When three-time National Finals Rodeo heeler Dakota Kirchenschlager stepped away from professional rodeo in 2016, this is the moment he dreamed of.
On Friday Oct. 23, 2020, Kirchenschlager came tight on his fourth steer at second callback in the American Rope Horse Futurity Association's World Championship, taking the lead in the roping with an aggregate score of a 918.57. He was aboard one of the youngest horses in the field—4-year-old X My Ich, owned by Darren Johnson—and had to sweat out the high call team of Trevor Brazile and American Greed from the stripping chute.
Brazile took a no time, and Kirchenschlager and owner Darren Johnson were suddenly $32,000 richer for winning both the main average and the 4-year-old incentive, plus another $3,000 for placing in the second go-round.
"I always wanted to win a rope horse futurity, but I never dreamed it would be heading," Kirchenschlager, 29, of Whitesboro, Texas, said. "This is something I've worked very, very hard for. I put my whole life into this. I really did. To win it heading means the whole world to me."
The horse had his start with National Cutting Horse Association Million-Dollar Rider TJ Good as a cutter, but he got a little big—15 hands and 1,250 pounds—for that arena.
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"They said he was real gritty, and that fits me pretty good," Johnson, a rancher from Happy, Texas, said. "He had a good stop to him. I just started throwing cattle to water on him and doctoring wheat cattle on him for a year."
The horse came out of the Texas Panhandle just this July, when Johnson sent him to Kirchenschlager—who was just recovering from a broken femur that forced him out of the 2019 futurity.
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"The first time I met Dakota, just visiting with him, we were on the same track," Johnson, who'd never owned a show horse before this one, said. "He likes a gritty horse, I like a gritty horse. I just knew it'd fit him, and it just worked out from there."
Kirchenschlager went to heading on him with the futurity in his sights, but he only got the horse to one show—a Rope Horse Development Program event in Amarillo this summer—so the bright lights of Fort Worth were a bit of a shock to the horse's system.
"I showed up on Wednesday, and I loped him around," Kirchenschlager said. "He was really spooky at a lot of things, and we loped him for a while. Thursday morning we loped him again. I just didn't know."
The horse wasn't initially Kirchenschlager's top pick even out of the horses he brought, but he and the owners—who expected their heel horse to out perform their head horse—were pleasantly surprised.
"He took everything good, he's got a great mind," Kirchenschlager said. "When you back him in the box he stands there. A lot of horses move around, paddle their feet. He stands right there and is ready to go to work. It seems crazy, but there's no bullshit to him. He knows what to do and he does his job. The sad thing is, the mare Cesar missed for me on in the short round (at ninth callback), I thought she was going to win it. I'd rode her all year, but he was ahead of all the other horses the whole time. Trevor was the only one ahead of me."
While Johnson expects the horse to stay under Kirchenschlager's guidance, Kirchenschlager has even bigger goals in mind for 2021.
"This means the world to me," Kirchenschlager, who grew up in Northern Colorado but has lived in Texas since he was a teen, said. "I've always wanted to be a better horseman and a better dad, and it means so much to me. It really does. But I'm so mad at myself that I don't have a horse in the heeling finals. I'm frustrated with myself still. I got a lot of work to do and a lot of things to work on for next year. I want to win both. I want to be better. I want to win the Snaffle Bit Futurity. I want to win the World's Greatest Horseman. I want to walk away with this thing, I've just got to work it and do it." TRJ
Top 10 Open Heading:
1. X My Ich, Dakota Kirchenschlager, 918.57, $20,000 (Plus $12,000 for 4-year-old incentive)
2. ZT Fame, Trevor Brazile, 914.14, $18,000
3. BoomBoomFirecracker, Trevor Brazile, 913.95, $16,000 (Plus $10,000 for 4-year-old incentive)
4. Shesa Royal Cat, Casey Hicks, 909.72, $14,000
5. Trapped Cowboy, Les Oswald, 909.24, $12,000
6. Rooster Jessie Tivio, Trevor Brazile, 905.42, $10,000
7. SJR Diamond Go Time, Andy Holcomb, 904.47, $8,000
8. Rope Opera Star, Tate Kirchenschlager, 903.57, $6,000
9. Win N Chic, Lane Lowry, 902.43, $4,000 (Plus $10,000 for Limited Open)
10. Hawk It To Him, Robbie Boyce, 899.93, $2,000