The reigning junior high all-around champion cowgirl from Oklahoma, Merrick Moyer, made a statement in Perry, Georgia, aboard her grade gelding “Hiccup,” and took home the National Junior High Finals Rodeo world championship home after three runs between June 18-24.
Moyer (14) earned the win in the first round at the 2023 NJHFR with a 15.479-second run, then came back out in round two to run a 15.438 and earn second-place honors behind Kynzington Muth’s smoking 15.292.
“In round one, I wanted to be smooth and fast,” Moyer said. “He got a little tighter than I expected. He freed up a little more in the second round, and I had a .2 lead going into the short round, so I just wanted to get around the barrels.”
Moyer’s safety on left her with a 15.841-second time in the final round, finishing in the middle of the pack of 20. She nearly opened up the door for fellow Oklahoma native, Bella Starr Morrison, who turned in a time of 46.781 over three runs, but held onto No. 1 with her time of 46.758 on three.
With dad, Shawn, in the alley with her, and mom, Rickki cheering from the stands, Moyer had one key adult member of her team to tell about the win after she ran.
“The person I text was Ceri (Ward,)” Moyer said.
Accomplished barrel horse trainer Ceri Ward and Moyer ride together on a daily basis, and Ward isn’t just a mentor for Moyer—she raised and trained Hiccup, who also has a special place in her life.
“Hiccup’s mom, Patricia, was super special to Ceri,” Rickki said. “She won the NHSFR on her (in 2008) and ran her through her high school and college rodeos. (Hiccup) is a super special horse to her since that’s his mom. Ceri also raised him and trained him. His mom was a registered Appaloosa, so he can’t be registered, but he still gets to compete at Pink Buckle because of his dad, MP Jet To The Sun. They did a DNA parentage verification.”
Ward and Hiccup had success dating back to his futurity year in 2019. One major place they cashed in? An over $18,000 week at the 2019 Pink Buckle.
“About a year ago, Merrick’s main horse, Lola, got hurt and Ceri let Merrick get on Hiccup,” Rickki explained. “It was just a magic fit. Their first or second run together, they placed at an (The American Rodeo) qualifier and had the chance to go (through the Contender Tournament). Ceri made the decision to sell and we couldn’t have been more excited. Lola getting hurt was such a devastating blow, but it led us to Hiccup, so it really worked out well. He’s great.”
Merrick has had the horse-crazy bug since she was young, with both parents competing in rodeo, along with older brother, Maddox (16) roping. She was up on a horse as quickly as she could participate, no matter what stood in her way.
“Right after her third birthday, she had to have surgery,” Rickki said. “She had shortened heel cords. They put these two casts on her feet. She had gotten her first pony, Goldie, and was getting ready for her first exhibition. I’ll never forget her riding that pony with the casts on her feet.”
Although barrels is where Merrick’s focus lies, she also attended the NJHFR in pole bending and placed in round two. Thanks to her speed events, goat tying, team roping and breakaway roping efforts, Moyer claimed the All-Around championship for Oklahoma in 2023, plus top barrel racing and pole bending honors. She’ll be moving up to the high school ranks next year and plans to buckle down on her speed events, but her mother stressed that they’ve never had to force the young athlete to grind it out in the arena.
She’s very self motivated,” Rickki said. “We’ve never made her do the work, that’s her.”
Rickki also shared advice for how their family manages two competitive athletes in their teenage years.
“We try to keep it fun. If it’s not fun, you need to look at what you’re doing and adjust accordingly. It can be competitive and still fun! We tell our kids that they get out of the sport what they put into it. So if they’re discouraged, let’s talk about the ‘Why.’ Is it a lack of preparation—what needs to be done differently to get a different outcome? We figure it out, do that and try to keep it fun through the process.”
The Moyer family is looking ahead to the World Championship Junior Rodeo, where Merrick is the reigning all-around champion. She noted that Hiccup loves the Lazy E Arena and expressed her excitement to compete again this year. Moyer is seated No. 2 in the VRQ Division Youth barrel racing leaderboard standings with 8109.5 points as of June 30, 2023, and No. 1 in the pole bending standings with 4279.5 points earned.
“It just makes sense,” Rickkie said of the WCRA. “We just learned by doing it when they brought in the WCJR. Shoot, I had to call somebody yesterday in the office to ask a question. It can be confusing, but the WCRA has done some really great things with their open events, so we don’t want to miss anything they’re doing in the youth sector.”