Q: Who dubbed you Lightning, and when did that happen?
A: I’m not exactly sure who started that, but I was Lightning by the time I was 10 or 11 years old. That’s about the same time my family moved to Texas, because there are better roping opportunities there. I’ve always tried to go fast, so I think that had a lot to do with it.
Q: Do you come from a family of team ropers?
A: Yes. My dad, Tico Aguilera, and my grandpa, Lao Aguilera, are both headers, too. My grandpa rodeoed in Cuba, and worked all the events—steer wrestling, calf roping, bull riding, all of it—although team roping wasn’t that big when he was over there. Team roping is big in my family, though. I think they put me on a horse as soon as I came home from the hospital when I was born. (Lightning is Tico and Sandra’s only son; he has two sisters.)
Q: 2021 has been a breakthrough year for you, huh?
A: Yes, it’s been a way better year than the rest, that’s for sure. I’ve got a really good head horse, some great sponsors and a great heeler. It just kind of all fell into place. I’ve put a lot of work into practicing and changing my roping up a little bit. I got on the right horse, and started roping with the right heeler at the right time. There’s still a lot of roping left to do, but my goal is to make the NFR this year.
Q: How long have you been roping for a living?
A: This is the first year I’ve gone hard all year. Before, I just went here and there. I just have a lot better head horse now than I’ve ever had before, the best sponsors I’ve ever had and I’ve been winning. So I’ve gotten to keep going this time.
Q: Name a few of your favorite 2021 roping highlights so far.
A: Setting the 3.6-second arena record with Shay (Carroll) at the rodeo in Fort Smith (Arkansas) was pretty cool. We won both rounds and the average at Lufkin (Texas), and also won the pro rodeos in Longview and Carthage, Texas, and Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Q: Tell us about your game-changing sorrel head horse.
A: His name is Kickstand, he’s 15 and I got him from (fellow reaching phenom) Dustin Egusquiza last year. He just gives me a good go all the time, because he scores good and leaves there flat. The first time I rode Kickstand when Dustin owned him, I won the second round on him at Nampa (Idaho) in 2018. It definitely takes a special horse to let us do what we do.
Q: How long have you been reaching for the stars with your rope?
A: I’ve always tried to reach, but I used to pull off and reach. Now I can reach on the gain, when my horse is still moving forward. Reaching has always just been fun for me. When I was a little kid, we had barrels set out in our arena to keep the steers from running left, and my dad would bet me a dollar that I couldn’t rope the steer before the first barrel. Reaching is all I’ve ever known.
Q: Were your dad and grandpa reachers, or are you a first-generation gunslinger?
A: My dad never rodeoed, and my grandpa didn’t team rope when he rodeoed. So I’m the first-generation rodeo team roper in our family—in the United States, for sure. My grandpa moved his family to America when my dad was 9.
Q: You join an impressive list of reachers past—the likes of H.P. Evetts and Speed Williams—who had to figure out how to handle steers on a long line. That’s an artform all its own, isn’t it?
A: It just takes a lot of practice. I lived at Patrick Smith’s house for about six months a couple years ago, and he helped me a lot with my handles. I ran a lot of steers with him every day, and Patrick showed me what does and doesn’t work.
Q: Which headers have you looked up to most along the way?
A: There are a lot of great headers—Clay Tryan, Kaleb Driggers, Dustin. Dustin’s younger than me, but I still get a lot of my stuff from watching him rope, and he’s one of my best friends. Dustin’s from Florida, too, so we’ve known each other since we were little kids. Speed (Williams) was awesome, too, of course.
Q: Who’s the best header out there today, and why?
A: All around, I’d have to say Dustin. He can do what any header can do, and not every header can do what he can do. I just think he’s the best. He can go close, and he can go further and faster than anybody. He’s got it all as a header.
Q: You had a life-changing accident when you were 3 that most people don’t even know about. Tell us about that, and why it hasn’t slowed you down.
A: Yes, there was a Bush Hog accident. A cousin of mine was getting off of a tractor, and his foot slipped off of the clutch. The tractor went forward, and the Bush Hog cut off my right foot. I have a prosthetic leg that goes up to my knee for support, but the only thing missing is from my ankle down. It doesn’t bother me. A lot of people have had a lot worse stuff happen to them.