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Clausen-Simmons corrals championship at Arabian Nationals

Christine Clausen-Simmons poses Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, for a photo with her award winning Arabian horse, Darby, and a selection of awards Darby won at U.S. Nationals  in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Christine Clausen-Simmons poses Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, for a photo with her award winning Arabian horse, Darby, and a selection of awards Darby won at U.S. Nationals in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

You could almost say that Christine Clausen-Simmons was born on a horse. After decades of riding and showing, she and her horse Just Like Fire CF just took home several top awards from the U.S. Arabian Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month.

“In all the years I’ve shown, I’ve never won a national title,” she said. “It’s very hard to do. I’m still pinching myself. I’m not sure it’s set in yet.”

The pair were named 2018 champions in the Half Arabian Hunter Maturity category, unanimous 2018 champions in Half Arabian Hunter Adult Amateur Owner to Ride and Arabian Hunter Pleasure Association Half Arabian Hunter Futurity. The horse was also named reserve champion in the Half Arabian Hunter Jr. Horse category.

It’s very rare to receive a unanimous championship, Clausen-Simmons said. “You show to three judges at once and they average the score,” she said.

Just getting to nationals is hard, she said. Riders have to earn enough points at competitions to advance to regionals and only the top five on a regional level get invited to nationals. Getting that far requires precision from horse and rider.

“You have to be very strategic when you’re showing,” she said. “You can’t get away with much when there’s three sets of eyes on you.”

She just bought the horse Just Like Fire CF, whose barn name is Artie, in April. He’s half Arabian and half saddlebred.

“He’s only 4,” she said. “This was only his third horse show ever. He’s a rock star.”

Clausen-Simmons said she was impressed with the horse the moment she saw him.

“It’s his overall conformation,” she said. “He’s got a gorgeous neck. He’s an exceptional mover.”

She grew up on the Valhalla Arabian Farm north of Spokane owned by her parents, Peter and Rita Clausen.

“I started showing when I was 8,” she said.

She went to regional shows in Washington, Montana, Oregon and Idaho for years. She took 10 years off the show circuit in her 30s.

“Life happens,” she said. “It’s kind of an expensive hobby.”

During that time off she didn’t even own a horse. “It was weird,” she said.

Then she went to a horse show in Scottsdale, Arizona, and realized how much she missed working with horses. Her husband suggested buying horses and she bought a 4-year-old half Arabian, half Frisian horse named Darby. The two won seven top 10 finisher ribbons at the U.S. Arabian Nationals but never advanced any further. Darby, who is now 17, retired last year.

“She’s done well for herself,” Clausen-Simmons said.

After Darby retired to a life of leisure, Clausen-Simmons bought Artie from the Burkman Centre in Arizona. She also trains there now after the death of her longtime trainer, Mike Lamb.

“They’ve really made me a better rider,” she said. “It’s a great barn to be a part of. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging.”

During her career she’s done all types of showing, including western and sidesaddle, but now only competes in English riding events.

“I just really prefer English,” she said. “It’s just a little more excitement. It’s a faster pace.”

She also tried leaving her amateur status behind once.

“I went professional for about a minute and decided that took all the fun out of it,” she said.

Clausen-Simmons said she has some simple advice for young riders who might want to follow in her footsteps by winning Nationals.

“Don’t give up,” she said. “I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. It only took 51 years.”

She said it was her love of horses and love of competition that has kept her going all these years.

“It’s a personal challenge, too, to push yourself,” she said.

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