Kendra Santos: After witnessing the heartbreaking loss of your great horse Champ to colic in the summer of 2012, I saw you be sincerely happy for your partner, Jade Corkill, that December when he won the world without you. You showed absolute grace toward Chad Masters, who barely beat you by a $1,211 margin. In 2016, you applauded Junior for his all-around buckle, even though you came up short and second only to Levi Simpson for the heading gold. How do you do it?
Kaleb Driggers: At the end of the day, it’s not about who wins and loses. Obviously, I want to win. But it doesn’t define me as a person. And when I see my buddies do good, I’m happy for them.
KS: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to handle in your career and life?
KD: There’ve been a couple tough setbacks. Losing the best head horse I’ve ever had when I was roping with Jade was a big deal to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to find another one who’s as good as he was and fits me as well. I haven’t yet. In 2014, when Patrick (Smith) and I were struggling to make the NFR, my grandpa wasn’t doing very well. I was at the short round at Puyallup (Wash.) the day he passed away, and the first round at Pendleton (Ore.) was the day of the funeral, so I wasn’t able to go. My dad’s father passed away right before I was born, so my mom’s dad was the only grandpa I knew. I saw him every day when I was a kid. Losing him and not being able to be there was pretty rough.
KS: Talk about your current partnership and friendship with Junior. What are the keys that make you tick as a team?
KD: Honestly, when we very first started roping together, we were going to a bunch of jackpots and weren’t having much success. Then we started going to some rodeos and started doing pretty good. We grew really close last summer. Junior’s an all-around great guy, a great Christian and role model to everyone. I idolize him and look up to him as a friend. We’re both on the same page, and we don’t let team roping define who we are. It’s our job and we both love and enjoy it, but it’s what we do, not who we are.
KS: Who’s No. 1 in your horse herd right now?
KD: Doc—my sorrel horse who turned 12 this year—is my No. 1 right now. He’s just a really consistent horse. He scores every time and gives me a good go at the steer. He’s not a great horse in any aspect, but he does the same thing every time, I know what he’s going to do and that allows me to rope how I want to rope. I have a couple others that I’ll be riding some places. When I’m looking for horses, I look for one that’s really consistent that allows me to do my thing. I don’t like surprises or unexpected changes.
KS: A lot of people talk about the importance of two guys complementing each other’s strengths on a team. You and Junior are both electric, so you don’t really fit the traditional mold. Why do you guys work so well?
KD: That’s where you have to be discliplined. Junior does a really good job of knowing when I have it on one fast and he just has to catch. Or when we have a strong one I’m comfortable taking another swing and going farther down the arena, because I know he’s going to rope him fast and still give us a chance to place. As a header, I don’t have any pressure that I have to turn the steer fast, because I know that in any situation he’s going to react and compensate for what we need to do.
KS: Do you keep raising the bar on your effort level, or do you feel like you’ve been all-in since day one?
KD: You can always get better, and I never quit trying to get better. I always give it everything I’ve got. I keep working on getting better horses. That’s probably the biggest thing that’s changed as far as effort goes.
KS: How important is the goal of a gold buckle?
KD: It’s everything. It’s the end goal for everybody who’s ever given it everything they have for 365 days. It doesn’t define me, but I hope and pray I can get one someday. SWR