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Bobby Murphy

by Tim Doll


Throughout history the black American horsemen have played a significant role in helping mold the development of the American Saddlebred horse. From Tom Bass up through and including today, the expert hands of knowledge are ever present and still playing a vital role.


Whether it be starting out as a mere child loving horses to the excellent caretakers, breaking colts or readying one for the show ring. The black horsemen, regardless of what part they have played, can certainly count among those top horsemen who have and are helping make the American Saddlebred the best it can be.


Ohio as well as other states has been fortunate to have had and still have some of those horsemen in our midst. During that time the late Stanley Edwards would separated his hands, squeeze with his legs and set sail down the rail in a rack with his five-gaited stallion.


Mike Van Dyke instructed the late Paul Fields prior to entering the ring with his amateur fine harness horse. One can’t forget the late Frank “Walk-Trot” Thomas as he bumped his three-gaited horse’s mouth and its head setting to perfection. And then there’s the late Charlie Owens who many claimed could set a horse’s tail to perfection, or Countryside Horse Farms Johnny Dawson who helmed the farms successful breeding operation for many years. Today Joe Cloud is still successfully putting open and amateur horses in the show ring.


One might have had the opportunity to watch the unique style and competitiveness of Junior Seay. Last, but most certainly not least, was the late and dramatically influential Walter Murphy. This story goes yet a step further when you take another look at a second generation of black horsemen, who like their fathers are making their mark among those who are doing some positive things both in their lives and in the world of the American Saddlebred.


Bobby Murphy, one such gifted horseman, is the eldest son of the late and 1992 inductee in the Saddlebred Hall of Fame Walter Murphy. Like others, Murphy was a youngster who literally grew up with horses. Little did Murphy know at that time that he was in the shadows of one of the Saddlebred world’s masters.


Bobby and Walter Murphy


Was it fascination? Was it luck? Was it to be his destiny? Murphy fortunately was blessed with all three. He was totally fascinated with horses and still is! What good luck it was to be the son of a father who did so much for the industry. And yes, it was his destiny who as a black horseman has taken his rightful place.


Just like his father, Murphy gives generously of his time and talent to help the growth and promotion of the American Saddlebred; something he loves with an intensity and honesty his father instilled in him.


For those who remember the late Frank Bradshaw or those fortunate enough to have known him, Frank was ever present in Murphy’s young life as he and Walter trained at the famed Kalarama Farm in Springfield, Ky. Murphy was born in Springfield and that was home to the Murphys.


Murphy said, “I can remember like it was yesterday: Dad walking me through the barn to see the stall where Kalarama Rex called home. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.” Upon the family’s move to Delaware, Ohio to the legendary Emerald Farms where Bradshaw was trainer, Walter took the assistant trainer’s position with Bradshaw’s strong recommendation. The farm was owned by A. E. Knowlton. When Bradshaw left Walter took over the helm.


Murphy said, “I remember Frank jogging horses, me beside him with his arm around me. Little did I realize!”


Murphy and his dad would periodically take barn trips back to Kentucky. One of Murphy’s favorite trips was to Danville, Ky., then home of Happy Valley Farm where the late Bentley Mays ran the operation. While Murphy and his friend, Butch Mays, would go look over the colts, Mays would bring out the big guns for Walter to watch.


As Murphy matured he witnessed some of the show ring stars from Emerald Farm. At that time there were Red Emerald, CH The Black Emerald, Take To The Hills and Now Hear This. Over the years Emerald Farm was home to super stars such as Purloined Emerald, Purloined Property and CH Valerie Emerald named after the Knowlton’s daughter, Valerie, who was to be a fine horsewoman in her own right.


The farm itself wasn’t only noted for its stock. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful and complete training facilities any horseman would be privileged to train at, and Walter was. Murphy said, “I remember when Dad and I would go to Lexington. There were all those stable banners, Dodge Stables then Emerald Farm. What history and little did I realize in a very small way I was able to be part of it. I sure loved going to the shows and now being a part of the whole picture is for me very rewarding.”


Murphy like other youngsters has many wonderful memories of days gone by. “One of my most special memories is about a horse my dad called Corn Husker. I remember worrying the heck out of Dad wanting to ride a “big” horse. One day, Dad was working this five-gaited horse and decided he’d had enough of me pestering him so he stopped the horse, told the caretaker to raise the stirrups for me. He proceeded to throw me up on the horse.” Dad said, ‘Shake him’ so I did as much as I could and down the barn aisle I came. Dad immediately told me to stop, get off and told me, ‘Now! You’ve ridden your big horse.’ Corn Husker, as he was known in the barn, soon became Bonanza and a world champion for the late great Tom Moore.


