Just stay on.
July 12, 2014
randpa Wilfred Herman watched, circa 1970, as a bay pony named Penny ran off with his grandson Wayne aboard. The barely-elementary-aged cowboy bailed off, attempting to stop the pony by holding onto the reins. With the pony gone and the rider left to his own two legs, Grandpa sauntered over and asks, "Were you having any trouble staying on that horse when he was running off?" Hearing a "no," Wilfred asked, "Why didn't you just stay on then?"
With a satisfied grin, 1992 PRCA World Champion Bareback Rider Wayne Herman recollects, "My grandpa got it through my head that I could ride about anything if I just stayed on." He adds, "We spent a lot of time horseback when I was young. My dad often had me gather horses riding bareback, so I learned to ride."
And ride he did. Between 1985 and 1998 Herman rode his way to 11 National Finals Rodeo qualifications. That was enough to earn the Golden Valley, N.D., native two honorable inductions this summer: into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, N.D., in June and into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Colorado Springs, Colo., Aug. 9.
Wayne Herman, a son of Delton and Carol, grew up with three sisters and one brother in Mercer County, N.D., near his paternal grandparents, Wilfred and Joyce. "I'd go over to grandma's to see what she was making for supper to decide where I wanted to eat," Herman says.
He rose through the rodeo ranks, competing in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping and team roping in high school, winning five state titles and third in bareback riding at the National High School Rodeo Finals in 1980 and '82. He attended Dickinson State College. Dickinson, N.D., on a scholarship, competing in all four events in college and majoring in agribusiness. He was the 1983 North Dakota Rodeo Association Bareback Riding Champion.
"Bareback riding was the event I seemed to be the most natural at and won the most money in," Herman says. He joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1984. Among his heroes at the time were champion bareback riders Chris LeDoux and Larry Peabody.
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Among Herman's most notable wins were: Calgary, Denver, Dodge City, Fort Worth, Houston, Pendleton, Reno and San Francisco. He grins and adds, "And Killdeer. I did win Killdeer (N.D.) once!"
Herman won 15 go-rounds in 11 National Finals Rodeos. In 1991 he won the NFR average and finished second to Clint Corey, just $1,050 shy of the gold buckle. Overall, he had seven top-five finishes and earned $856,490 in his career. Closer to home, he claimed four PRCA Badlands Circuit championships.
"I got on close to 2,000 bareback horses," he says. One memorable ride was aboard a bald-faced horse that took him to the $50,000-pay-window at the Calgary Stampede in 1988. He recalls two trips on No. 15 Sippin' Velvet owned by Bernis Johnson. "If he decided to throw you off he would," Herman says.
One of the rankest horses he ever stayed on was No. 23, Khadafy, by Hank Franzen. He says, "The first of the 11 times I got on him I never knew from the end of the gate until after the whistle whether I was going to be there the next jump or not."
He recalls riding Korkow's No. 27, Sundown, in Aberdeen, S.D. "It was the end of the third jump when my feet moved. He was kicking so high and so hard over his head that all I could see was dirt. The whole way around I thought he was coming over."
Another less-than-glamorous ride was in the fifth round of the 1992 NFR aboard a young Frank Beard mount. "He flopped on his side, knocked me out, hung me up and drug me around a little while," he says. Wayne rode the remainder of the Finals with stitches in his head but clinched the world championship anyway.
Herman married his high school sweetheart, Connie Weisenberger, in 1981. They had three sons, Justin, John Wayne and Jake. The family stuck together through rodeo and life, but it wasn't always a Sunday afternoon joy ride. "(Some people) think you ease around, get on a couple of horses and make a bunch of money," he says. "It isn't quite that simple." He recalls breaking his leg in Medicine Hat, Alberta. "We had Justin with us and Connie drove us all the way home before I got it pinned." Wayne tore his bicep tendon off in Scottsdale, Ariz., when Jake was two months old. Again, Connie drove home. In 1987 Wayne spent more than he won, qualifying for the NFR in 15th place. In the first-go at the Finals he pinched a nerve in his back. He recalls the agony, "I laid on ice 20 minutes every hour for 10 days straight. I wondered how I was going to pay my fees at Denver or Fort Worth. Coming home broke from the NFR is not an easy feeling, but Connie stood behind me through thick and thin – broke, beat up and poor – and she never second guessed it."
