Farm Talk

March 2, 2010

Getting in a cowboy frame of mind

Miles travelled to go rodeoing in 2009—63,971. Rodeos entered in 2009—95. Bareback horses ridden in a year—hundreds. One trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas—A dream come true.

by Doug Toburen

That’s the way Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback rider D.V. Fennell from Neosho, Mo., looks back at one of his most successful years in rodeo.

Fennell, a Missouri transplant by way of Utah and Oklahoma, has spent the major part of his life around horses and rodeos.

“Dad cowboyed on a ranch and I was always on and around horses,” he says. “When I got a little older I got to where I was always in the pen trying to break colts.”

When Fennell turned 15 he moved in with a rodeo stock contractor and got an even bigger taste of the rodeo lifestyle—as well as taking on a very important.

“I guess I was pretty lucky. I got to be their official guinea pig,” he jokes. “They would put me on anything just to see if it would buck hard enough to get me off.”

But Fennell wanted more.

“I always wanted to ride the horses,” he claims. “After the first rodeo I ever saw I just knew that was what I wanted to do.”

So that is exactly what he did.

After rodeoing for several years, Fennell bought his PRCA permit in the early ‘90s and started hitting the pro shows. Finally, he was living the dream, but he found out pretty quick the dream of being a rodeo star can often look like a nightmare.

“I was rodeoing all over and going with some of the best guys out there and I just couldn’t get it put together,” he explains. “Those guys were winning rodeos and I wasn’t.”

Fennell rodeoed hard and did everything he could do to score high but things just weren’t working out.

“I guess it was a learning experience for me. I had to learn to grow up and learn the business,” Fennell says. “I had to learn how to not only win, but to be a businessman and most importantly how to take care of things at home.”

After all, Fennell wasn’t getting any younger and rodeo is definitely a young man’s sport.

On top of that he had a wife and family at home that were counting on him to pay the bills.

“A wife and two kids is the biggest part of growing up,” he explains. “That will grow you up fast!”

After struggling through what Fennell always considered to be his life-long dream for nearly 10 years he was just about to hang up his spurs and riggin’ and see what else there was to do.

And that was just about the time things started clicking for him.

In 2005 Fennell was starting to get things put together again but it wasn’t because he was trying harder or because he had gotten better. It was something way deeper than that.

“All the tools were there I just finally figured out it was time to start believing in myself,” he says. “There’s a big difference in wantin’ to and knowing you can.”

That year turned out to be one of the best for Fennell thus far. He not only finished 22nd in the world with winnings somewhere around the $45,000 range, he also managed to win a couple rodeos and was named the Prairie Circuit champion.

Like he had seen before, though, one good year didn’t mean the next one would be.

He battled injuries for a couple years and just couldn’t quite get on top of his game.

“I tore my shoulder up in ‘07 and had to have reconstructive surgery on it in ‘08,” he says.

And, for a guy who was in his mid 30s, the dream of becoming a world champion bareback rider was becoming more distant than ever.

Well, that dream would have probably drifted away for 99 percent of guys out there, but not Fennell.

In ‘09 Fennell left the house in January and headed down the road chasing that dream he longed to catch.

The only difference is that he left the house in ‘09 with more on his mind than making enough to pay the bills.

“When I started rodeoing last year I wanted to win the world—that was my goal,” he says.

Fennell set the rodeo world on fire, winning five rodeos and splitting wins in three others. By the time the finals rolled around in December, Fennell knew he was well on his way to obtaining his goal. He was going to the WNFR for the first time in his career and he was one of the top 15 bareback riders in the world.

“When I got to Vegas I didn’t pick my head up for two days I don’t think,” he says.

But, Fennell used his experience to help him through.

“In my mind it was just another rodeo, this is my job.”

There is one obvious difference, though, and he was sure to point it out.

“There are more zeroes on the checks out there, though,” he jokes.

Fennell ended up making quite a showing at the WNFR. He rode every bronc he drew 10 days in a row which tied him for fourth in the average and placed him ninth in the world.

Being at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is something not many people can say they have done—especially at 36 years of age.

Even Fennell’s fellow competitors tried to take a poke at him for his age.

“When I got to the locker room there was a rocking chair sitting in there with a sign on it that said ‘dad’,” he jokes.

In true cowboy fashion Fennell just rolled with it, or, rocked with it? He had everyone sign it and brought it home.

“I’m going to set it right in the middle of that loft up there,” he jokes, pointing to the upstairs of his house.