Cindy Warthen puts her award-winning horse Ernie through his paces at her 15-acre farm in Newton County. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
COVINGTON — A few years ago, Cindy Warthen traveled across the country for two weeks shopping for a horse she could ride in competitions. She had about 15 horses on her list and had just finished trying out horse number eight when she got to Indiana and met Ernie, also known as Just Let Me Sleep.
Standing 16 hands, 3 inches tall from his withers to the ground and with dramatic swaths of white and brown-trimmed-in-gray on his coat, Ernie cut quite a figure.
“We were going to go further, but once I found Ernie I was done,” said Warthen. “I had two trainers that knew the horse. One trainer that initially showed him as a 2-year-old told me if I didn’t buy him I’d be missing out on an opportunity. He said this horse can go anywhere, any time. He had that kind of ability. I took kind of a leap of faith.”
That leap of faith has paid off for Warthen as she and Ernie recently earned the World Championship in the Amateur Hunter Under Saddle class of the 2014 Pinto World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma. The horse and rider team rose to the top of the class out of 77 amateur senior competitors (those between the ages 40 and 55). Warthen also finished in the top 10 of all 12 classes, except for one.
It’s the first Pinto World Title for Warthen and Ernie, who’ve been together for three years, and have participated in only five competitions.
To clinch the title, Warthen rode Ernie through two rounds. Each one required her to walk, trot and canter around the ring for about 10 minutes under the watchful eye of eight judges. Judges look for the horse’s head to be down and his legs to be straight, said Warthen.
Warthen said she and Ernie have their good days and bad days together, but ultimately what counts is how their teamwork evolves in the ring.
“That’s what showing is about — what happens in the pen that day,” she said.
Warthen said when she purchased Ernie, he was kind of “green,” having been shown very little, but her husband Randy is a horse trainer.
“He wasn’t quite as broke as I needed him to be, but my husband knew how to train him for me,” said Warthen.
Ernie is both a pinto horse and an American paint horse. Pintos are named such for their dual colors, whereas paint horses must have both dual colors and a thoroughbred or American quarter horse lineage. Warthen said she prefers pintos because each one is unique.
“I don’t see my exact twin in the arena,” she said.
Warthen travels to a trainer in north Georgia about three weekends a month to work with Ernie and rides him at her home three days a week. Developing a partnership with a horse takes time, she said, and while Ernie, now 7 years old, is “gorgeous and smart,” he also has a “goofy” personality.
“It could take four or five years to connect with a horse to make a great amateur team and we’re still working on that,” said Warthen. “My other horse took that long and that’s when I achieved the No. 1 amateur in the zone.”
Warthen is referring to when she earned the No. 1 Amateur Rider in the Southern Region in 2002 for the American Painted Horse Association. She reached that accomplishment on her horse, Lucky Fashion, who is now 17 years old.
These days, her children — Cassie, 17, an Eastside High School senior, and Remington, 12, a seventh-grader at the Newton County Theme School — ride Lucky.
Warthen’s been riding horses for most of her life and showing them for over two decades.
“It’s my relaxation. It’s my therapy, doing something with a beautiful animal together, it’s fun,” she said.
When her children became school-age, she backed off on competitions and instead encouraged her daughters to participate.
“We let the kids show. It was too hard for me to try and show and get the kids ready,” she said.
Warthen, 49, said now that her children are getting older and they have other interests, she is taking the opportunity to jump back into the ring.
“It’s my turn,” she said.
The Warthens live on a 15-acre farm in Newton County. Husband Randy works full-time as an electrician and Warthen runs her own marketing company.
Warthen said though the contests can be costly, they’re good family bonding trips. Plus, Warthen gets to indulge her competitive side, and she has a specific goal in mind for the future.
“To win the world in this class was a great achievement but my goal is to win the championship in multiple classes,” said Warthen. “The ideal is to be the overall amateur winner.”