Ten riders went through the John Justin pen in pursuit of the Non-Pro Bridle World Championship on Feb. 16 during the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Celebration of Champions. In the end, Sareece Brown and Nee On Lights, who topped the preliminary round, walked away with the title and $5,028 after scoring a composite of 442.5.
“Going in today, I was trying to mentally just tell myself this is a completely different run — this is from scratch, and we’re all starting at zero,” Brown said. “I just wanted to enjoy my horse. He’s been so steady this whole entire week, and I just wanted to go in there and see how the chips fell.”
The finals rein work pattern required two large, fast circles before the small, slow circle, and Brown said at first, her horse wanted to anticipate a speed change after the first faster circle. Though he didn’t run quite as free, he still stopped hard and turned well, and they tied for the second-highest score with a 218.
“Then the cow came out, and on the first turn, it hit us. I lost my left stirrup, so the whole run I was basically riding with just my right one,” Brown said. “I just hung on, and he was right there for me the whole time. It felt good and was one of those runs that you dream of.”
The judges marked the pair’s cow work a 224.5. Brown expressed appreciation to her husband, Raiford, and trainer, Shawn Hays, for their support, along with Joe Harper and Brandy Johnson, who help her when she’s home in Tennessee. She was also thankful that when given the opportunity to sell “Neon” last year after he took Reserve in the Open Bridle with Hays at the 2020 Celebration of Champions, she listened to her intuition and kept the 9-year-old stallion (CD Lights x Shine Smartly x Shining Spark), an earner of $96,911 who is a half-brother to two-time American Quarter Horse Association World Champion Thecrowdlovesme ($138,054).
“I just couldn’t let him go,” Brown said. “I knew that there was something really special about him. He had won a lot of stuff with Shawn and had fulfilled a lot of dreams for us, but there was something that said no, there’s dreams that are leftover for he and I to do together. I’m thankful I trusted my gut.”