Decorating a cross country course is both a science and an art. The color and texture provided by shrubs and flowers makes jumps more visually appealing, of course, but it can also affect the way horses read the obstacles. Decoration can change the face of a jump, alter its shape or draw out a ground line, and color is a consideration too, as horses perceive color differently than humans.
Megan Murfey is just 26 years but already an in-demand cross country course decorator, in addition to other event management and secretarial services she offers through her business MM Events LLC. She got her start in decorating as an intern at GMHA Horse Trials, working along course designer Janine McClain. “She inspired me,” Megan says, also crediting veteran event organizer Shelley Page for helping her spread her wings.
Since then Megan has decorated at Virginia H.T., Grand Oaks and Heart of the Carolinas, and she’s going into her second year of decorating for Tryon International Equestrian Center events The Fork and the American Eventing Championships.
“I’ve never ridden at the upper levels but I take a lot of tips and knowledge from every course designer I’ve worked with,” Megan says. “Each one has different things they’re particular about, so I try to get a feel for what they like and get their feedback to improve what I’m doing.”
On Wednesday afternoon here at The Fork/WEG Test Event at TIEC, Megan went around the course with designer Capt. Mark Phillips, who checked out her handiwork. “He changed almost nothing about what I did out there, but the couple things he moved he gave me explanations as to why that makes a difference,” says Megan. “It’s a great learning experience and the hard work really pays off to get a high-five from a course designer and then sit out with cross country control to score and also watch how everything rides. It’s pretty rewarding work in the end.”
Megan, who is herself a certified course designer through Training level, says she takes a number of factors into account when deciding out to decorate a jump: “You’re looking at the fence and thinking about how you can improve the way it jumps and the way the horses see it.”
One tool Megan uses is an app called Chromatic Vision Simulator, which allows you to choose a type of colorblindness and view the world through that lens. The deuteranope mode provides a fairly accurate picture of how horses perceive color: “I think people should download it and walk around and point it at fences so you can see what the horses see.”
For instance, she says, horses see red as brown, so she steers away from using red flowers when possible. “They don’t see it as well as, say, blue,” Megan explains.
TIEC show jumps viewed via the Chromatic Vision Simulator app:
She makes do with whatever she has to work with, which varies dramatically from event to event. “If you have a lot of flowers and greenery, you can really beef up the fences and make them look really cool. At other events, it’s more subtle,” she explains.
Course decorating means a lot of time on the road and some tough sacrifices — she’s put her current horse on the market as his temperament isn’t well suited to long breaks in training. But staying busy is Megan’s MO; in addition to her work at events she is completing her prerequisites to pursue a Master’s in nursing next fall.
“Trying to balance traveling and a heavy school load will be difficult, but it will give me a day job,” Megan says. As for decorating, she says, “It’s a lot of work, a lot of days, a lot of hours … sometimes blood, lots of sweat, and some tears. But I enjoy it.”