Kendra Santos: You finished 21st in the world roping with Brock Hanson last year. How would you describe your 2013 season?
Kory Koontz: We had a great winter. It was the best start I’ve ever had to a season, and the worst finish. 21st is the worst I’ve ever finished since my rookie year in 1991.
KS: What were your plans when this season started?
KK: My initial plans were to do a lot of schools and not rodeo full time this year.
KS: You joined forces with Aaron Tsinigine in time for San Antonio in February, right?
KK: Yes. When I got the opportunity to rope with Aaron, I re-evaluated my plans and committed to rodeoing full time and trying to make my 20th NFR.
KS: “Spinigine” finished 17th on the heading side last year. How do you like your odds of getting him to his first Finals this year?
KK: I really like our odds, because he has matured into one of the top headers out there. He finished really strong with Clay (O’Brien Cooper) last year. Aaron can be fast at the rodeos, and also just catch when he needs to do that. He proved that by winning the US(TRC) Open with Clay last fall.
KS: You’ve been known for having great horsepower. Name the five best horses you’ve ridden in your career.
KK: Iceman, Jackyl, Switchblade, LB and Playboy. (Jade Corkill rode Jackyl and Switchblade at the NFR last year, and won his second straight world title. He also won the world on Jackyl in 2012. In 2012, KK rode Playboy at the Finals and with Erich Rogers won an event-high $91,875 a man. Clay rode LB at the 2012-13 NFRs, and won the 2012 NFR average with Chad Masters, which helped Chad win his second gold buckle.) I’ve never won a world title, but it was gratifying for me to see Jade, who’s going to be one of the hands-down greatest heelers who’ve ever roped, be able to capitalize and win two gold buckles using those horses at the Finals. That was cool for me.
KS: Which was the very best horse and why?
KK: Iceman was the best, because of his ability in all different situations. He was great in the small setups with short scores, he was great at Salinas in the biggest outdoor arena with the longest score, and everything in between. He basically, in my opinion, had no weaknesses.
KS: You make everyone’s “best ever never to win the world” short list. Why do you think that hasn’t happened for you yet?
KK: I take responsibility for it. It’s obvious I’ve never quite won enough to win one. It’s really tough to win a gold buckle, and this is truly a team sport. What matters is how great your team is. The closest I ever came was with Jake (Barnes) in ’05. I felt like we were going to win the world title that year. Clay (Tryan) and Patrick (Smith) won it, and they were very deserving. But before Jake cut his thumb off I felt like we were in control. I’ve worked really hard over the years to try and provide for my family and make a living. I’ve always had the attitude that if a world title came with that, great. And if not, that won’t define who I am in team roping or in life.
KS: You have, by all accounts, had a stellar career in both the rodeo and roping arenas. Any regrets?
KK: No. There are always things you could pick apart, but I feel like I poured my heart into everything I did. So I don’t look back with any coulda, woulda, shouldas.
KS: Who’s the best partner you’ve ever had, and why?
KK: I’ll have to say Jake was the very best, because of the work ethic I learned from him and seeing firsthand the passion and the drive that he put into being who he is. I got to see firsthand what it takes to be a seven-time world champ, and it was a real blessing for me to be on his team for that year. I also have to say that I’ve roped with a lot of really top partners over the years, and have enjoyed and learned from every one of them.
KS: What’s your career highlight to date?
KK: The one thing that really stands out is that there’s never been a more low feeling than where I was at the night Jake cut his thumb off at the Finals. I felt horrible for him that it happened at the National Finals and in that world championship race scenario. As I walked away from the hospital that night, feeling so bad for Jake, I started thinking, “Now, what am I going to do?” That Trevor (Brazile) didn’t qualify that year in the team roping, and that Travis Tryan allowed Trevor to ride arguably one of the best head horses that’s ever been at the Finals (Walt) was beyond amazing. For me and Trevor the very next night to win the round and be 3.7, then come back the next round and be 3.8 was crazy. After eight go-rounds being back in the lead of the world title race was probably the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to me. Clay and Patrick won the ninth round and did good in the 10th round. They won the world title, and they earned it. But those are the two fastest runs I’ve ever had at the NFR, and I’d never run a steer with Trevor at a rodeo before. He didn’t show up prepared to head. We had to find him a horse, a rope and a glove. Those two ovations that the crowd gave us was the most exciting, fulfilling thing. The electricity in that building was unbelievable. I dedicated those wins to Jake, because of his tragedy. I’ll never forget any of it.
KS: What’s the goal at this stage of your game?
KK: My goal is still the same—to compete at the highest level that I’m capable of. I’m working as hard as I’ve ever worked at my roping, and I believe that Aaron and I have the ability as a team to win a world title. I still see myself in that race and in that fight to win it. My overall goal is still to make a living with my rope. That’s always the ultimate goal.