A four-time South Australian champion whip-cracker, the Year 2/3 teacher loves nothing more than swinging his tools of trade around and delighting children and adults alike with the awe and wonder of his substantial skill.
It was at the Marrabel Rodeo almost 20 years ago that Haenen’s inspiration struck.
“I used to marvel at this one old guy who couldn’t walk, but he rode this palomino so skilfully, and I thought ‘well, I’ll never be able to ride like that, but the piece of leather that he swings, I reckon I can give that a go’, so I bought a whip!
It was two weeks before Haenen could get his first real sound out of it, but once he did – he was hooked.
“At that stage I was living out in the Mallee, about 60ks from anything but a pub, so I was very much on my own.
“So I was completely self-taught and in my early days of competition, people would say ‘wow, you’ve really got your own style there’.
“I’ve always had a really successful sporting career and unfortunately a car accident, driving home from school when I was living out in the Mallee, on a dirt road, took most of my sports away from me, because it affected my eyes and a few things, so whip-cracking became a really important thing for me.”
Now with two young children, Joey and Juliet, taking the lion’s share of his spare time, Haenen’s competition days are behind him.
But the active dad still finds time to be the president and head coach of the local swimming club, manage the registrations for Milo cricket and coach gymnastics.
But whether it’s curious onlookers watching him practise in Loxton by the Murray River, who are eager to ‘give it a crack’, or mesmerised at one of the regular demonstrations he gives, teaching the young - and young at heart - to crack their own whips is something he relishes.
“When I do demonstrations, I always like to follow that up with an hour of ‘come and try’,” he says.
“I love to teach kids, or teach anyone, how to crack a whip.
“Kids love it – we’re getting a little bit of polyester string to do over a 1000kms an hour and it makes a noise. It makes a significant noise.
“Pretty much anyone can do it. I had a four-year-old little girl at a show one year who’d never cracked a whip and within five minutes she was cracking it by herself.
“It’s a feel thing – so usually very quickly you can see that it’s going to be easy or hard – but if you can just trust the whip...
“Maybe not surprisingly, girls are a lot better than boys.
“Teenage boys are probably the worst at it – because they think they’ve got to hit this whip hard.”
Haenen also still enjoys some quiet time on his own with his whips.
“I find nothing more therapeutic than going down to the river and cracking the whip.
“I compare it to dancing with a partner – you can’t dance unless you’re with that partner and it’s the same with the whip-cracking.
“When you’ve got the whips swinging at various angles around your head, you’ve got to move with them, you can’t fight them, it’s a real rhythm.”
Anyone interested in cracking whips should check out Haenen’s YouTube channel called ‘Get Cracking' for a few basics.