HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — On a rainy day just outside of Hamilton, David Windon trudges through the dirt of his roping arena. After a wet week of weather, it has forced him to practice inside.
But it’s what he eats, sleeps and dreams so he doesn’t mind being forced inside. He’ll sharpen up for the rodeo anywhere.
“It’s every day, I come back here, and I rope or I’m training horses,” Windon said as he mentioned never attending a high school sporting event. “To be the best and compete at the top level and go to Las Vegas to compete for millions, you’ve got to be better than everybody else out there.”
The 17-year-old senior at Hamilton High School is well on his way. But it’s not been the most conventional of journeys. He’s the first in his family to have any association with roping or bull riding. You can thank a bench, built by his dad for that.
“Me and my dad were building a bench down in the basement and bull riding was on TV. I quit helping with the bench and I went watching bull riding forever and ever and I was like, I want to do that,” Windon said.
His mom told him he would need to ride horses first, so he took up lessons. From horses to bulls; he started competing when he was eight. He admits though he was never really good at bull riding, so he gave it up to concentrate on roping and training horses. A decision tested through tournaments of success.
“Even when it’s a bad day roping, you want to go out and do it again right away,” Windon said. “Practices for me, for roping, it’s never not fun. It’s not like any other sport for me anyway. I played baseball a lot. If the question was ever asked would you play baseball or rodeo, I would always say I would drop baseball in a heartbeat.”
He’s found a passion for horses too and trains them well. His two main rides, Reno and Magic, get as excited to compete in rodeos as he does. But it’s taken years to get there.
“Four years now,” Windon rests his hand on Magic as he talks about how long he has had him. “He didn’t really know a whole lot when we bought him. Now, he is just about one of the best rope horses in Michigan.”
Behind every successful horse is a successful cowboy. Windon had a good year in 2018. He prefers two events, team roping and calf roping. Last year in Oklahoma at the National Little Britches Rodeo competition, he and his teammate — Jake Hawkins — took first place in the senior team roping.
“I am the only one with a 2018 World Champion saddle, so it feels pretty good,” Windon smiled.
The two have come a long way together, having to travel nearly an equal distance just to train. Outside of his younger brother Sam, Windon is practically a lone cowboy in Ottawa County. Hawkins lives in Goshen, Indiana. Their practice together comes in competitions, which he admits happen just about every weekend.
During that same weekend, at the same arena in Oklahoma, Windon also took home a championship he wears proudly on his belt — a massive buckle that reflects his win.
“This buckle means a lot to me, this is the first US roping that I ever won,” Windon said as he looked at the buckle. “An average roping has about 60 teams we’ll say, when we were down there, when I won this buckle, there were 312 teams. I mean, that’s just huge to me. It was one of my first US ropings I had ever been to.”
Windon will graduate from Hamilton High School this spring and plans to head south to Texas to attend a college that has a rodeo team. But it’s his time at Hamilton now that is helping prepare him for being an adult cowboy.
“I get out of school at noon and I drive to work and get to experience what my career could be if that’s something I want to do. I think it is. I love farrier work and working with horses’ feet and getting them right,” Windon said about the school’s co-op program. “That’s kind of something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now and getting to do it during school is pretty cool.”
But to find what Windon really wants to do, beyond the youth tournaments and farrier work, find the bench inside of his parent’s home. When he was three, he was helping his dad build it as bull riding played on the TV in the background. Soon Windon was no longer building but enthralled with a new love. That’s where this 17-year-olds dream started, as a three-year-old watching some of the toughest cowboys in the world. Now, he’s just seconds away from being one.
“The best do it in 7 seconds, 8 seconds. The guys that are pretty good are doing it in 10-12 seconds. That is where I’m at right now,” Windon said. “Team roping, the best are doing it in 3.1, 3.2, 3.7 seconds — all the way up to 5-second runs. The fastest I’ve been is a 4.9.”
“I’d like to run in the pro circuit, (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), that’s the biggest pro rodeo association out there and their final is in Las Vegas at the Tomlinson Mack in December. It’s 10 rounds, 10 days of rodeo and that’s where most guys make their money.”