With the 2021 regular rodeo season winding down, the thrilling drama surrounding the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo cut is spiking. For two-time NFR heeler Quinn Kesler and his Resistol Rookie of the Year front-runner partner, Caleb Hendrix, the last month of the season has provided one chart-climbing hit after another.
With wins in Filer (Idaho), Dillon (Montana) and Parowan (Utah), placing in a round and the average at Walla Walla (Washington) and winning the first round at Ellensburg (Washington) en route to an average check there, the pair pocketed better than $14,000 a man in the early part of the season’s last hurrah. With one big check after another, both cowboys catapulted inside the Top 15 in the world standings. While Quinn has heeled at two NFRs, it’s a giant step toward nodding his head as a header at the Thomas & Mack Center in December.
“We drew really good and capitalized. I didn’t feel like we did anything different, really. It just worked, I guess,” said Kesler, 28, who calls Holden, Utah home with his wife, Jessie and daughter Quincy (who was born July 13, 2021).
“The two times I made the Finals, I was kind of back and forth on the bubble. My rookie year I missed the NFR by something like $200. The next year when Matt (Sherwood) and I made it, we made it 14th. I think Rhen (Richard) and I made it in 15th. I’m used to being in this spot, and I don’t want to take it for granted, because I know how tough and crazy it can be up until the last rodeo. There are things we can’t control, but mentally I just want to keep the hammer down,” said Kesler, who would join an elite group of NFR switch-enders if he were to secure an NFR heading back number.
Interestingly enough, while it has been a while since a new name was added to that list, 2021 could realistically see two names added with Kesler and NFR heeler Clint Summers qualifying as a header as well. To date, there are seven NFR switch-enders—Trevor Brazile, Speed Williams, J.D. Yates, David Motes, Mark Simon, Walt Rodman and Bret Beach—on record.
Kesler grew up a roping phenom, both heading and heeling at the Bob Feist Invitational in Reno at a very young age. With his sights set on heading and the success that’s come along with it, he sees it as a fit for his future.
“I really don’t see me changing back to heeling anytime soon. I’d love to keep heading. I just love the sport of team roping. Obviously, it was a dream to be in the Thomas & Mack. There weren’t a lot of heelers where I grew up, so I heeled a lot and that’s just how it was. But I always kind of wanted to head. I’ve had this black head horse (who’s 19 now) my whole life, so I was kind of prepared to head eventually.
“Honestly, being in this position this year wasn’t really the goal until sometime after Reno. I’m roping with Caleb, and we went to Odessa this winter and then not really anywhere else until our (Wilderness) circuit rodeos started up in the spring. We thought we’d go a little bit to give him a shot at (being) the rookie (of the year) and started doing pretty decent, so we kept going.
“It wasn’t great through the Fourth of July, but we were winning along. Sometime in August it was pretty dang good, so we decided we’d try it on. And that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
Quinn and Caleb are ranked 14th and 12th in this week’s world heading and heeling standings, respectively.