During that growing period Murphy, like young men of then and today, loved to play all kinds of sports; baseball, basketball, football or whatever was available at the time. But still in the back of his mind training horses kept creeping in. Not sure if he had what it took to train he in fact was very much at home playing sports. To this day he is an avid sports fan. And one can be assured that to this very day he is a dedicated fan of Ohio State (The Buckeyes) whether it is in basketball or football. However if you look at the tack room walls those blue ribbons and tricolors give one a pretty good reason to think he’s comfortable with training horses as well and good at what he does.


It was during that period Murphy was growing up he had two letters of intent to play basketball for Ohio Northern University or Bluffton College. Murphy had a choice to make but unfortunately Uncle Sam had other plans for him and he served two years in the United States Army. “I was fortunate then because I was sent to Korea while other young men toured Vietnam. I was so lucky.”


In 1965 the family moved from Emerald Farms to Urbana, Ohio where the Bobby Murphy Stables banner still flies today, as did Walters. Upon Murphy’s return to the States his dad told him he could go back to school, train horses, whatever Murphy chose he was behind him 100 percent.


At that time frame in his life he decided to attend ECPI of Dayton. With a grant provided by the United States Army, Murphy felt he could learn his computer trade and still work with the horses. By this time his basketball future was history. But as Murphy said, “Life is full of choices.”


Murphy had the best of both worlds. He went for an interview at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in his first profession but soon realized additional schooling was needed, thus he returned to train horses. It was a wise choice that proved to be fruitful.


Upon this decision Walter took Murphy under his training wing and began to show him mouthing, bit rigging, harnessing, etc. “Dad was a great teacher but he would never tell me specifically how to do it. It was a trial and error with him, hands on! Dad would never allow you or the horse to get in trouble. Dad would get on when I felt some point of hesitation then show me how and what to do in order to get the job done.”


Murphy’s love for Saddlebreds was so strong and so was his desire to learn.


“Even though I had much more to learn and still kind of wet behind the ears, I sometimes felt a little unsure of myself. Dad would tell me I was doing a fine job but never told me I was doing a great job.”


Murphy’s abilities grew as did the admiration and respect from his father. Upon settling in at their new home in Urbana at Glen Grove Farm, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Elliot Bonnie, the farm was noted for its two breeding stallions, Glen Grove’s Lord Vanity and Vanity’s Vanguard.


Murphy said, “Dad loved the breeding side of Saddlebreds. He and I would travel to different places looking at babies. The Carl Steins family and the Ralph Agle family would breed about 10 mares each year. They would call Dad to come look at the colts and take his pick. I can still see Dad out in the pastures leaning up against a tree and watching the colts for hours. Dad would select the good ones. He watched their attitudes, their shoulders, head and neck. He was so good about showing me what to look for. I sure use his method today. What a valuable learning experience for me.


“I can’t think of a time when we overlooked a baby that haunted us because it turned out to be a good one.”


Eventually the Bonnies took their operation, now His and Her Stables, to Buck Creek Stables just up the road. This was the home of Touch Of Genius, Emmy Emerald, CH Flash Gordon, CH Esprit de Corps, CH Buck Creek Precious Princess, CH Apple Cider, CH Melody’s Winged Sensation and CH Glenview Mandala. A pretty select group of horses.


Murphy said, “I look back on it now and think what a special time in my life. I was the first to ride Apple Cider and Mandala and the first to drive Melody’s Winged Sensation. Being in my 20s I was a part of Saddle Horse history and really wasn’t aware of it then. All I knew was these horses were going to shine! And they did!”


After moving back to Glen Grove Farm from Buck Creek Stables, home is still where it was upon their move from Emerald Farm. In reality, that was where it all began and undoubtedly where it will end. The Bobby Murphy Training Stables rolls on.


“Eventually we got into the breeding portion ourselves with our foundation sire Truly Stonewall, a full brother to Mandala,” Murphy said. “He was something else. Some of his get include CH Stonewall’s Blazing Blueprint, CH High Expectations and Harmony At Last. We officially retired her at the 2006 Dayton Horse Show.”


Harmony At Last really liked herself

in and out of the show ring.


According to Murphy, Truly Stonewall was a very excitable horse and so were his get. That provided a good challenge. “You really didn’t need to show them a whip or do a lot of groundwork. You just seemed to head them to the ring and they became show horses.”


