Tribute to Dear Murray of horse-column fame

Murray and Jody. Photo by Kim Vogee

Murray and Jody. Photo by Kim Vogee

California-based cartoonist and graphic designer Jody Livak Werner is an award-winning writer who offers her Thoroughbred’s perspective in her widely read OTTB column, Dear Murray.

The humorous essays, which swept onto the Facebook scene and attracted 20,000 fans in a few short months, offers a horse’s perspective on all those silly humans who ride them. Via a clever collaboration with her beloved off-track Thoroughbred Murray, Werner deftly applies humor to get at the nub of life with horses.

In the Dear Murray column, frustrated horses “write” to the all-knowing ex-racehorse, whose Jockey Club name was Phantom Writer, asking for advice on topics such as “nervous human” riders—to which Murray often advised administration of a “calming agent” — a.k.a. beer.

Five days a week, Werner and her equine partner of 20 years hammered out funny, quirky columns to an adoring fan base. And, even after Murray died suddenly, in the peak of health, after a stall accident in August 2012, Werner continued the column for an audience that is helping her as much as she helps them.

In this Clubhouse Q&A, Werner discusses her phenomenal Murray—the horse she never fell from, who took home more blue ribbons than she can count, and who was the best life partner she ever had.

Q: How did Murray come into your life?

He literally just fell into my lap. I had just found a wonderful home for my older Appendix Quarter Horse, and I was looking for my next horse on a zero budget. Not everybody with horses has deep pockets, and my trainer at the time, Dawn Casey, had heard about a horse who’d been starved and abused, and they sent me a little videotape of him.

Q: The video showed you his desire to please people, even after suffering at their hands.

Murray’s nickname was “The Metronome” because of his steady rhythm. Photo by Sheri Scott Photography

Murray’s nickname was “The Metronome” because of his steady rhythm. Photo by Sheri Scott Photography

Here was this horse who was shaggy, his tail chewed off, who was 300 pounds underweight, and he was free-jumping five-foot square Oxers for them. They waved their hands around and he was clearly choosing to do this for them.

Q: And then the horse in the video arrived at your place.

It was January 1, 1994 when they brought him in my trailer and left him. They said keep him for a while, and see what you think. He stepped off the trailer and he looked like a train wreck.

His personality was pretty crusty at first. He’d pin his ears and he chased me out of his stall. Clearly he had a lot of baggage. But, once he figured things out, after about a week, he started to follow me around like a puppy.

Q: From those humble beginnings, a show horse was made in no time.

When he arrived in January, he could trot and gallop. By November of the same year, we were winning 3-foot amateur adult hunter classes. We were winning championships within several months of me getting him.

He could always be counted on for his beautiful jumping style. O’Neill Photography photo

He could always be counted on for his beautiful jumping style. O’Neill Photography photo

Normally I would not rush a horse in training, but he was such a fast learner. I’d show him something and it was if he would say, “OK! OK! I get it. I’m bored.”

He was the most incredible horse that I ever had the pleasure to sit on. We went on to do the 3-6, and you asked me about highlights of our career, and I realized that everyday was such a highlight. He always came out of the ring with blue ribbons and championships. And yet, he was the laziest Thoroughbred you’ve ever seen. I could barely get him to go. But when he entered the ring, he’d perk up and turn it on for two minutes, win, and then go back to sleep.

Q: How did the Dear Murray column materialize?

And the newsletter went up on the barn’s website, and I started to throw my cartoons and a couple of Dear Murray columns up on my Facebook page, and my fans loved it.At one point, I changed barns, and we decided we should do a barn newsletter. You know how this is, everybody said they’d contribute, but in the end, it was pretty much up to me. So I decided to give Murray his own newsletter. I made up the letters to him, and the answers.

I gave Dear Murray his own Facebook page in May 2012 and it took off. The sad thing was that I lost him in August 2012.

Q: At this point, the Dear Murray column and fans became even more important to you.

Murray was her best friend. Photo by Kim Vogee

Murray was her best friend. Photo by Kim Vogee

After I told his Facebook fans that Murray had “gone over the Rainbow Bridge,” I got emails from compete strangers who’d lost their horses. These complete strangers got me through it.

Murray died in perfect health, in the safety of his stall. Somehow, in the middle of the night, he shattered his leg. It happened eight months ago, but it feels like it just happened.

After he died, people flocked to the page. They shared some really poignant stories of their own losses, and the page became a support system for people who have lost their horses. I don’t know where else I would have gotten through this except on his page, and through the kindness of strangers.

Q: Although Murray is gone, it seems his spirit lives on in Dear Murray.

The column has become something bigger than I ever imagined. By using his voice, it comforts others, and it helps keep him alive for me. I’ve been asked by fans to write a book, and I have every intention of doing it, it’s just a matter of finding the time.

Dear Murray was a finalist in two categories, the talking animal and best newcomer. After a two-month voting period, the winners were chosen by a combination of the public vote and an expert panel. The public vote accounted for 25 percent of the final score, and the expert panel, which was made up of 30 professionals, accounted for the other 75 percent.

Q: In the meantime, you recently won the Equine Social Media Award for Best Talking Animal. That must have been quite an honor!

Based on that, he won Best Talking Animal.

It was really a nice icing on the cake for me, and all I could think was that Murray won everything when he was here, and now he keeps on winning, even though he’s in horse heaven. — Originally published on April 30, 2013.

6 responses to “Tribute to Dear Murray of horse-column fame”

  1. Pegi Buchanan

    Sorry to hear that your blog will no longer be. Dear Murray helped get me through some rough times when my buddy Cody went to horse heaven. It’s a special bond between a horse and their person and Murray reflects that well. I will miss you Murray. Thank you for the healing help.

  2. Jody Werner

    I just saw this repost of the lovely interview by Susan. Susan, I’m sorry that you’ll no longer be writing this blog, but very happy that your life has taken a wonderful new direction. I am grateful that you honored my boy by telling his story. Mary McLeod – to answer your question: I knew losing Murray would be difficult, but I really had no idea just how hard it would be. for two years I could not bring myself to even go to the barn. I did not think I would ever be able to be around horses again. But eventually I came to realize that my life did not work without horses in it. There was a void that nothing else would fill. So one day – just like that – I woke up and decided I was going to go back to the barn. I started riding again. And a beautiful white horse named Klondike taught me that I could love another horse. he was not in my life for very long (he is in a wonderful forever-home now and I could not be happier for him or his ‘mom) but he is the reason I let horses back in my heart. I don’t own a horse right now and don’t know if I will – but I am enjoying helping exercise and care for all the horses in my barn, and I have a different and special relationship with each one. There will never be another Murray, nor will I ever love another horse like I loved him. But the heart is an amazing thing – it’s big enough for all the love we want to let in.

  3. Constance Hartman

    Jody Livak Werners I’m truly Impressed with your Facebook page for The Winner of the Equine Social Media Award for Best Talking Animal for Dear Murray (Phantom Writer). 20,000 fans in a few months is brilliant. Photos by Kim Vogee, O’Neil Photography.

    1. Jody Werner

      Thank you, Constance. I started Murray’s column as just a funny little thing to do. Nobody is more surprised than I am that it touched so many people.

  4. Mary McLeod

    What a poignant story! Jody, I am so very sorry for your great loss. No doubt that Murray awaits you in a far better place. Have you found a place in your heart for another companion yet? Thank you, Susan, for resending this essay, for I had not read it. xoxo to ALL, Mary in Boone

    1. Jody Werner

      Thank you for your kind thoughts. I answered your question in my other comment…

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