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Team #550 Cassandra Ann Thompson and Byriels Murphy

Cassandra Ann and Byriels Murphy with Noreen O’Sullivan and Anna Forbes.
Photo by Johnny Robb

Team #550: Cassandra Ann Thompson and Byriels Murphy
From: Greenacres, Florida
Ages: 72 & 29
Combined Age: 101
Test: Training Level Test 1
Date: April 16, 2022

On April 16th, 2022, Byriels Murphy and I completed our Century Club ride, along with another test. I am immensely proud that my 29-year-old Connemara gave his all for possibly his last time in the arena. The feeling of being in it together as a team, taking care of each other, and helping each other achieve our best, was more exciting than anything else.

I did not start riding regularly until I was almost 60 years old. I had moved to Texas from New York City to assist my newly widowed father. I ended up establishing a new career as a Pilates studio owner. One of my clients, Jackie Nixon Fulton, bred incredible warmbloods and was on the road to her USDF gold medal. She generously let me ride her two upper-level horses in exchange for private Pilates sessions. I did not own riding boots, had never used a double bridle, and had no groundwork skills whatsoever. A bonus, however, was developing Pilates programs to assist the equestrienne and developing workshops on and off the horse.

I grew up in Colombia, South America, in a petroleum camp in the jungle. We had access to many of Mother Nature’s gifts, but formalized ballet, riding, and piano were not among them. These were all the exciting “want-to” I saw in American movies flown down to us. I did occasional trail rides when my family came to the U.S. for vacation.  I was in heaven, especially when my parents let me watch my cowboy heroes on TV and wear my six-shooter pistols and cowboy hat over my dress, with cowboy boots, of course!

Fast forward to continuing my high school years in the U.S. and taking up ballet at the advanced age of 13. I did not care that everyone else in the class was eight…in three years I auditioned and was accepted by North Carolina School of the Arts, a performing arts school. I danced four to six hours a day, did summer stock in Nags Head, NC, and headed for New York City at 18. I somehow ended up modeling and from there a business career in the fashion industry was formed.

Between the frequent traveling (the first question I asked in every country was “are there horses here?”) and living in Manhattan, where only carriages and policemen had horses, my exposure was minimal, but not my desire.

At least twice a month I managed to travel by train four hours round trip to a stable to be in horse heaven for two hours.

Two years after moving to Texas, I bought my current horse, Byriels Murphy. He was 18, a Connemara, 14.2 hands, imported from Denmark, and had been trained by Morten Thomson and Lena Wedenmark in Florida. He was brought to Texas by Rhonda Pool. This was the pony I had dreamed about since I was five.

You know that you really love this sport when all the riders at a clinic or show are on their big warmbloods and then here we come; my 62-year-old-plus Pilates body on a very fancy 14.2-hand pony prancing out for our turn. I am blessed that the clinicians were extremely supportive of us.

In 2005, Fugitivo Roy, a 7-year-old Andalusian stallion, literally came to me and has been my teacher, challenge, frustration, and immense blessing ever since.

I had emergency neck surgery in the summer of 2020 and moved to Wellington, Florida, on December 31. I was still in a neck brace but determined to try to get back in the saddle. An amazingly generous and talented trainer of young horses, Anna Forbes, had the patience and the generosity to put me on Murphy while on a lunge line and start the slow journey back. At 71 and after surgery (and an old hip replacement), fear was a huge obstacle. Anna is really the reason I was able to get back in the saddle at all and she is consistently helping me fight my demons on Fugitivo and “ride forward!” I would have given up many times except for her support.

So now I am 72 with a whole future and learning experience ahead for Fugitivo and me. Murphy is going strong, looks better than ever, and can still outwalk and out trot many of the “big boys.” He totally believes in himself and so do I.

A special thanks to the people who helped me get acquainted with the horse world when I first came to Wellington. Johnny Robb, who took my horses and me in, helped me get my bearings in the middle of the 2021 season, and gave me invaluable advice and pointers.  Johnny was also unrelenting in her encouragement for me to do this milestone. Also thank you to Cesar Torrente and Bent Jensen, whose reputations are well known but their generosity in being so supportive of my horses and me exemplifies to me the true spirit of the sport.

And a special thanks to Sue Sandidge for the best BBQ ribs ever and for feeding me and encouraging me for months!

Cassandra Ann, Byriels Murphy, Dr. Cesar Parra of Performance Farms, and Noreen O’Sullivan.
Photo provided by Johnny Robb