Kory Koontz was roping at his fourth National Finals Rodeo in 1995, the year his header was born. Fact is, KK—the cool cat they call Dawg—at 46 is more than twice 22-year-old Dustin Egusquiza’s age.
But rather than let their generation gap divide them, they embrace the complementary differences they say make them stronger as a team.
After Dustin failed to connect on opening night, he and Kory came back strong with a 4.7-second, fourth-place finish in Round 2. Kory slipped a leg on their 4.6-second run in Round 3. They really found their groove in Round 4, and 4.1 seconds later shared the victory lap with Luke Brown and Jake Long, who struck for the second night in a row after also going out of the average on opening night.
“All the feelings I could have ever imagined about what it would feel like to rope at the Finals have happened,” Dustin said. “Being under the big lights with the loud music and all the people packed on top of you—it’s all true. This is the best rodeo in the world, and the one everybody dreams of. I honestly wasn’t as nervous as I expected to be.”
This is Kory’s 21 Finals, and based on lessons learned the thing he talked with Dustin about most during their pre-NFR, practice-pen warm-ups was the critical importance of getting good starts. “He told me not to be late,” Dustin said. “I was late the first night, and I missed. Being late causes bad things to happen in this little building.”
“My advice to Dustin and any new guy coming here for the first time is don’t be late at the barrier,” Kory said. “If you’re early, the worst that can happen is you break the barrier. But you live to see another day. If you’re late, you either try to reach a long way and miss; you reach, catch and lose your rope; or you reach, catch and don’t handle the steer, which makes it really tough on your partner.
“If you get good starts here, the steer is right there and this is an easy place to rope. If you get bad starts, this is a very difficult place to rope.”
Kory finds roping with a young gun to be rejuvenating and reinvigorating.
“At my age and my stage stage in my roping career, I need a young, talented guy,” Dawg said. “And he needs someone who’s solid and stable, and also knows how to enter. Our strengths complement each other and makes us a better team. It’s a good mix, and I’m looking forward to getting into our second year and being an even better team next year with a shot at a world title. As long as Dustin believes in me and my ability to do my job, we’ll get after it. When the time comes that that’s no longer the case, I’ll gladly step down and he’ll go on with my blessing.”
Dustin surprised himself by not being terribly stressed out the first time he backed into the Thomas & Mack Center box. Kory’s so comfortable here that he can’t be shaken.
“My heart rate hasn’t even gone up this year,” he said. “I’m at home here. And you learn over time that win, lose or draw, life goes on. This week is very important to all of us financially, but if you don’t like this one, there’s always another day. I’ve seen all the highs and lows this game has to offer, and I feel very fortunate to get here this many times. Roping at the Finals is something a guy can never take for granted. It’s a yearlong feat to make it here. They call this week a marathon, and it is. But 10 days is nothing next to what we go through to get here.”
When Dustin missed their first steer, he was understandably disappointed.
“He was devastated and really upset with himself,” Kory said. “He apologized to me for letting me down. I told him he’s never let me down, and that I believe in him with every part of my being. Because I do.”
People are constantly calling Kory one of the best never yet to win a gold buckle. But Dawg doesn’t let that drag him down.
“I know people are trying to give me a compliment when they say that,” Kory said. “I put my heart and soul into being the best I can be—always have and always will. I’ve basically won everything else there is to win as a professional team roper, on both the rodeo and jackpot side of roping for a living. So when it’s all said and done, I will not be defined by whether or not I win one.”