Fine No. Nine in Athens

Kenny Kuykendall and Jody Henderson get their dues—$27,720 worth—at the WSTR #9 Heartland in Athens, Texas.
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Kenny Kuykendall and Jody Henderson get their dues—$27,720 worth—at the WSTR #9 Heartland in Athens, Texas.

Photos by Seasons Sharp

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That long, tall Texan, Kenny Kuykendall has a point.

“You have to win a little every now and then to keep going down the road,” said the 2015 WSTR #9 Heartland Finale Champion header. “When you do win, especially one like this, it makes it all worthwhile.”

If you trail south bound on the 35 out of Gainesville, Texas, it’s exactly 11.1 miles to Valley View, an area where Kuykendall has farmed and ranched—and worked intermittent jobs like cutting hay and hauling feed—all his life.

It was a wet winter around those parts, but that’s a weather pattern that doesn’t go unappreciated in his line of business.

“We’ve had a lot of moisture. We can’t ask for anything better,” he said. “The tanks are full, the grass is green, it’s a beautiful sight out here right now.”

FOR THE LOVE

It was one of those cold and wet days in Athens, Texas, when Kuykendall and his partner, Jody Henderson, Decatur, Texas, roped four steers in 38.03 seconds to win their $27,720 cut of the #9 Heartland’s $112,000 total payout.

 “I really love to rope,” said Kuykendall, who at one point had taken a long hiatus from the sport. “I’d quit for a long time. After the kids graduated high school and college, I’ve been doing it as much as I can. We just bought a little old farm, have a few cows and raise a few roping steers for ourselves so we can practice.

“The competition is the main thing. I just love competing and going and roping for that kind of money is mind blowing.” Kuykendall continued. “One day I’d like to be in Vegas and win the $300,000. To me that’s what it’s all about. It used to be three for $12. It’s for big money anymore and we practice for that.”

At last year’s WSTR Finale IX, Kuykendall didn’t win the $300,000, but he didn’t leave empty handed either, finishing eighth place in the Bloomer Trailers #10 Finale with Jeff Denham to take home $64,000.

“Jeff and I were ninth high callback and I was pretty nervous there,” Kuykendall recalls. “There, at Athens Jody and I were high call and only had to be like a 12 to win it. I think you always have some nerves. You just block it out and go make a good, solid run.”

Kuykendall’s win at the 2014 Finale didn’t just earn him some serious cash it also earned his 9-year-old gelding “Big Mike” an opportunity to stick around. Last summer, Kuykendall lost his good horse, one he’d raised and trained from a colt. He purchased Big Mike and even though he knew he had a good one, he just couldn’t get along with him.

“I told myself if we didn’t win something in Vegas, I was done,” Kuykendall said. “I was real close to giving up on him. Luckily it all started coming together. Every time I ride him now he’s just a little bit better for me.”

Similarly Kuykendall’s intuition that he and Henderson were due was right on point.

“We’ve been roping together quite a bit, but we haven’t hardly won a thing. I kept thinking we were due. Jody is a really great guy; he devotes a lot of time to his roping. Everything just finally came together for us in Athens.”

FROM RANCH TO ARENA

Head south and west out of Valley View to get to Decatur, Texas, home of World Champion Trevor Brazile and the WSTR #9 Heartland Finale Champion Heeler, Jody Henderson.

“I grew up on a ranch out there in West Texas between Big Bend and El Paso, and we got to rope quite a bit. Back in those days we had a lot of screwworms and had to doctor cattle. I always enjoyed dragging calves to the fire. That’s kind of how I got started.”

Henderson continued to rope in some capacity all his life with one of his most favorite memories being back in the late ’70s when he won a 10-steer up in New Mexico, with Las Cruces’ Larry Cohorn.

“We really work at it now. We try hard and practice hard,” Henderson said. “But winning, like the Heartland there, that just really helps. It’s just unbelievable what they pay now, it just makes it worth it.”

Even though Henderson and Kuykendall have roped together a good amount, they rarely hit the practice pen together.

“We’re fixing to really start,” Henderson laughed. “They just got a brand new arena right there between us. I’ll ease over there once in a while.”

Henderson is retired from 32 years with the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association but only semi-retired in that he still ranches and does some additional work for National Finance on the side. He spent 16 years in West Texas with the Cattle Raisers before they moved him to their corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, where he served as a Special Assistant to the General Manager.

Henderson and his wife, Pat, have two grown kids and now five grandkids. He’s looking forward to teaching his older grandkids how to rope this summer.

WHEN IT’S YOUR DAY, IT’S YOUR DAY

When the winning team came tight in Athens, Henderson went right to celebrating with a little fist pump action.

“Ha, yea, I was really doing that for Kenny,” Henderson laughed. “It’s like these football players. Some of them celebrate a little too quick in the end zone.

“I used to rope with a guy, he’d say, ‘If it’s your day, it’s your day.’ It was just our time.” Adding, “I don’t even think about winning. If you place you’re doing good. These boys are pretty tough these days. It’s hard to beat ’em.”

#9 HEARTLAND FINALE
Athens, Texas
TOTAL PAYOUT: $112,000
Produced by: Shelley Productions
Date: March 21, 2015
1. Kenny Kuykendall / Jody Henderson / 38.03 on four / $27,720
2. Chase Hickman / Shane Larue / 39.87 / $19,320
3. Gilbert Carrillo / Rob Smets / 43.37 / $14,280
4. Regina Blain / Russell Gibbs / 46.39 / $10,080
5. Johnny Garcia / Travis Bufford / 46.77 / $7,560
6. Thad Springer / Troy Howard / 48.06 / $5,040
Full Results