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Insurance agent turned cowboy

For 20 years, Chris Hanneken of Hanneken Insurance Company has been Pine River's hometown insurance agent. In the last seven years, when he is not selling insurance, he participates in Minnesota's growing rodeo scene.

Chris Hanneken of Hanneken Insurance in Pine River is growing more and more interested in team roping. Lately he is practicing "heading", or roping a cow's head, so that he can help his daughters train. They may even be able to compete as a team together. Photo by Travis Grimler
Chris Hanneken of Hanneken Insurance in Pine River is growing more and more interested in team roping. Lately he is practicing "heading", or roping a cow's head, so that he can help his daughters train. They may even be able to compete as a team together. Photo by Travis Grimler

For 20 years, Chris Hanneken of Hanneken Insurance Company has been Pine River's hometown insurance agent. In the last seven years, when he is not selling insurance, he participates in Minnesota's growing rodeo scene.

It's been an important part of his family life.

Hanneken started practicing team roping shortly after buying his current home for his family. They had enough land for horses, and Hanneken decided to introduce himself and his children into the rodeo life.

"The interest and the background started probably as long as I've known Tina," Hanneken said, referencing his wife. "Tina grew up on a cattle ranch in north central South Dakota. It was through our visits there that I started riding horse and developed an interest in doing that sort of thing.

"Kind of as an anecdote there, Tina's dad told her never to bring home an insurance salesman or an attorney," Hanneken said. "Tina had no intention of marrying a cowboy. She ended up bringing home an insurance agent and I always say her dad turned him into a cowboy, so they both ended up on the raw end of the deal."

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Hanneken started the family down the rodeo lifestyle, but it didn't take long for his children to join in. Oldest daughter Jessica has been in rodeo events only a year less than her father and has racked up a number of wins and titles in high school rodeo.

In that time, the activity has helped the family to grow together and spend lots of time together.

"High school rodeo definitely tends to be a family thing. Before we started rodeoing we did a fair amount of camping," Hanneken said. "We really enjoyed doing that as a family. For the competitors, the high school rodeo is a competition, but for the rest of us it is essentially a glorified camping weekend, because the trailer we haul our horses in is half camper and half horse compartment."

Hanneken said his entire family, including a wife and five daughters, spends as much as 20 percent of the year living together in the horse trailer/camper. For a self professed workaholic, that family time is invaluable, and has helped to make them a close family, literally.

While high school rodeo has been a bonding opportunity for Hanneken in the past, training for that and his own team roping competitions has also brought them together.

"When the weather is good and we have time in our schedule, we will be practicing and we won't be dependent on anything else," Hanneken said. "We are always together. Last night we roped at our house and the youngest were outside with us bringing the cattle around and running the chute, not because they had to but because they wanted to and wanted to be around. Since we started high school rodeo, we can't get too far apart."

Hanneken said practice for his kids' events takes precedence over his own team roping, but in the future, team roping could bring he and his daughters together even more.

"I started out as a heeler in team roping, and because of my horses and my own training, that's how I've trained Jessica," Hanneken said. "We're both heelers. I'm working now on my heading techniques and abilities, because I would like to be able to practice with Jessica when we don't have somebody else here that can head steers for her. When we do go to practice, if there is an imbalance I can jump from one side to the other.

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"The youngest horse we have, I'm training as a head horse, and I'm training as a header myself." he said. "We've competed at the same competitions but we haven't been able to compete with one another because we do the same thing."

Until he becomes confident in heading, Hanneken and his daughter will only ever compete against one another, because people of all ages can compete in team roping. But they may eventually compete together instead.

In the meantime, Hanneken practices roping virtually every day as a way to unwind from work. His practice has helped him grow in his hobby, recently winning part of a jackpot in a local winter team roping series. He said he didn't even break even with the jackpot winnings, but he would like to look forward to larger, more lucrative competitions in the future.

"We'd have to travel further than Minnesota, but you could find a team roping jackpot that would pay you $10,000-$15,000 per win," Hanneken said.

It all depends on if he can find time while helping his children in their own rodeo events.

"For me, personally, with team roping the kids' schedules and competitions come first, but I would like to start participating in more competitions myself," Hanneken said. "I feel like my skills have developed to the point where it's time to start competing more than what I have."

On the bright side, Hanneken said even if he waits 10 years, he will still have many years of team roping ahead of himself.

"With team roping, you can be the best in the world and be 60 or 70 years old," Hanneken said. "It's a sport I'm going to be able to do for a long time and still be able to realistically be able to compete with anybody."

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Hanneken is president of the Region 1 Minnesota High School Rodeo Association and national director of the association's junior high league.

Related Topics: RODEO
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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