LA GRANDE HORSEMAN WINS TOP AT STATE LEVEL

May 28, 2002 12:00 am
Outstanding rookie: Ryder Willmarth has just been named the American Quarter Horse Association-Justin Boots rookie of the year for Oregon. Ryder is shown with Perfectly Secure, the horse he competed with in 2001. (Don Trout photo).
Outstanding rookie: Ryder Willmarth has just been named the American Quarter Horse Association-Justin Boots rookie of the year for Oregon. Ryder is shown with Perfectly Secure, the horse he competed with in 2001. (Don Trout photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Ryder Willmarth of La Grande has "lost'' his horse but found his way to the upper echelon of the American Quarter Horse Association world.

Ryder, 12, has won the AQHA-Justin Boots Oregon "Rookie of the Year'' award for the 18 and under age division. Ryder's award was recently announced by the AQHA.

"We were totally shocked. It was totally unexpected,'' said Ryder's mother Karen Willmarth. "We had no idea that we were even in the running for it.''

Ryder is a seventh-grader at Elgin's Stella Mayfield School, where his father Paul and his mother both are teachers.

The AQHA rookie of the year honor is based on points accumulated at American Quarter Horse Youth Association competition during the course of a season. Ryder competed in about 20 events across the state in 2001. A competitor's rookie season is the first one in which he or she scores a point in the youth competition.

Ryder competed with a four-year-old mare named Perfectly Secure. The horse, which now lives in Scio, was retired earlier this year and is due to foal next winter.

Ryder's brother Zac, 14, won several AQHA honors while competing with Perfectly Secure before 2001.

"She (Perfectly Secure) has done incredible things for our family,'' Karen Willmarth said.

Ryder's new horse is a three-year-old named Securely Independent.

"He doesn't know as much. Working with him is a little more challenging,'' Ryder said.

Still, the new horse has endearing qualities. "He thinks he's a big dog. He wants to be with you all the time,'' the seventh-grader said.

Securely Independent and Perfectly Secure are part of a noteworthy bloodline. The father of both is Secure Future, a stallion owned by Mann Quarter Horses of Scio. Secure Future is regarded as one of the top sires in the nation for youth halter horses.

Zac Willmarth did not compete with Perfectly Secure last year but that did not prevent him from having an outstanding season. His horse, Sonny Illustration, was the state grand champion age-two-and-under halter gelding and the high point Oregon-bred gelding in 2001 competition.

In halter competition horses are evaluated for balance, structural correctness, breed characteristics and degree of muscling. Emphasis is placed on balance, which is the most desirable characteristic.

Horses are shown in a leather halter and pass in front of judges while being evaluated. Competitors do not ride their horses.

Ryder and Zac Willmarth prepare their horses for show through daily grooming and exercising and a structured feeding program.

"The time the boys put in is phenomenal,'' Karen Willmarth said.

The boys' parents help care for the horses.

"It is a perfect family activity,'' Paul Willmarth said.