Collected Wisdom: Donnie Gay

Published: November 30, 2008
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photo - Bull rider Donnie Gay competes at the National Finals Rodeo. Photo by The Oklahoman Archive
Bull rider Donnie Gay competes at the National Finals Rodeo. Photo by The Oklahoman Archive
Donnie Gay won eight bull riding world championships in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys’ Association: 1974-77, 1979-81 and 1984.

A native of Mesquite, Texas, Gay is now general manager of the Frontier Rodeo Co. and a bull riding analyst on PRCA telecasts for Fox Sports and ESPN.

He was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. Earlier this month, Gay joined the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

From the sixth grade until about three years ago, I lived within a mile of the Mesquite Rodeo Arena. My father, Neal Gay, started the Mesquite Rodeo in 1958. It really is a little rodeo based on prize money as far as the cowboys are concerned. But the uniqueness of the Mesquite Rodeo is it ran every Friday and Saturday night, April through September, rain or shine.

I got out of high school and started rodeoing. The last real work I did was cleaning barns, digging postholes, building fence and gathering stock for my daddy and making passing grades, or I would get my butt kicked. When I graduated I gave him that diploma and I went rodeoing.

The first rodeo I went to after I walked across the stage and got my diploma, I got in a car with five other boys and we drove from Dallas, Texas, to Du Quoin, Ill. It was an outdoor fair on a Sunday afternoon and it was raining straight down. I won the saddle bronc riding and the bull riding. Won $422 and 10 cents. I called my daddy and told him I would see him in Oklahoma City (for the National Finals Rodeo) in December.

My dad, I’m sure he was proud of me for being in the rodeo and doing well. But I think he would have been equally as proud if I had been a plumber, as long as he felt like I was doing something I wanted to do and was putting out 100 percent. That’s a big deal in the way I was raised.

I knew from the time I was 5 years old I wanted to be the world champion bull rider. Jim Shoulders was my dad’s partner in the rodeo, was a 16-time world champion, seven of those were bull riding. It was the most exciting event to watch.

The bull riders have packed the rodeos for a long time. It doesn’t diminish any of the timed events.