By Justin Case Chronicle contributor
Dennis Robinson of Crossville competed in the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) World Finals held in Hamilton, TX, Oct. 28 through Nov. 1. He was presented the world champion buckle for having the highest all around point total for the 2015 season by Craig Cameron, world class clinician and RFD-TV personality.
In order to win the prestigious buckle, Robinson competed frequently, but had to place fairly high in each event. Robinson rarely finished out of the top four in any event that he and his horse, Cole, entered. He is considered the Trevor Brazile (a 22-time world rodeo champion) of EXCA.
"It was a season long effort," said Robinson about preparing for the finals. "Lots of practice. Lots of riding."
The EXCA is the fastest growing equine organization in the world. It is the original and only recognized association for the sport of Extreme Cowboy Racing, which was originated by Cameron. Both horse and rider are challenged to maneuver through a series of obstacles demonstrating both horsemanship and speed. The majority of the obstacles are those routinely encountered while on a trail ride or daily work on a ranch.
Riders of all levels are welcome to participate in the annual challenge, with men and women competing against each other in all divisions. This year a record nine countries were represented at the world finals, which were highly competitive.
Robinson is no stranger to EXCA competition. This year was his fourth year of competing.
He previously won the world champion buckle for the top total points in 2012 and 2013. He also won the South Central Ride Smart Championship in 2014 and again this year. The Ride Smart division is for riders age 55 and over. Many consider this division to be the toughest due to the ages of the riders and their years of riding experience.
Robinson also competes in the intermediate division, which is for riders who are ready to move out of the novice division but are not yet ready to compete as a non-professional. He won in this division of the South Central Region Championship this year, too.
Robinson qualified for the world championship this year in both divisions. The world competition requires two runs in each division, with the top 10 in each moving on to Sunday's shootout for the world championship title.
Robinson competed against 40 Ride Smart competitors, maneuvering through 13 obstacles and earning bonus points for speed along the way. He finished seventh in the world on the last day of the world finals. Though he did not make the top 10 in the intermediate division, Robinson finished 17th in the world.
"What was so sweet for Dennis in 2015 was that in previous years he and Cole never made the top 10 in order to ride on Sunday, when the scores are thrown out and everyone has an equal chance at the world buckle," said Robinson's friend, Justin Case.
Although the competition gets tougher each year, Robinson keeps improving as well. He was very proud of the year he and Cole just completed. He gives a lot of credit for his success to Cole as the horse also continues to improve every year.
What's most impressive to many is the fact that Robinson is 71 years old and only started riding horses when he was in his mid-50s. He was a local and national trail rider until he discovered EXCA, and then, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
"It feels good," said Robinson when asked what it meant to him to win at age 71. "I am happy to be alive and rocking in the saddle rather than in the rocking chair."
Dennis competes on Cole, his 16-year-old Tennessee Walker that he has raised and trained exclusively since the horse was a two-year-old. On Cole, Robinson had the fastest time in one round of competition and was consistently in the top five times for speed against some of the top quarter horses in the country.
"At speeds of up to 35 mph, you have to know your horse," said Robinson, offering advice for aspiring riders. "If you are going to compete at this level and speed, you have to know what your horse is going to do and your horse has to know what you are going to do. Trust is a mutual must."
Cole was one of only two Tennessee Walkers to make Sunday's top 10 in all seven divisions. Three of the four all-around top point-getters nationally in 2015 were from Tennessee, all riding gaited horses.
"Another amazing thing is this: Dennis and Cole rode the 100-mile Red Steagall Wagon Ride from Jacksboro, TX, to Fort Worth Stock Yards, averaging 20 miles per day the week before the EXCA world finals," said Case.
The trail ride and wagon train is part of the annual Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering, which began Oct. 18 in Jacksboro. Robinson and the other cowboys traveled to Perrin, Mineral Wells, Weatherford and Azle, TX, before arriving in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District Oct. 22 for the Western Swing Festival.
"Dennis and Cole hit a tremendous rainstorm their last day on the trail," said Case. "The storm left nine inches of rain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over that weekend. Not dampened by the rain, Dennis and Cole rested a few days before the world finals."
Robinson is a resident of Crossvile, where he has worked for eight years with McCulley Siding and Window. He and his beautiful bride of 43 years, Lee, are members of Lantana Baptist Church, where they sing in the choir. The couple have two wonderful children and two "great" grandchildren.
At 71 and riding a Tennessee Walker in the EXCA world finals, Robinson is an inspiration to many. He has no plans to slow down his activities anytime soon. He has dreams of winning the world buckle once again and encourages everyone to get out and ride today regardless of their age.
"I will continue riding and competing," said Robinson. "I cannot slow down as I have to compete against good riders as much as 40 years younger."