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Meet the Member Kenn Ashton
story by Lindsay King
A two-time world record holder as the oldest person alive still riding bulls, Kenn Ashton is at the top of his game at 63 years old. He is carrying on a 44-year and counting rodeo career. The Jacobson, Minnesota, cowboy is possibly the only bull rider who has great grandchildren. “Everybody is always set back by my age. They cannot believe I am still riding and winning.” The word behind the chutes is that Kenn can get hurt but he will always be back.
“I am a lifetime cowboy, my aunt had me on a horse when I was still in diapers. I have been riding bucking horses for 55 years already.” Kenn knew what he wanted to do when he was just seven years old and that was rodeo. “I did not start out with the intention of riding bulls, I was a bareback rider first. I got hurt there more than I ever have in the bulls.” His family used to run pony rides at rodeos. He would slip away to go ride. “We ran three ponys in the ring instead of five and kept our prices low. I have given three generations rides, I walked with people when they were kids and so on. But we no longer operate the pony rides.”
February will mark 44 years married to his love, Kathleen. “I was in the army with her cousins. We have three kids: Rebecca, Bobby Jo and Hanklyn.” Kenn and Kathleen are first and foremost ranchers, but are also trappers when needed. Kenn dabbles in taxidermy but mainly focuses on teaching people to ride bulls, working with horses and tinkering with new business ventures.
“I am promoting a new vest: impact-sensing technology from motorcycle riders. It inflates when it senses impact.” Nine broken ribs, a broken wrist and an over-extended knee are the short list of Kenn’s injuries in the past two years. “This vest might extend my career. You can hurt the body but you cannot hurt the soul.” Kenn preaches about a strong mental game for life and rodeo. “I always tell my students; nobody can tell you that they are not afraid. The key is learning to control that fear and put it to work for you. You can do things you never thought you could.” Kenn plans to go back to college next fall, taking one class at a time.
He jokes that he was the bridesmaid everywhere he went, sitting second in the bulls. “This year I broke out of that position. I humbled myself and went down to Oklahoma to train this spring with Terry Don West. I knew most of what I was taught but they helped me dial everything in and focus.” Competing in Canada has proved to be pivotal in reaching that number one position. “The U.S. is leading in Canada right now. I am challenging everyone to get fired up because I am coming. Everyone tells me I am crazy, but I still think there is room in this world for men and women with guts.” In 2016, Kenn made his first trip to the NSPRA-sanctioned High River Rodeo in Canada where he broke the world record for the oldest bull rider alive. He went back in April, breaking his own record again while setting an arena record, winning with a 72-point ride. “If you can still do something, why not do it? I try to inspire people to get out there and make something of themselves.”
“The strongest influence in my career has been Bob Blackwood. He has pulled my rigging tight a time or two.” He is 12 points ahead in his pursuit of a national championship for 2017. “I have all the confidence in the world that I will win it this year. It does not matter your age or where you come from, it matters who you are. I am a fierce competitor.”