our eventing programs in the US to support our grassroots riders who will, in turn, support upper level riders?

A: Venues are struggling too, because it costs so much to run events. 

“It could make sense to run recognized and unrecognized events on the same weekend. I believe this would grow the sport, not take away from USEA memberships.”

The more people we have, the more affordable things become and the more people who will potentially upgrade to a recognized-level event. The more people we have in the sport, the bigger the fan base – that helps attract sponsor money.

Events cannot run at a loss, so we should get creative. It’s also crazy expensive to produce young horses in this country, so this would kill many birds with one stone. In Europe, feeding, shoes, vet care, the distance to events, and entry fees are all much more affordable, so they can actually create a business producing lovely young horses. How great would it be if something like that was actually sustainable in this country? Then we wouldn’t have to go to Europe to buy horses!

Q: Who are the Michael Jungs of the US? Who is allowed to just train and compete with no worries about how to fund it all? Do we have anyone like that?

A: It is easy to think that he always had it like that. If you remember, the British almost bought Sam before London when Michael was a rising star. He had to frantically fundraise to keep him. His Federation also helped once losing the horse became a real threat. 

The Germans and British are well-funded and extremely well organized, you are correct there. There is often a misconception (usually by foreigners who know how wealthy our country is) that US riders are rolling in money from our Federation, but that is not the case. 

“I completely understand the thought process that funding should be results driven, but how do you get results without cash? It’s a chicken and egg thing.”

However, we should take charge of this ourselves and control our own sport. If we engage our existing fan base, we can do great things. Increase revenue for events, help source talented young horses and get them to the right riders, and strengthen the supply of up and coming riders by helping them have opportunities to top training.

Want to learn more?

You can listen to the full conversation with Sara and all the other In Stride guests on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Join the In Stride Podcast Community Facebook group to participate in upcoming AMAs. In Stride is brought to you by Ride iQ, a revolutionary sports performance app with hundreds of listen-while-you-ride audio lessons taught by top coaches. Download the app on iPhone or Android to sign up and start your two-week free trial! 

Comments are closed.