As a little girl, Cindy Morehead watched her neighbors ride their horses down the road. Tired of just watching, she admitted that she literally “moved in and took over” the horses next door. Far from just being a childhood hobby, the equine interaction led her to a successful career as a rider, trainer, instructor and coach.
Morehead, who retires from her full-time position in the western equestrian studies program this summer, began her employment with UF in 1977. (Quick math. . . that’s 38 years and countless pairs of boots!) She will return in the fall, approximately three days a week, as the program’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team coach.
Under her coaching and mentorship the UF western teams have “ridden” a wave of success, winning four National Championships and earning at least a tie for Reserve Championship three times since 2005. In the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) portion of the competition, the UF team also took home four National Championships and two Reserve Championships.
IHSA also awards Individual National Championships in several categories. The University of Findlay team has won 24 individual undergraduate western classes since 2005. In comparison, The Ohio State University has won a total of no more than 16 classes from 1989 through 2015!
“A good coach must be able to inspire the team,” Morehead stated. “The most difficult thing is building confidence.”
IHSA regulations require a random drawing to assign horses to competing riders. Many of the horses have developed a reputation for being uncooperative or even difficult to ride. There are often audible groans from students who draw a “challenging” mount at a show.
“I actually teach my students to look forward to getting difficult horses and impressing the judges with how well they handle them,” she added. “This not only takes skill, but a lot of confidence.”
Morehead feels the UF horses are of such high quality that the students tend to get a little spoiled. She tries to give them as many opportunities as possible to ride other horses, including scrimmages with other area riding teams.
“I think our teams have always been successful because we’ve all been involved in the horse industry for a long time,” Morehead said. “I’ve had great people like Clark Bradley and Spencer Zimmerman working with me. Also, our students ride every day, which is still unusual in a lot of college programs.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
It seems appropriate that a woman who discovered her love of horses as a little girl, would have her own little girl with a similar passion. Morehead’s daughter, Katie (’10), began showing ponies in “lead line” classes with her mom in the lead.
“Katie always liked showing, especially reiners,” remembered Morehead. “She was even UF’s Athlete of the Year in 2008, the only equestrian major ever to hold that honor.”
Also an IHSA coach, Katie was AQHA National Champion in 2008 and Open Western Horsemanship National Champion in 2009. She also played a big role in her mom’s “best day ever” in the world of horses.
“We were at Nationals in 2009. President Freed and Dr. Dick Beckett were there and OSU was leading going into the last class. UF needed to win that class in order to get the championship. Well, the Ohio State rider got off on the wrong lead and Katie won the class. It was really exciting!”
After a pause, she added that OSU did the same thing to UF in 2014. The two schools have always been close competitors.
From Four Legs to Two Wheels
Does she feel that western riding and showing have changed in the last three or four decades?
“I think the horses are more talented and more expensive. They’re more athletic and move better,” she added. “It’s definitely more competitive, but there are also a lot more opportunities. We have graduates working in sales, equine pharmaceuticals and for equestrian associations.”
Always the adventurer, Morehead loves motorcycles and rode a small Honda 90 when she lived in West Virginia. Four years ago, she bought a Harley-Davidson Sportster and has taken it on several long trips.
“I even went to the Harley Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota,” she laughed. “Well, I trailered the bike out there, but did a lot of riding once I arrived.”
Whether it’s a slow jog or accelerating to 80 m.p.h., Morehead continues to enjoy the ride.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world. I have been able to make a living doing something I love to do!”