It’s been three weeks since Kory Koontz’s scary rig wreck on the outskirts of the Cowboy Capital in Stephenville, Texas, in which he totaled his truck and trailer, and lost his horse Rudy. In recognition of just how beloved the 48-year-old, 22-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler and two–time BFI champ is in the roping and rodeo worlds, we wanted to let Kory’s friends and fans know how things have been going since the January 16 scare. We all know by looking at that horrific photo of the crash scene that it could have ended so much worse.
“It happened two miles south of Stephenville on Highway 281,” said Kory, whose NFR heeling appearances have so far spanned 1992-2018, and won the NFR average with Bret Boatright in 1997. “I was headed to my house from the World Series roping in Hamilton (Texas, at the Circle T Arena), where I’d just roped at the open and #15 ropings. I was about three miles from home when it happened, and only a really short ways from turning onto the little county road that leads over to the road I live on.
“It happened really quick, and the first part sort of happened in slow motion. A vehicle came over into my lane on that little two-lane highway, and I avoided a head-on collision by swerving left. When I saw that other person coming my way, I was hoping the driver would pick her head up and get back in her lane. That didn’t happen. If I’d gone to my bar ditch to the right, that other vehicle was going to hit my truck and trailer. If I stayed straight, we were going to hit head-on. So I went to the left to avoid a collision. Of course I’ve replayed that split-second decision over and over in my head since it happened. I still think I made the only right choice, because those other two options were way worse.
“It was muddy and raining, and when I got into that left bar ditch, there was a slight curve going to the right. My left tires hit the mud, my truck slid sideways and my trailer hit some trees. The trailer hitting those trees shot my truck back across the road across both lanes, and I hit another car coming across there on the back passenger door. All that damage you see done to the trailer was done by trees. By the grace of God, no people got hurt. My airbags didn’t even go off. If there’s a bright side, it’s that not one person got even a scratch.”
Kory’s horses weren’t so lucky. Rudy died at the scene, and Remix was beat up pretty badly. Rudy’s the little 10-year-old sorrel horse Kory had just recently bought from Bryan and Jessica Labelle from up in Washington. Kory considered him his new number-one.
“Bryan messaged me on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, Kory, you don’t know me, but I have a horse that I believe you need,” Kory remembers well. “That's happened, but this horse happened to be good. I asked for some videos, then I flew up there. They loved Rudy, too, but wanted me to have him. I bought him in November.
“In the two months I had him, I rode Rudy at the World Series Finale in Vegas, and at six different jackpots at home, and won about $10,000 on him roping with Manny Egusquiza. Rudy was doing really good, so I rode him at the rodeo in Odessa, too. I was treating Rudy as my number-one horse. He wasn’t perfect, but he fit me really good and was user friendly. I rode him the day of the wreck at Hamilton, and won about $5,000 on him the day before at an American qualifier jackpot, where we got a spot.”
Dr. Dustin Dorris of Stephenville Equine Sports Medicine was called to the crash scene, where he found Kory in the trailer with Rudy.
“The roof was ripped off of my trailer,” Kory said. “I jumped in there to try and help Rudy, who was down and couldn’t get up. He was having a hard time breathing. Our best guess was that he must have broken a rib and punctured a lung, because Dr. Dorris stuck a needle in there and his lungs were filling with blood. His gums were turning white, too. Rudy was bleeding out into his lungs. He was hurting and in pain, and it was pretty clear that he was going to die. He was struggling to breathe, so I made the decision right there to put him down and not make him suffer to death.”
Then there was Remix, who’s the 12-year-old dun horse Dawg rode at his last NFR in 2018, when he heeled for Dustin Egusquiza.
“I’ve had Remix since he was a yearling,” Kory said. “I let Joe Braman ride (Kory’s three-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/American Quarter Horse Association Heel Horse of the Year) Iceman way back in the day, and when he started raising some colts as JB Quarter Horses, he gave me a baby. A few years later, I was riding that baby at the NFR. Remix has kind of been an outlaw. He and I have been through a lot together.
“In the wreck, Remix basically hurt his whole left side. He had some cuts on his face, and broke the orbital bone above his left eye. His left shoulder is what’s been really sore, and he’s just been body sore all over. Dr. Josh Harvey at Outlaw Equine in Decatur (Texas) has been helping me with Remix. We’re working through it day by day, and he’s in recovery mode right now. Josh injected his shoulder. He can trot on his own without me forcing him to do it now. I’m hopeful that Remix will come back at 100 percent.”
Meanwhile, Dustin Searcy has been letting Kory ride his bay horse Rio at some of the rodeos. Kory’s roping with Thomas Braman, who’s Joe’s brother, in 2020, but roped with Clayton Van Aken at Fort Worth. Clayton and Kory will rope at San Antonio together this weekend, too, before Kory resumes roping with Thomas.
Kory Koontz is a time-tested warrior and winner. He also walked away from this wreck wide-eyed with life-changing perspective.
“It never crossed my mind that, ‘Hey, I might die,’” he said. “It was just kind of like, ‘Try to drive this thing to safety.’ I’ve been through quite a bit of stuff in my life, and have never really allowed anything to get me down. I was pretty bummed that I lost Rudy. I was kind of getting to the point where I didn’t know for sure if I still ‘had it’ or not. Roping consistently pretty fast and aggressive is what’s kind of defined me most of my career. Rudy helped me realize that I’m not old and washed up. I can still rope at the level I need to to give me and my partner a good chance to win. Rudy helped build a fire in me again, and helped me realize that I’ve still got it. Now he’s gone.
“I’m a pretty positive guy. I try to look for the bright side, and to look forward. This accident has reminded me that there’s a lot to be thankful for. I did lose a horse, a trailer and a truck. But no human lives were lost and I get to keep living. Kobe Bryant dying has been another recent reminder. Things like this definitely open your eyes up about how you want to live and what you want to do with your time.”
The wreck was pretty devastating financially for Kory and his wife, Stephanie, as none of what was lost was insured.
“It’s the first time in the 30 years I’ve rodeoed that my insurance wasn’t up to date,” he said. “I’ve had everything covered my whole career. Times got a little tight, and I’d kept up with the payments. But something had to give, and I let my insurance lapse. It’s a tough deal, but it darn sure could have been worse.
“The prayers and the amount of love that have been shown toward me and Steph and the horses since the accident has been mind blowing. The support has been overwhelming, from both friends and people we don’t even know. The words of encouragement and the help are sure appreciated. I really can’t thank everyone enough.”