Amid the rodeo struggles came a major life challenge when the couple's son, John Wayne, was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1991 at age 4. Wayne reflects, "That was a long couple of years."
Herman was among the first professional cowboys to secure a promotional sponsorship, wearing blaze red shirts and chaps adorned with golden arches from 1991 to 1994. The McDonald's sponsorship began locally, thanks to Mike Kelley, Dickinson, N.D., whom Wayne had fenced for as a college student in the 1980s. The next year, Herman signed a national McDonald's sponsorship. "That was the first time in my career that I could chase points instead of winning money to pay entry fees," Herman says. "Mike Kelley was key in helping me get that McDonald's sponsorship and without that I might not have won the world."
A legendary rodeo moment occurred at the 1989 NFR when he and Mark Garrett split first in the eliminator pen and rode double for the victory lap. "I still had my riding glove on," Wayne says. "The horse started bucking and jerked the reins out of my hand right in front of the announcer's stand. I said, 'Mark, let go, you're going to drag me off.' He said, 'I'm not going down alone!'" He shakes his head and laughs, "Win the eliminator pen and get bucked off in the victory lap!"
Other memorable moments occurred in private planes, battling low clouds and fog. "One time (cowboy pilot) Johnny Morris was flying so low we had to (ascend) to get over a power line! That was a little hairy."
Wayne began considering hanging up his riggin in the late 1990s. "I wanted them to ask why he retired rather than 'Why didn't he?'" In July 1998 he was 34 years old, standing on the back of the chutes in Red Lodge, Mont., tying a glove on. He explains, "A horse reared up, pawed me in the head and caved in my cheekbone and nose. I had to have surgery and thought, 'You know, I think I've had about enough of this,' and decided to be done."
In 1998, Wayne secured a Cenex Harvest States Co-op position in southeastern Montana, thanks to fellow bareback rider Sparky Dreesen. "Rodeo has had a huge impact on who I am today. It opened a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunities, mostly through people I met," Herman say. That was followed by a CHS move to Watertown, S.D., that lasted five years. "Those businesses have pretty tight margins," Wayne says. "I learned a lot and it really helps me today."
In 2009 the Hermans moved "home," to a ranch east of Halliday, N.D., where Connie's grandparents homesteaded. "We run a few commercial cows and run our oilfield service business, Herman Trucking, LLC," he says. "It's an excellent opportunity and it feels good to be home." The contract truck hauling company works throughout the North Dakota oil patch doing water transfer and vac truck work, averaging 18 employees.
Their sons, Justin, 32, and Jake, 20, work with them in the ranching and oilfield service. Justin served in the National Guard in Iraq for 18 months from 2004-06. "That was a long couple of years, too," Wayne says. "I didn't watch the news for two years." This fall Jake will be a junior at Black Hills State University, Spearfish, S.D. where he team ropes on the college team. Sometimes the three rope together. "I don't get away as much as I'd like but that's my own fault," Wayne says. Wayne served as a North Dakota High School Rodeo Association board member from 2010-2012. He teaches bareback riding to high school and college athletes through rodeo schools at Dickinson State University.
Comparing today's rodeo climate with his heyday Herman says, "The rankest horses are still as rank, but there are more real good ones." He laughs, "I'd like to have the opportunity to rodeo on today's quality livestock, but I really wouldn't want the opportunity to try to beat Kaycee Feild every day!"
So perhaps being "home" ranching and doing oilfield work at age 50 while looking toward two Hall inductions in one summer is a perfect place to be. "It's quite an honor," Wayne says. "I appreciate local entities that work to preserve ranching and rodeo heritage and I'm humbled to be included in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame with some of the greatest cowboys in history."