Murphy remembers the 20-year-old horse he rode while at Emerald Farms named “Pat”. “Dad would put me on an old felt saddle with wood stirrups, put a shank in his mouth and off we’d go. I guess I was never really scared when I fell off. I’d wait till someone came and threw me back on. Looking at it now, I rode a lot bareback as well. Perhaps that was the initial start in my balance. I always have felt sort of natural in the saddle, never scared or intimidated.


“I loved to go fast. Valerie Knowlton and I would go bring in the broodmares, jumping smaller fences along the way.”


Murphy remembers showing his first horse. “It was a five-gaited horse I showed at Ohio State Fair for a gentleman named Skeeter Williams who to this day is ringmaster at several shows. The mare’s name was Daughter Of Darkness. I was all over the place, in riders’ way. Somehow, I pulled an eighth place ribbon beating a few horses. I did myself proud.”


Walter, as well as Murphy, obviously loved colts. One day Walter told Murphy if you can’t show a two-year-old harness horse how in the world do you expect to show an aged horse? “Dad told me a youngster can teach you all you want to know. They are learning and teaching you things at the same time. It’s a valuable tool. He always said, ‘Son be patient. Don’t push them; go slow, no heavy bitting. Always make sure they work with the bit and neither of you fight it. Each colt is different and may require a little different technique regardless. Never, never harm a horse’s mouth.’ It’s worked for me!


“As my dad once told me, a young horse

whether in harness or under saddle can teach

a man a number of things,” said Murphy,

shown here with CH Intoxicating Lady.


“I always bit my horses accordingly whether it be for myself or one of my riders. I want the horse and rider to be working in unison. I don’t train them in the ring.”


When asked who was his first world champion, Murphy said, “Oh! It was High Expectations. I showed him in fine harness, what a talent! Carol Hillenbrand took him to several world titles. That’s one for the gipper. I was so pleased because as I said earlier our foundation sire, Truly Stonewall was his sire. His dam was a mare named Crazy Lady. This mare just seemed to produce one good one after another. But the success of good breeding comes together when the combination clicks. In this case obviously it did.”


World Champion CH High Expectations,

a star in fine harness.


According to Murphy, CH High Expectations much like Harmony At Last took very little to get ready. “Usually all I ever did was raise a whip, and that was rarely, and magically you had a show horse. I love a horse that’s challenging, wants to be a nice horse yet one who is eager to learn. These Truly Stonewall offspring had that. I love a horse that thinks right and the minute you step on their backs or in a buggy they let you know they are a show horse.


“I like a horse under me. I let them have their head and slowly bring it back to me. And as I am fortunate to have that happen and our relationship is a good solid partnership then that’s part of what I’m all about. One of the significant keys to a good working relationship is your ground person. I am so blessed to have a ground man who is dependable, loyal, knows how to work with me and can turn out a horse both myself and the owners are proud of. That man for me is Butch “Fine Harness” Riley. He has been my right arm for 30 years. This man is such a valuable asset I can’t say enough positive things.”


Butch “Fine Harness” Riley and Murphy,

a winning combination!


When the real working partnership with his dad began in 1969 and the early 70s, little did either know the magnitude the name Murphy would have on the horse industry to this very day. Fifty world champions with the Murphy name attached to them are a symbol of outstanding knowledge, talent, dedication and hard work that was put into all of them.


Murphy said, “If there is one single compliment I receive from my peers it’s that I’m a lot like my dad. How good is that!” In 2000, Murphy had the distinct honor of being named the Tri-State Horse Shows Association Trainer of the Year. A second time he has garnered this honor. “I had often heard people say my dad was a trainer’s trainer. I don’t expect any less of myself, my dad wouldn’t. I can only hope.”


From the early days in Wade, Ky., where Walter was born, to the hometown feel of Urbana, Ohio, home is where the heart is and the heart is still here in Urbana where Murphy has chosen for many years to call home. Murphy shares his life with his wife, Sharon, of 34 years. “What an absolutely wonderful wife, mother and best friend. She lived across the street from the house and we would wave at one another everyday. We dated for five years and finally decided I wanted to spend my life with her,” said Murphy.


They have a daughter Brooke who graduated from the Ohio State University with a doctorate in microbiology. She has given Murphy and Sharon a granddaughter named Lillian Emma. His other daughter, Jaime, is in nursing school at Clark State University. She has also given Murphy and Sharon a grandson named Cameron Phillip who surprisingly loves horses.


Their remaining daughter, Ashley, is a fifth year senior at Wright State University in the education program. Sharon had a high profile job at Wright Patterson Air Force Base for many years.


