Cindy Newell

Cindy Newell and horse Spot Light box a cow on one end of the arena during their victorious run in the cow work class.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Seven years ago, new college grad Andrea approached us about a proofreading gig. I asked her to write a story about something she was comfortable with – her mom. She did – about Cindy returning to competitive horse riding – and has been writing stories ever since. Here’s an update on her mom.

Against roughly 100 competitors from around the country, Buena Vista resident Cindy Newell claimed a victory at the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships in Guthrie, Okla.

The AQHA—American Quarter Horse Association—holds annual world championships in a variety of classes and divisions. Performing in AQHA or other related horse shows in one or more classes will qualify participants for the championships.

Newell performs when she can in each of the classes: Cow work, cutting, ranch riding, reining, trail and conformation. Competing in every class is optional, but it does qualify participants for the All-Around Versatility Ranch Horse title.

Newell and her horse Spot Light qualified in 2019 but had to wait until this year to attend due to COVID-19. In the meantime, even more competitors qualified during the pandemic.

The championships saw 3,500 participants altogether. Each class of the Limited Amateur Division had close to 100 of those participants, including Newell. That increase in competitors to outperform made a single win that much more exciting.

Newell says she did well in cutting, okay in reining and not so great in ranch riding.

Cow work was the big game changer. Here, she had to work with Spot Light to control a single cow’s movements in an arena, driving it to the other end, momentarily boxing it in place and then herding it back again.

This event tests the horse’s ranch work skills. Getting a high score requires being in the right place with the cow, demanding a lot of learning and practice beforehand.

At the time, Newell felt that she was “in the zone. My thinking was right, my horse was with me, he was ready to go in. He wasn’t too fresh and he wasn’t too tired. He was just right. It wasn’t a hard cow to work,” she said.

“They judge part of your score on how hard the cow is, and that cow wasn’t all that hard. I think what we did was we took that cow and made something good out of it.”

Though she and her trainer, Colorado Springs’ Lavert Avent, felt she could have been a little closer to the cow, Newell still received a total score of 224 from the three judges.

She found out a little later she had landed in first place, and she watched anxiously as the rest of the competitors took their turns, wondering if any of them would beat her score.

None did.

“When I realized we won, I don’t even know how to describe that feeling, that we won a world championship. It just makes you feel so good,” Newell says. When given her award, she also got to run a victory lap with Spot Light around the arena.

That same afternoon, she competed in trail and placed sixth out of 100. By the end of the championships, she had landed in 10th place for All-Around. In addition to prize money, she won a trophy and ribbon for cow work and ribbons for both trail and All-Around.

Newell has had Spot Light for 8 years and she has trained for and competed in horse shows for 12 years. She started with many regional association shows before climbing her way up to the bigger competitions.

She is very proud of her “great horse that is very talented” and says she knew he was capable of winning a world championship.

“We’ve really gotten to know each other very well in 8 years. He knows what I expect. You still have to keep yourself calm and focused in the show pen because he’s looking to me for guidance,” Newell said.

“He’s looking to me like, ‘Is there anything wrong? Should I be worried about anything?’ I talk to him and tell him to stay with me and everything’s okay, he’s going to be cool. And I have to tell myself to be cool because I get nervous. When you’re so nervous, you can’t think,” she explains.

Winning any one of the world championships was Newell’s personal goal, one she had no idea if she would ever actually accomplish, let alone in cow work.

She trains almost daily with her horse, working to improve things such as steering or the speed of Spot Light’s gait. Cow work, however, is not something she gets to work with as often due to availability. She has only been able to train with cows twice this year prior to the world show.

“To win a world championship in cow work that I don’t get to do very often, that’s pretty special,” she says.

For helping her work hard to get this far, Newell credited instructors Avent, Leslie Harrison, Rusty Hall and Kelly Hall, as well as her friends Eileen Owens and Kate Larkin.

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