Last week’s national convention of the Pinto Horse Association of America attracted more than 200 visitors to Oklahoma City, culminating in an awards banquet Saturday at the Biltmore Hotel. Meanwhile, June’s World Pinto Horse Show, held in Tulsa since 1985, will draw 25,000 horses and their owners to Oklahoma. Studies show spending with state businesses for the two events translates to about $150,000 and $10 million, respectively. Darrell Bilke, the association’s executive vice president/chief operating officer, realizes the economic development impact of the activities of the association he’s led since 2003. After 30 years participating in, judging at, consulting for and managing horse shows, the events feel more like family reunions to him. "We’re one big happy family,” said Bilke of his 15-member staff and 15,000 members. "I’m very, very fortunate that my job is my recreation. I love it. It’s my golf game.” Just as the American Kennel Club registers dog breeds, the Pinto Horse Association of America, or the PtHA, registers pintos throughout the U.S., Canada and Asia, and horses with two or more pinto characteristics. "We’re scanning these, and about to get out of the file cabinet business," Bilke said, opening the manila folder and thumbing through the show and performance records of a random pinto, one of 130,000 on record.
Official shares experiencesFrom his office at 7330 NW 23, Bilke, 61, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his personal and professional life. The following is an edited transcript. Q: Tell us about your roots. A: I grew up in Miami, OK, with two sisters, three and 10 years younger. Our mom, who now lives in an assisted-living facility in Midwest City, worked more than 40 years for Ottawa County, as secretary to the county election board and in the county assessor’s office. Our father, who we lost five years ago, was a deputy in the county sheriff’s office and on the side, farmed hay and cattle on about 400 acres that we lease now. I was always around horses. My father roped some and had a few horses that he raced on a local basis. I started in 4-H when I was 9, became active on the judging teams and won a lot of judging contests. I also played a little basketball and football, where I had the opportunity to play with Steve Owens. For college, I attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, where I was on the livestock judging team. I spent my last two years in Goodwell at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, earning a degree in animal science. Q: How’d you meet your wife? A: We were both working as agents of the Oklahoma State University’s Oklahoma County Extension Service, helping 4-H kids and farmers and ranchers. She was in Nowata County. I was with the extension service six years and among other things developed the farming, ranching and horse management program at Rogers State University in Claremore. Q: What brought you from Green Country to Edmond? A: My wife (Barbara) is from Edmond and wanted to move back to take over her mom’s flower shop — Madeline’s Flower Shop, which her mom, Madeline Graham, opened in 1950. Her father, Rex Graham, manufactured Tom Cat Horse Walkers, horse exercisers for show and race horses, and wanted me to take over the show horse part of his business. We became Graham-Bilke Quarter Horses and bred, showed and sold horses. At one time we had 150. Q: How was it working for your father in law? A: He was like a second dad to me. We had great times together, riding through the pasture checking on our mares and colts. (Graham’s old saddle and Bilke’s dad’s are on display in his office.) Other times, we’d sit down and talk over things. And he’d say, "If you think it‘ll work, go ahead.” We worked together about 15 years before he passed away. Shortly afterward, I shut down the show horse business when I started judging real hard. I judged for 14 breed associations and managed horse shows, including the Pinto World, Appaloosa World and Paint World. Q: What is it about judging that makes you like it so much? A: I like looking at great animals and am in my element when I’m walking around an arena or through a horse show barn. I’ve judged in every state and about every foreign country. Highlights include the International American Horse Show in Brussels in 1991, the German quarters and pintos championships and Australian championships. Recently, I judged miniatures in Scottsdale and was in California last week for a paint show. I’m gone most every weekend. But it works because Barbara is also tied up most weekends. Q: Do your girls ride? A: No, they’re into fashion and flowers like their mom. They’re asthmatics and allergic. Not to horses, but to hay, grain and dust. They were born two months premature and spent two months in the hospital. At birth they weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces and 2 pounds, 13 ounces. After two days home, we almost lost Lacee and rushed her back to the hospital. I was holding her, and she turned blue in my arms and died. Thank goodness there was a nurse there to revive her. They were born May 22 and Lacee didn’t get off oxygen until Nov. 28, my birthday. That was my best birthday present ever. Q: Wranglers jeans or Levi’s? A: I used to always wear Wranglers. But now I wear Cinch, which have become popular in the last 10 years. There’s more room in the leg for riding. I still send them to the laundry — heavy starch. That’s one family tradition that lives on.
Personally SpeakingDarrell Bilke →Position: Executive vice president/chief operating officer, Pinto Horse Association of America Inc. →Web site: www.pinto.org. →Birth date: Nov. 28, 1947. →Hometown: Edmond. →Family: Barbara, wife of 33 years and owner of Madeline’s Flower Shop in Edmond; identical twin daughters, Lenzee and Lacee, 23, students at the University of Central Oklahoma. →Education: Oklahoma Panhandle State University, bachelor’s in animal science. →Civic involvement: Board member, Southern Nazarene University’s Equestrian Center; Western Committee; United States Equestrian Federation; past president, Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association.