“Our kids get their smarts from Mom.” Murphy said. “As you see our kids are really working hard to become somebody of value. We love that!”


The Murphy family:

standing, Jaime, Ashley, Brooke and husband Corey McDaniel;
 sitting, Lillian Emma, Bobby, wife Sharon, and Cameron


Murphy’s mom, Margaret, was very supportive of his dad just as Sharon is very supportive of Murphy. Sharon traveled to shows with daughter Brooke for several years early on but now travels to only four or five shows a year.


“My mom is such a supporter of me. She’d love it when Dad and I would compete against one another. Mom would say, ‘Now you go in there and whip him, beat him good.’ Mom is so wonderful. She sure stood beside Dad, in fact all of us kids. But you can bet when Dad was away at a show us three boys would try and get away with things. I’ll tell you Mom would use that broom for more than sweeping.”


Murphy continued, “It’s hard to imagine looking back at it now. My dad was involved in the breeding, training, as well as managing the farm, a very vast operation. I chose not to compete on that level, I just stick to the training side of it. To compete with Dad, his legacy is too vast. I am who I am.”


When asked what he has learned from training horses, Murphy said, “You’ll never begin to know everything about a horse. Some are smarter than others but I have learned that regardless of what each individual horse has to offer, I always try to capitalize on that particular horse’s attributes and make them the best of their capabilities. I learn from that process.”


Murphy continued, “Yes it bothers me personally for my customers if what they hoped their horse would turn out to be doesn’t pan out, but in that process they still come out a winner because they have seen and learned what it takes to have a horse fulfill their aspirations.


“I never take my customers for a ride so to speak, I never lead them on. I try to get the most out of that horse and if what we originally aimed for doesn’t work, we don’t throw the horse away but perhaps pursue another avenue.”


“I have one sister, Mary, and two other brothers, Larry and Dave. Dave has worked with successful stables both in the Saddlebred and Morgan industries. But like some of the horses I had to change directions with over the years. Obviously the direction I made in my life’s work was horses. I am so lucky. I have also been very fortunate to have some terrific customers who I also call friends. I had John and Lori Pauley, Carl and Eileen Steins, George Foreman, yes, the world heavyweight champion fighter, and one who has been and still is a family friend of my family and a loyal customer Lynn Gutches Snowden.


CH Stonewall’s Blazing Blueprint with

Lynn Gutches Snowden and Murphy have graced

the winner’s circle with class and style.


Of Murphy, Snowden said, “What I respect most about Bobby is his knowledge base. He has taught me so much, he sort of challenges me to do what’s necessary to get with my horses. He’s kind yet firm! Bobby is so good in putting together the rider with the horse. I have been fortunate to be a customer for around 20 years. He’s become such a good friend, his whole family has.”


Snowden continued, “My husband, Hank, and I along with Bobby and his wife, Sharon, often times get very adventurous when it comes to backpacking, white water rafting or just plain enjoying the outdoors. Sometimes Sharon might stay behind so she can pick up the pieces upon our return and we have great, great fun.”


Murphy, Lynn and Hank Snowden and

Sharon Murphy at Monument Valley.


One’s career can only be as good as the places they have worked to the horses they have touched. The life of Walter Murphy spanned from Kalarama Farm, Dixiana Farm with Charlie Dunn and at Reverie Knoll Farm again with Frank Bradshaw, Emerald Farms, Glen Grove Farms and Buck Creek Stables. The same talented horsemen who the industry lost in 2000 at the age of 78, who throughout his journey also laid his hands, knowledge and ability as a foundation for son Murphy, is a legacy held in trust!


If you read the names of such greats as CH Tashi Ling, CH SLS Roman Spring, CH Gala Affair, CH Amber Light, CH Kate Shriver (BHF), CH Black Irish, just to name a few and those mentioned before, you have seen a legacy with the Murphy name attached. Bobby Murphy is just one of today’s talented black horsemen along with Lonnie Quarles of Milligan Stables or Mike Spencer at Gold Leaf Farms. Their knowledge, talent and competitive spirit are all part of a vast success story set in motion by their grand ole masters, horsemen steeped in history.


As part of that grand history, the reflection of Murphy’s life with dad Walter combined with his own desire to make his own way strengthens the bond even more of the black horsemen of yesterday and today. Although for many years Murphy walked in the shadows of his illustrious father, Murphy in his own right has stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight.


Louisville’s Five-Gaited Gelding Stake proved to be

hot competition with Murphy and No Excuses.

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