Shelter Island cowboy making his mark

Riley Willumsen in action during a rodeo competition.

When Riley Willumsen graduated from Shelter Island High School in 2014, I did a story on the direction he was taking his life. The reason I wrote about Riley was because he had picked a different path for his life’s journey from all the other kids.

Today, it seems that the first thing you ask a junior or senior in high school is “What college are you going to?” It’s rare not to get an answer of a school that will cost them and their parents over $40,000 a year for four years.

And everybody is scrambling to try to get this money.

That’s why Riley caught my attention. He wanted to go out west and become a cowboy. I must admit, I didn’t think that this kid’s dream would last very long. This column proves that I was wrong.

After leaving high school, and with a little help from his friend Shane in Riverhead, Riley went out west to Montana and worked on a ranch. He loved it and continued to do it for a couple of years before Shane helped him out again by giving him his next move.

That move brought him to Northwood, Iowa, to work for Monty Bruce at his Monty Bruce Training Center and learn about the “cow horse.” A bonus was he discovered Northwood was not very far from Osage, Iowa, the place where his mom and dad, Wendy and Lance Willumsen, got married.

My first question was, “What is a cow horse?”

“Working cow horse” is a type of competition known also as “reined cow horse,” where horses are asked to “work” a single live cow in an arena. They perform maneuvers that include such things as circling the cow, turning it in a specified manner and performing a reining pattern.

A reining or a reined horse is one that has learned special techniques like sliding stops, spins and rollbacks, or speedy stops and changes in direction. Cow horses are highly skilled in working cattle. Not only can a cow horse herd cattle but can easily split a herd or single out a specific animal and move it to an exact spot or position. A reined cow horse is a master at both skill sets.

In the competitions, riders and horses are judged by three criteria — reining, cow work and herd work. Cow work involves moving a single cow up and down a fence line in a particular pattern. Herd work involves driving the herd and separating a cow from the herd. Reining cow horses are judged only by their performance and not by appearance.

Riley’s day begins on a horse and he’s on one all day. Training horses for Monty Bruce is what he does with his time. As Riley likes to say to his dad when asked how he’s doing, “Just Living the Dream.”

As I write this column, Riley is in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Celebration of Champions, a week-long competition — one of the biggest — that was televised.

Riley ended up 9th since his steer was a bit rambunctious and got away from him in the fence run. He said he was by far the youngest competitor. It was Riley’s biggest event so far and his future is looking bright. The rider who won has over $2 million in career earnings.

Lance did tell me that anyone interested in cow horses and what they do can get a movie on Netflix called “Down the Fence.”

His dad was proud to bring over the final results for the Open Futurity held in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, in December 2018. More than 200 horses attended this four-day competition. Riley was riding a horse named Joys Mirada Shine, and the Shelter Island boy finished in first place.

Congratulations, Riley!

Now it’s back to Iowa where Riley has his dog and spends his days training cow horses. Maybe when you get out to see him his dream will be complete. He will have his own training center, and maybe name something after Shelter Island.