For success in the professional team roping arena these days, ropers have to have things squared away. Roping ability, team chemistry and horse power are usually dialed in to the top-tier level of near-perfection. So when a team features a header riding a recently converted heel horse and the heeler riding a converted head horse, odds are not usually with them.
But that’s exactly what Dustin Egusquiza and Kory Koontz did en route to a $10,426 win at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver in January.
After Egusquiza’s 2016, it’s little wonder he’s off to a hot start in 2017. First, he won the George Strait Team Roping Classic with Kyle Lawrence (a $122,000 per man payday). With that cash in hand, he got busy on his regular season ProRodeo schedule. By the time it had ended, hefinished 18th in the world standings. Along the way, he set two arena records with Brad Culpepper (3.5 in Montgomery, Ala., and 3.9 in Springville, Calif.). He and Clark Adcock also won the Boyd Chute-Out in Las Vegas in December.
Coming into 2017, there’s little question he’s among the top up-and-coming headers.
But to be an elite header, you’ve got to have an elite head horse. Egusquiza had one—a horse he called Duke. But at the U.S. Finals in October, the horse died from kidney failure.
Left with few options, he turned to a horse he’d used to heel on for years, Dude.
“Before my good horse died, I’d already started heading on him a little bit,” Egusquiza said. “Then after Duke died, I took this horse to the circuit finals and he’s come on strong. I’m still nervous, though, this horse is really green and there’s no telling. He’s never been in a building with a bunch of music like that. He did great today and I just hope he keeps doing so well. I can’t ask for anything better than what he’s done.”
Koontz, meanwhile, is aboard a little mare he bought in 2015 from Colby Lovell. The story goes that while practicing for Reno, Koontz was missing everything on his heel horse, Remix. Out of frustration, he jumped on a mare—Abby—Colby had for a backup head horse. After missing the first, he roped five steers in a row. Not long after, he bought the horse from Lovell.
“She’s just a heel horse, now,” Kory said. “Unless Dustin really needs to borrow her, she’s just a heel horse. She’s 19 this year. She’s working great and she makes my job easy. It doesn’t matter the angle I come in at or anything, she always shows the feet to me and lets me get the job done.”
Despite the unusual paths they’ve taken to the horses they each ride, Egusquiza and Koontz came into Denver with guns blazing. They placed third in the first round with a 4.9 and added a 5.3 in the second round to come into the short go as the second high team.
Quickly, the finals came undone. In the first eight teams of the 12 that came back, there were only two clean runs. Some of it was on the steers—they were uneven and unpredictable—and some of it was on the ropers who forced shots, were betrayed by their horses or didn’t get out of the barrier.
Matt Sherwood and Joel Bach finally got things going with a 5.9 that was safe and smart considering the previous six runs. Jake Long missed for Luke Brown. Clay Smith and Paul Eaves, the reigning National Western Stock Show and Rodeo champions, went long with a 7.5.
Next up was supposed to be Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza—but in a veteran move, Egusquiza noticed that the steers were loaded out of order. Alerting his partner, Koontz essentially stopped the rodeo to get things straightened out.
“Being the older guy of the two, I went and told the judge,” Koontz said. “Then there was a little bit of confusion as to what steer was actually in there. We made it clear that that was our steer. We could have thrown a stink and said those guys (Bird and Cardoza) needed to go first because we want to know what our time needs to be. Honestly, I didn’t care. I knew he didn’t care, because he’s going to do the same thing no matter what. We just wanted to make our run, we didn’t care what anybody else did.”
So, they ran their steer out of order—and despite being a little strong, he might have been the best one in the pen. Regardless, they made the best run of the short round with a 5.3.
“I was happy to get a good start at that steer,” Egusquiza said. “He was a little stronger and less set, so I needed to get a good start at him. He’s got bigger horns, which is not really my favorite thing. I got a great start and was right there. I knew if I caught him, Kory would be right there to catch him.”
And he was, nabbing him on the first legal jump. The finish wasn’t the prettiest, the steer was big and Abby didn’t stop as square as Koontz would have liked and got jerked forward. Quartering off is perhaps Abby’s biggest weakness—one Koontz addresses by wearing two different spurs.
“It’s not like I need a lot of spur on either foot,” Koontz said. “My mare—and you could really see it in the short round today—wants to quarter to the left. So, with a bigger spur on the right, I try to put my right foot on her to hold her square to take the hit. That steer was really big and I kind of abandoned her to get a dally and it jerked the crap out of her.”
Cardoza missed his dallies for Bird. The high team back, Kelsey Parchman and Kinney Harrell, essentially had some bad luck. The steer swerved back and forth as he ran down the pen and basically ducked out of the head loop before it could come tight.
“To get the win today, those guys
needed to mess up a little bit and they did,” Koontz said. “We did our job and they messed up a little bit and it turned out good for us. The bottom line is we made sure we were paying attention and ran the right steer and did our job.”
While it’s not the biggest win of either man’s career, they’re both very thankful and grateful to be off to such a great start.
“Last year at this time, I was working at a sale barn,” Egusquiza said of his employment at Dothan (Alabama) Livestock. “A guy helped me out to get me to the Strait and fortunately I won that and it’s the only reason I’m here today.”
Koontz, as 20-year veteran of the rodeo road, has roped for half the money of his fellow ProRodeo competitors at most rodeos. However, due to some policy changes by the PRCA in 2017, rodeos that add over a certain amount of money—like Denver—are required to add equal money for headers and heelers in the team roping.
“I really appreciate it and have told every person that has anything to do with this rodeo that as team ropers we’re very thankful that they added equal money,” Koontz said. “I feel like that’s where it ought to be. We each pay our dues and we each have our own separate travel expenses. To have that change and win the first equal money check they have gets us started in the right direction. I’m very thankful that they stepped up and did that.”
Stepping back to look at the big picture, both men are excited to be roping with one another and optimistic about their potential as a team.
“Kory is one of the greatest heelers ever and I just love having the opportunity to rope with him,” Egusquiza said. “It means everything.”
“I don’t know anybody that starts out that doesn’t have the hopes of winning the world title—especially my age,” Koontz said. “I still feel like I rope plenty good. My ultimate goal is to win the gold buckle. It’s been proven the last couple of years that the gold buckle is won at the NFR. But, you need to have a good team that can compete at all different places throughout the year and then go in there with that momentum to finish it off at the NFR. Our goal is to make the NFR and then ultimately win the gold buckle.
“I think Dustin Egusquiza has the ability to be a world champion—even as young as he is. Nothing bothers him, nothing is too big for him. He came out of Florida last year, had not been anywhere, and won the George Strait. That’s by far our biggest jackpot, so I don’t feel like it’s asking him too much. What I preach to him is daily we work on it and work on consistency, just let it all happen the way it needs to. We’ve been working on not reaching and going fast all the time, but when we get to these rodeos, I assure him he’s got the green light to do his thing. We live with the good and the bad. I feel like if I just clean it up and catch two feet, it’ll all take care of itself.” SWR