Severance woman wins American Quarter Horse Association World Championship |

Severance woman wins American Quarter Horse Association World Championship

Kelley Simonsen's reflection is displayed in the eye of her quarterhorse, Beauty, on Wednesday at her home in Severance. Kelley took home the AQHA Hunt Seat World Champion title, with $6,600 in winnings.
Kelsey Brunner/ |

Additional information

Horse name: A Beautiful Moxie or Beauty

Pedigree: 2007 bay mare (Triples Crown Jewel-Mystical Memory by Mr Moxie Man)

Breeder: Jan and Norm Mackenzie of Sharpsburg, Georgia

Owner: Kelley Simonsen of Severance, Colo.

Exhibitor: Kelley Simonsen of Severance, Colo.

Trainer: AQHA Professional Horsewoman Leslie Vagneur Lange of Greeley, Colo.

Total class entries: 33

Purse: $6,600

World Champion Prizes: Custom-designed gold trophy, Montana Silversmiths buckle, neck wreath, gold medallion, specially designed logo jacket sponsored by Cripple Creek, world champion patch, WeatherBeeta embroidered blanket

Reserve World Champion: Machine Power and Nancy Murfin-Moxley of Wichita, Kan.

Third place: Hooked Up N Hot and Karen Zarda of Olathe, Kan.

Severance, Colo., resident Kelley Simonsen waited with bated breath to see where she ranked in the American Quarter Horse Association Hunt Seat Equitation finals Sept. 4 in Amarillo, Texas. The competition — which judges the riders’ ability to smoothly ride an unknown, predetermined course — put Simonsen up against 33 other riders from across the country.

She was hoping to be in the top 10, where the best prizes and money are awarded. Though her and her husband both work jobs outside the competition, it’s always nice to get something for the hard work.

As the names dropped away and she knew she was in the top 10 she became relieved. But as they got closer and closer to the top three places, Simonsen sat on her 8-year-old bay mare A Beautiful Moxie — or Beauty — in disbelief.

With only three names left to call, Simonsen looked to the other two women left, both of whom were good friends from the same barn. She knew she had ridden well, but when it was just her and Nancy Murfin-Moxley of Wichita, Kan., who Simonsen said was incredibly skilled, she thought surely the other rider would take first.

“I want people to know that you don’t have to have a $100,000 horse to be successful.Kelley SimonsenSeverance resident

Then, the announcer called Murfin-Moxley’s name for second place and Simonsen felt overwhelming surprise. The two women hugged in the ring.

For her win as the AQHA Hunt Seat World Champion, Simonsen got $6,600 and a bundle of prizes, including a custom designed gold trophy, specialty jacket and embroidered blanket for Beauty.

When she dismounted, there was a whirlwind of activity: AQHA and other organizations asking for video and print interviews, staff ushering her to take a winner’s photo and a push to get Beauty a drug test for the integrity of the event.

It was unlike anything else the small-town rider had experienced.

To celebrate, Simonsen, Murfin-Moxley and the third competitor — Karen Zarda of Olathe, Kan. — went out to dinner that night, though she laughed that she was in bed by 8 p.m. after multiple days of waking up at 3:30 in the morning for the competition.

“I woke in the middle of the night wondering if that had actually happened,” she said.

The next day, she drove back to Colorado with Beauty, who lives at Simonsen’s personal barn south of Severance instead of with a trainer, something of a rarity for professional show horses.

“I want people to know that you don’t have to have a $100,000 horse to be successful,” she said.

When Beauty and Simonsen aren’t away at competition, she stays at the barn with Simonsen’s other horses — a gelding she uses for Western riding and her retired show horse, her dog Mason and a couple of barn cats.

“I have a babysitter, basically,” she laughed. “When I take one horse to competition, the other still has company.”

The facility isn’t showy, but it works. Out behind of barns that store the horses and hay, Simonsen and her husband sell is a simple dirt arena with ground poles and no fence.

It gets the job done.

Simonsen comes from her home north of Severance multiple times per week to exercise and train Beauty. Unlike those riders with trainers, the process has been a little trial and error.

In order to qualify for world championships, riders have to get a certain number of points from qualifying competitions across the country. Simonsen tries to stay close to home, competing in Colorado and Wyoming.

Each time they go to a competition, she sees what works and what doesn’t and bases her training schedule around that.

Since Hunt Seat involves a pattern that she doesn’t really know going into the ring, Simonsen works on general skills and patterns to get Beauty ready for anything.

It’s pretty easy, she says. The mare has a natural talent for the category and doesn’t get stressed out by new things very often.

“Once she learns a maneuver she’s very willing,” she said. “When you give her the command she’ll do it.”

To prepare for the championships, however, Simonsen met with her on-and-off trainer — Leslie Vagneur Lange of Greeley — who is more of a resource when she has questions. Lange is professionally certified by AQHA.

“If I need some guidance then I turn to her,” Simonsen said.

While she has owned Beauty for four years and her other horses for more, Simonsen doesn’t have a background in horses and sometimes questions come up.

She grew up in a suburb of Washington D.C, and, as her dad says, asked for a pony before she had ever seen one. She later took riding lessons, primarily English, before she went to college at the University of Wyoming.

In 1976, while at the university, she rode her first quarter horse and the obsession began.

“Some people have it and some people don’t,” she said.

As she didn’t have a trainer at the time, she kept her first horse at her house. She’s continued the trend because she loves the bonding that happens between horse and rider when it’s an everyday thing.

“It’s better off that I have an instinctual feel of my horse,” she said.

Post-competition, Simonsen has picked up her regular routine. She’s begun working Beauty for the showmanship category, something she also thinks the horse will excel at.

She hopes to train Beauty in jumping as well as continue to compete in the AQHA Select Competition level for riders over 50 years old. Ideally, she laughed, she’ll get at least one year at the super select level for those over 70. ❖

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