Olympia High alumna Molly Murtha won an individual national championship as a member of the Equestrian Club at UCF last month.
When Molly Murtha was a kid, she gave several sports a try.
There was soccer, basketball and a long run of gymnastics.
But when she got into her teen years, and it came time to focus in on one sport, she said the decision was not hard.
“I just always kept going back to riding,” Murtha, now 21, said. “It kind of got down to which (sport) did I love more, and it was no question — horse riding just blew all of them away.”
Murtha, an Olympia grad and former MetroWest resident, started riding when she was 5. Sixteen years later, she is a national champion.
A member of the Equestrian Club at the University of Central Florida, Murtha won a national championship in the Individual Novice Equitation on the Flat at Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championships in Pennsylvania last month. It is the first national championship for the program at UCF.
After training daily with multiple horses, years of hard work has paid off for this Titans alumna.
“I went into nationals, and I was just like, ‘I’m here to have a good time — but I did work hard for this,’” Murtha said. “I was completely shocked that I won, but I also thought I did deserve it, and I was proud of myself, how I improved and how hard I worked.”
Murtha said she has been asking her parents about horses for as long as she can remember. When the family was living in Davenport, her parents found a barn in Lake Wales and she got her start. Later, when the family relocated to MetroWest, she moved to a barn in Clarcona.
Before she was a Titan, Murtha attended St. John Vianney, a small Catholic school in Orlando, and it didn’t take long for her classmates to learn of her unique passion.
“Everyone knew I rode — I was kind of labeled with the ‘crazy horse girl’ stereotype,” Murtha said.
Murtha eventually started training and competing out of Wendover Place, near UCF, and as college came on her radar, she began looking for a school with an equestrian team and a strong arts program — her original desired field of study.
As it turns out, there was a school that seemed to have the perfect combination of the two.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God — go to (Savannah School of Art and Design),’” Murtha said. “‘It’s perfect; it has art and ponies.’”
In fact, SCAD has a robust equestrian program that Murtha said is regarded the same way a football team is on most other college campuses.
What seemed to be the perfect option, though, did not endure.
Whether it was the distance from the Georgia-based school to her family in MetroWest, or the stress of trying to standout in an equestrian program with more than 70 teammates, Murtha decided SCAD was not the best fit and sought out transfer options following her sophomore year.
As she perused schools that had both an equestrian team or club and arts programs, a familiar name stood out — UCF, which had a club team that just so happened to train of Wendover Place.
“I always kept coming back to UCF,” Murtha said. “I love the people here — I’ve been riding at this barn for over 10 years, and I’ve always been around the UCF team. It’s familiar, and I love everybody here.”
On a smaller roster, Murtha thrived with more attention from Wendover trainers Wendy Trocano and Lesli Isaacson. Success came, and Murtha advanced through the college equestrian season past the regional level, the zone level and up to the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championships in Pennsylvania last month.
At nationals, Murtha had a special opportunity on a few levels — it was her first time competing this deep into the season and also a rare opportunity to compete in front of extended family, many of whom live in New Jersey and made the trip to cheer her on.
“I wanted to do well because my whole family came,” Murtha said.
Murtha won in the largest field at the competition. In the division, riders must use a horse assigned to them and are judged on their ability to drive or restrain the animal.
Her individual national championship means a move up to Intermediate Equitation on the Flat for next season — a discipline that incorporates fence jumping.
Murtha, who currently resides in Apopka and has switched her field of study to web design, is nearing the end of her college career. She said she wants to enjoy what likely will be her final season in 2018-19 as much as possible, and that — in one capacity or another — the sport will always be a part of her life.
“I definitely want to keep riding throughout my whole life,” Murtha said. “I’m just going to keep working on improving — there’s always room to grow.”