Kendra Santos: In hindsight, what stands out most in your mind about roping at your first NFR in 2012?
Dakota Kirchenschlager: It was a dream come true. That’s everybody’s dream. Little kids dream about it their whole lives. To get to go rope at that rodeo one day is what we all think about. It was awesome.
Ks: I won’t soon forget the dramatic fashion in which you and Spencer crossed the regular-season finish line in 2012. Which run from that fall are you most proud of, and why?
DK: We made a crazy run the very last week at Albuquerque. The steer ran hard, Spencer hooked him and I rope him fast. But the short round at Ellensburg stands out the most, because if we caught him we still had a chance, and if we missed him it was all over. That run really turned it around and made the Finals possible. It was one of the hardest steers I’ve ever had to rope, and I was so nervous. It was our last big chance.
KS: Tell me about your 2013.
DK: I roped with Spencer again, and we just didn’t have a good year. Both of us missed a lot of steers we didn’t need to miss.
KS: Was it hard to watch the 2013 NFR after being in the Big Show the year before?
DK: That’s the worst feeling in the world. You want your friends to do good who are there, but it sucks sitting home watching it. Anybody who’s made the Finals hates watching it on TV.
KS: Congratulations on winning Odessa. Tell me about that.
DK: We drew two really good steers, Turtle got out of the barrier good both times and we made two good runs.
Ks: How’d you hook up with Turtle?
DK: I’ve always wanted to rope with Turtle since I started rodeoing. He’s really consistent, he always has good horses and he takes care of business really good. I grew up watching him rope. To have a chance to heel for him is really cool for me.
KS: Tell me about your team dynamic. Turtle turns 41 this month and you're 22. Does he act like a dad to you?
DK: No, he’s my friend. We talk and joke. He’s just a good guy and a friend to me. I’ve always looked up to Turtle.
KS: How old is your little girl, Bryln, now, and what’s she up to?
DK: Bryln will be 3 in April. Her mom (Whitney Godinez) and I got engaged in October, and are planning on getting married this summer. Bryln is a blast, and she’s changed my life completely. I love her so much. She plays and talks and learns. What a blessing to be a parent. It’s the most awesome thing ever. She wants to know about everything and asks lots of questions. She loves her trampoline and her horses. She doesn’t like going to barrel races with her mom—she likes going to ropings with me.
KS: What have you been up to outside the arena? Are you still doing day work cowboying for ranchers and riding outside horses?
DK: Yes. I stay pretty busy.
KS: What’s the plan and goal for 2014?
DK: To make the Finals and make some money. Everybody wants to win a world championship, but the Finals and the money come first.
KS: Name the single most important thing you’ve learned in the last few years about navigating and surviving the tall order of making a living with a rope.
DK: Keep an open mind and always be willing to learn. When you think you know everything, you don’t know anything. Nobody knows it all. The greatest thing about rodeo is it’s the most humbling sport. One day you think you’re the best and the next day they all beat you. There’s always somebody out there working at it harder than you are.