For 21 years now, the silver Cortney Wickham memorial buckle has blessed both the giver and the receiver.
In 2000, Cortney Wickham had qualified in five events at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot but tragically she died in an accident a few weeks before the fair. Cortney was 9 years old.
It was her first year in 4H and she was all set to ride her beloved pony Ruby in the Pony Western equitation class. The buckle in her name is given to the winner of that class by the Ron and Cindy Wickham family.
“At the time, we were in a fog but somehow we were able to get a buckle started with the help of a dear friend, Bonnie Schuelke, our 4H family and our family,” Cindy Wickham said. “We have continued giving it each year as a legacy for Cortney. To be honest, we were in a fog for the next 10 years too but the buckle has been a great tool in helping us to heal, and to watch other kids try so hard to win the buckle in her honor, has been really great.”
At the Bannock County 4H fair, Cortney also qualified in bareback, showmanship, trail, and in a driving class in the pony cart division. Cortney also won grand champion for a market pig she raised, prevailing over her older sister and brother, Stacy and Jordan Wickham who were in the same class, Wickham said.
For years Ron and Cindy Wickham were 4H leaders and their kids were in 4H. Now grown, their daughter Stacy Davis and her husband live in Shelley, Jordan Wickham is of Pocatello and Bryant Wickham lives in Bakersfield, California.
“4H was a family tradition. We raised our kids in 4H but Cortney was the only one who rode in the pony Western equitation class, although a few years later our son Bryant rode in the class and won 4th place,” Cindy Wickham said.
Although Cortney loved all animals, her first love was horses. The family gave Ruby to Cortney when she was about four or five years old.
“Cortney spent hours riding Ruby in the pasture. She even rode her to piano lessons,” Cindy Wickham said. “A monument in Cortney’s honor stands at the Tyhee Elementary School where Cortney went to school.”
The Montana Silversmiths belt buckle is the only one awarded in the 4H horse program at the state fair Cindy Wickham said. Over the years, it become a prize that riders try hard to win. To recognize all the winners, a list of names will be engraved on a plaque. At times, riding for the buckle has been the goal of entire families, Cindy Wickham said.
“Cortney was a spunky little girl who loved to ride. Out of all of our children she had a deep love of horses – I think it’s something that comes from within,” Cindy Wickham said. “She was a beautiful little girl, and this buckle has blessed a lot of lives over the years.”
This year’s winner, Megan Butikofer, 13, has special significance since Megan is Ron and Cindy’s great niece. Megan cried when the announcer called her name over the loud speaker at the fair last week.
“Now to have a great niece win it, it’s great,” Cindy Wickham said. “It’s was pure joy to see her reaction when she won and it’s come full circle to see how hard these kids work.”
The event gets more competitive each year, said Megan’s mom Chelsea Butikofer. Because it’s open to kids from 8-18 years old, it’s a challenge for younger kids to compete against older kids.
“It’s a really big deal. Everyone wants to win a buckle,” Butikofer said.
Megan competed in over 20 classes at the Bonneville County Fair, and advanced to the EISF in six. For four years now Megan’s goal was to win the buckle. She spent time with professional trainers and a judge to learn more about horsemanship and training Leroy, her 13-hand high, dark brown pony with a flashy appaloosa blanket.
In the pony Western equitation class riders walk, trot and lope along the rail in a circle in both directions at the judge’s command.
“I figured out what I did wrong the year before and set out to improve the next year,” Megan said.
Winning this year was especially challenging since Leroy needed a lot of training when the family purchased him from an older man in Montana, who didn’t ride him much.
“Leroy wasn’t very well trained and Megan spent hours and hours riding. We tried three different bits which helped him respond better to cues, and Megan worked tirelessly getting Leroy to take the proper lead,” Chelsea Butikofer said. “It wasn’t until earlier this spring after Megan changed things up that Leroy started to take the correct lead because he’d been taught to respond to inside leg pressure instead of outside leg pressure.”
Through grit and determination Megan persevered.
“To make it to the state fair is the ultimate goal. It’s the best of the best.” Chelsea Butikofer said. “She worked her tail off with Leroy and never gave up on him.”
Having reached her goal, Megan is giving Leroy to her little sister Emma, 9, so she can ride for the buckle, and after that Abbie, 7, will get a chance. Meanwhile the family will take Leroy and their other horses on mountain trail rides, pack trips and hunting elk.
“Leroy is a go getter and an all-around horse. All our horses do it all,” Chelsea Butikofer said.