D.V. Fennell has had a hunger in his belly for five months.
Fennell is a two-time bareback riding qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but bucking horses don’t read resumes. The Utah-born, Oklahoma-raised cowboy hasn’t seen a paycheck since the seventh round of the on Dec. 8, 2010. That’s the way it goes in rodeo sometimes. Even the best cowboys go through trials that would make lesser men squeal.
“I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a struggle,” said Fennell, who earned $5,880 over the past week by finishing second at two rodeos. “But it feels real good now. I’m ready to start my roll.”
Fennell’s biggest chunk of change came in Logandale, Nev., where his 85-point ride was second only to Jake Vold’s 87. For that, Fennell earned $4,512. He added another $1,368 by finishing second at Oakdale, Calif., with an 80, just two points behind winner Cody DeMers.
“This is a tough business,” he said, noting that contestants must pay entry fees in order to compete and they only earn money back if they do well enough to place; at both rodeos, only the top six places earned a check. “You’ve just got to stick with it and believe in yourself. But when you go through those kinds of slumps, it’s hard not to doubt yourself.
“Fortunately I’ve got a great team helping me. I couldn’t have made it this far this year without my little buddy, Justin (McDaniel) or Eric Norris or Jack Hodge.”
McDaniel is the 2008 world champion bareback rider and Fennell’s longtime traveling partner, while Eric Norris owns the State Farm Insurance agency in Fennell’s hometown of Neosho, Mo. Hodge runs James Hodge Ford in Muskogee, Okla. – both Norris and Hodge are marketing partners/sponsors of Fennell’s rodeo career, but they bring a lot more to the table.
“These guys have kept me going down the road doing what I do,” Fennell said. “But they’ve also been great friends. That means a heck of a lot more to me.”
So what’s next?
Fennell has expected a “hot” season, meaning many trips to the pay window in a sport where money not only helps pay bills but also counts toward championship points – the contestants in each event with the most money won at the end of the 2011 campaign will be crowned world champions. And while it took several months to get it kick-started, Fennell is still banking on a strong finish.
In reality, he’s less than $5,000 outside of the top 20 and less than $13,000 outside the top 10. As he proved quickly in Logandale and Oakdale, a hot run can help Fennell make up a lot of ground.
“It’s pretty amazing how momentum works,” he said. “But I feel sharp and know I’m riding good. It’s time to keep getting on good horses and take advantage of that.”