Back When They Bucked with Larry Trenary
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Larry Trenary was “hungry” to rope, and it showed. The Arthur, Nebraska cowboy spent the best days of his life, roping with his sons, Bret and Troy.
He was born in 1939, the son of Elza and Erma Trenary, both teachers, who lived five and a half miles north of the tiny Nebraska Sandhills town. He grew up in a sod house, and when his parents bought the ranch where he and his wife Sonja live, they moved there.
A ranch kid, when his family moved to Lincoln, he “hated every minute of it.” The Trenarys spent vacations and summers on the ranch, and Larry spent time with his uncle Lawrence Shaw at Sutherland, Nebraska. Uncle Lawrence was a cowboy who knew how to rope. Larry knew how to rope from growing up on the ranch, but Lawrence smoothed out the rough spots on his skills, and provided a horse Larry could ride.
He graduated from Northeast High School in Lincoln in 1957, and that summer, went to the Nebraska State High School Finals Rodeo in the calf roping, steer wrestling, bareback riding and cutting. He won the all-around and represented Nebraska in the calf roping and cutting at the National High School Finals.
Then a move to California would add to his rodeo repertoire. Larry spent a year in college in Visalia, Calif., and met two fellows: Manuel Macedo, and Bob Wiley. Manuel got him started team roping, heeling for him at amateur rodeos (team roping wasn’t new in California but it was not common in Nebraska). Wiley, who was from Porterville, Calif., roped and tied calves with Larry all night long. In the old dairy barn owned by Manuel’s parents, with the lights on, “we’d tie calves till three or four in the morning, till we got tired,” Larry remembered. “We were learning to be faster all the time, and consistent.”
After a year in California, Larry was back to Arthur, where he had been dating a local girl, Sonja Mickelson. The two tied the knot in 1959, and lived in California for a short time before making their home on his parents’ ranch north of town, where they still live today.
They ranched, but Larry’s parents weren’t rich and didn’t have a lot of land or cattle to give their son. So he supplemented his income with rodeo. He became a member of the Nebraska State Rodeo Association (NSRA) the same year he got married. He also belonged to the Mid-States Rodeo Association (M-SRA).
Larry dominated his events in the NSRA and the Mid-States. He won the NSRA calf-roping title in 1961 and 1963-64, and the heeling title in 1961, 1972, 1978-79, and 1982-83. In 1984, he won the heading title. In 1961 alone, he won the all-around, calf roping and team roping titles and was reserve champion in the steer wrestling. He also won numerous titles in the Mid-States.
Larry competed in the PRCA as well, roping at Denver, Ft. Worth, Cheyenne, Chicago, Pendleton, and other venues, and at USTRC ropings. But he didn’t want to be gone from home that much, so he returned to the NSRA and Mid-States, plus ropings and rodeos in Nebraska and surrounding states. When he turned forty, he joined the Old Timers Rodeo Association (now the National Senior Pro Rodeo) and the Living Legends Rodeo Association. In 1991, he and Tony Tonozzi won the world in the USTRC’s senior division.
His most memorable calf roping horse was possibly the best calf horse ever in the state, he thinks. Old Black “was as ugly as could be,” Larry said. Old Black supposedly came from the wild horse herds in Montana, and was brought to Nebraska by a horse trader. Uncle Lawrence traded two bucket calves for the horse and he and Larry trained him. Old Black was never truly tamed. “He was so wild, he would kick you. You could never trim his tail and hardly trim his feet. He was just an outlaw, but he was a terrific calf horse.”
Larry and Sonja have two sons, Bret, who was born in 1960, and Troy, born three years later. Roping with his boys was his joy. “When my boys got old enough (to rope), that was the finest time in my whole life.” The three were serious students of the sport. They practiced hard, setting up a video camera and watching their runs, to see where they lost time and how to make it up. “We really worked at it, because it was our livelihood.”
The three Trenarys roped everywhere. If there was a good roping, they were there. They competed across Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, anywhere there were steers and a chute. They put on roping schools as well, teaching kids the fundamentals of the sport.
When Troy was seventeen years old, he was hit in the head while playing high school football. The injury put him in a coma for fifteen days. He had been an excellent heeler, Larry said, and three friends came and stayed for days, trying to help Troy rope again, but the use of his right arm was gone. Their son is still alive, and able to lead a normal life, and for that, Sonja and Larry are grateful.
After Troy got hurt, Bret switched from heading to heeling, so Larry, who heeled, lost his partner. He tried five or six different headers, but things weren’t the same. In his last years of roping, he found a good partner: his friend Marvin Mueller.
Bret’s team roping career flourished. He roped professionally for years, qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in 1987, heading for Allen Bach.
Not growing up with a silver spoon in his mouth was an advantage, Larry feels. “I didn’t have the money to do things, and I had only one really good horse, and gosh, not very good vehicles. I was purt near broke, but kept going because of my roping.” He feels that money isn’t always the answer. To be a good roper, “I think you have to have the ability to stay on track, and the will to win. Money won’t do it. I know so many kids that their folks have a lot of money, and they want to be a great calf roper or team roper. But most of the guys who are really, really good have had to go without things in their life. You can’t give it to them. It just doesn’t work that way. They don’t seem to have enough guts to stay with something that long.
“You gotta be hungry for it, almost like you need the next dollar to eat on. That forces you to try not to make a mistake, because if you make a mistake, you’re not going to win.”
He and his boys were that way, he says. “We were like a basketball team. We trained here at home, and everywhere we went, we watched the good guys. And on the way home, we’d talk about the good guys, and what they’d done that made them so great. We just learned from them.”
The best days of his life were spending time with his boys. “It was everything,” he remembers. “We were learning together. We’d argue and fight, but it would all come out to be the best.”
Larry roped his last calf at the Arthur rodeo in the late 1970s, on Old Black. He quit team roping at the age of seventy, after having been an NSRA member for over fifty years. His roping was as good as ever, but his knees hurt. Two years ago, Larry was inducted into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Larry and Sonja take great pleasure in their grandchildren, Jhett and Mercedes, the son and daughter of Bret and Dede, who live in Salida, Colo. Mercedes, a former college breakaway roper and goat tyer is teaching school in Oklahoma. Jhett, who team ropes with his dad, is a student at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. “They’re the delight of our life,” Sonja said.
They sold their cow/calf herd a few years ago and now background calves, which Larry enjoys. “It’s not work to him,” Sonja said. “He just loves what he’s doing. We just keep a-going.” Troy lives with his parents and helps out with the cattle work.
The couple enjoyed their rodeo years, and life now, too. “It’s a wonderful life, what we’ve done,” she said. “It’s been a great life. We’ve been up and down the road. I wouldn’t change it for anything, and I know Larry and the boys wouldn’t, either. “We love what we do.”