FAST BACK FOCUS ... DENTON DUNNING
Seldom do you find a teenager with the wisdom and talent of a seasoned pro. Quiet and unassuming, Denton Dunning, is unique with an impressive roping resume. At just 17, Denton is rated a 9+ in the Global Handicap System.
Denton competes in both Team Roping and Calf Roping in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association where he and partner, Ketch Kelton, are the current Team Roping Champions. In 2023 Denton placed in the Patriot Open with pro header, Aaron Tsinigine. Dunning also qualified for the American by winning the American West Regional Finals with Clayton Van Aken. Denton’s most recent came as the World Champion Heeler of the 2023 World Championship Junior Rodeo. Photo by Jennings Rodeo Photography.
Denton’s parents, Jake, and Tamara, both roped and started him at early age. His first big win came in the 7th grade when he placed in the #10 at the USTRC Finals and won $7,500. That win was the start of young Denton paying his own fees and managing his money.
“He’s always been driven and a little different than most kids,” explains Jake. “He looks at it like a job and a way to make money. When he was five, he would show up with a pocket full of money he won at the dummy ropings. He studies whatever he does, loves team roping and competing, and is never afraid. His mentality is ‘you either need to win something or learn something.’”
The Dunnings are thankful for their extended rodeo family and the help Denton has received through the years. Denton credits Chance Kelton for helping him learn to win, and Travis Ericsson for his horsemanship. While junior rodeoing with Ketch, Denton would spend a lot of time roping at the Keltons.
“Chance helped me learn how to manage situations and how to catch. The emphasis was always on catching. I always wanted to throw fast.”
As a grateful mom, Tamara says “His accomplishments are kind of amazing when you realize we don’t have an arena at home. He’s honed his skills through opportunity and determination. Denton’s also had lots help from great horsemen and ropers. I think they recognize his love and passion for horses and roping. He has knack for helping horses get to where they need to be. I’m envious of that.”
Trixie, a horse given to him by his grandfather, helped Denton get his heeling off the ground. His current number one horse is Bubba, a seven-year-old black roan, that he’s brought along.
With a mom as a teacher, The Dunnings have always stressed the importance of school. Denton consistently makes good grades and started online homeschooling in the 8th grade. He’s currently a senior and will turn 18 in February.
When asked if he plans to pro rodeo when he turns 18, Denton responds, “If I had a good header, and thought I had a good chance maybe. But I won’t go just to be going. I may go to college.”
How much do you practice? We don’t have an arena, so whenever I can. I used to jackpot a lot and as a #4 all I had to do was catch which gave me the money to keep going. I didn’t really practice that much. I’d find a ride and go to jackpots three or four days a week.
Do you make your own horses? Yes, for the most part.
Who were your roping (rodeo) heroes? Chance Kelton always helped me. Travis Ericsson has helped me with horsemanship.
Who do you respect most in the world? My parents. Travis Ericsson, he’s probably the best horseman I’ve come across.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life? In life in general, that would be my parents. As far roping, Chance Kelton. For horsemanship, Travis Ericsson.
If you had a day off, what would you like to do?Roping is fun for me and there’s nothing I’d rather do than heel steers. That’s what I enjoy doing.
Favorite movie? War Dogs
What’s the last thing you read? Team Roping Journal
How would you describe yourself in three words? Ambitious, goal driven, determined
What makes you happy? Roping has always made me happy and made me enjoy my days. If things go wrong, you’ve got to dig deep down to win. It’s important to realize that even though you messed up this time, you’re good enough to work through it.
What makes you angry? Not very much. I try my very hardest to stay calm and not get worked up. If I mess up it bothers me a little, but not much.
If you were given 1 million dollars, how would you spend it? I’d rodeo.
What is your worst quality – your best? Worst quality is impatience. Best quality is probably the ability to put things behind me and move on. Let the past be the past.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Ten years from now I’d like to be rodeoing for a living and doing well at it. Ultimately, I want to feel like I’m the best at what I do.