Two decades ago in the muggy summer heat of South Georgia, a part-time horse trainer slipped off one of his good ones and plucked his son from the saddle of his ornery white pony they called Frosty. He helped his shorter-than-average kid up onto the big bay he called Roper, and from that moment on the team roping world would never be the same.
As long as Laura Driggers can remember, her son Kaleb had a rope in his hand. Kaleb idolized his dad, Nick, who roped calves in his younger years and team roped, too, in between working at the Federal Aviation Administration and training horses. Nick Driggers’ passion for making good horses would stick with Kaleb—as the desire to have the best equine athletes in the business has defined the header’s career.
“He’s wanted to win the world since he started walking,” Laura remembered. “As a baby, he played with ropes and string. He’s always worked at it and it’s what he’s always wanted. We were poor, so we bought young horses or problem horses and Nick would train them. They had to be kid-worthy. Kaleb did everything on Roper.”
After Roper came Doc, another one of Kaleb’s dad’s good ones that was lost to the then almost-6-year-old who wanted to enroll in preschool just so he’d be eligible for junior rodeo.
“Kaleb had been begging to head,” Laura said. “He’d been breakawaying and handled a rope pretty well, so we decided to let him try. We went down to the arena and let him steer stop a few on Doc. He caught all but one and Doc would stay right there, doing whatever he needed to help Kaleb. Nick looked at me and said, ‘I’ve lost another horse!’ And I said, ‘Yup, we’ve created a roping monster.’”
Kaleb became a roping monster who knew it took top equine talent to succeed in the heading game. When he set out with NFR-qualifier Brad Culpepper his rookie year in 2009, Driggers took a horse Nick had given him. Since then, he has bought all of his own horses, including Champ, a horse that would make—and almost break—his career.
Kaleb was rodeoing with Jade Corkill in 2012, when tragedy struck in the middle of the night. Champ colicked in Rock Springs, Wyo., and died at a vet clinic in West Jordan, Utah, in mid-July.
“That was the big set back for him,” Laura said. “That was hard on him. He called in the middle of the night. We knew something was wrong. He was upset—it was hard because we couldn’t get to him. He was colicking and it looked really bad. He wanted to come home after that. Then they were rodeoing in the Northwest, and he wasn’t doing real good. He would get homesick during that time of the year going hard through the summer. He said he wanted to come home. I wanted to say, ‘Yes, please come home’ so I could take care of my boy, but I knew he’d regret it. I had to talk him into staying. That was one of the hardest conversations I’ve had.”
Kaleb rebounded, and he finished that year the reserve world champ to Chad Masters, and his partner, Jade Corkill, took home the gold buckle. He’d go on to make the Finals with Travis Graves and Patrick Smith, then take a year off to heel for Brandon Webb in 2015. That year, he’d build up a team of great horses who would make an appearance in the Thomas & Mack in his absence—Fast Time, ridden (and soon purchased) by Colby Lovell; Dre, who was there as a backup for JoJo LeMond; and Hock, who Kollin VonAhn would ride to his second gold buckle.
Kaleb would make his heading comeback in 2016 with Junior Nogueira aboard Doc, a sorrel gelding that came from Clay Smith. Kaleb named him, of course, after the good one he took from his dad when he was in junior rodeo.
“We knew he’d be a good one when Kaleb told us what he was calling him,” Laura said.
Doc, who helped Kaleb and Junior win $122,000 in the regular season from June to September alone, replaced Dre in Kaleb’s trailer. Kaleb gave Dre to his father, as fate would have it, to pay Nick back for all those good ones commandeered during the junior rodeo years. Nick, who with Laura moved to Texas to be closer to Kaleb, cashed his first big paycheck on Dre by winning second in the Century at the USTRC’s CINCH National Finals of Team Roping, worth $18,000.
“Kaleb has accomplished a lot, but remains humble and kind and gives the glory to God,” Laura said.
“Kaleb has taught our family to follow your dreams, no matter how old you are.”