The fifth epic horse owned by defending and three-time BFI champ Kory Koontz has a colorful background.
By Julie Mankin
A dozen years ago, when Kory Koontz picked up the dun yearling that is now the defending Montana Silversmiths Heel Horse of the BFI, it took him three hours just to get him loaded in the trailer.
The colt was given to Koontz in hopes he’d be the second coming of Iceman, the dun that 30 years ago launched the career of the now-22-time NFR qualifier. Of course, Koontz had another dun named Jackyl, on whom Jade Corkill won two gold buckles. Plus, he once owned Switchblade, on whom Corkill won his other gold buckle, and LB, on whom Clay Cooper won an NFR average title.
These were the four horses that packed Koontz to most of those NFRs and so many epic jackpot wins that even prior to this March, he was the undisputed best big-money heeler of all time (five Wildfire wins; three George Strait wins; two BFI victories and a US Open title). So in 2009, hoping the new colt would be a combination of all four equine superstars, Koontz nicknamed him “Remix.”
He would laugh ruefully about that over the years. Because Remix tried to kill him, and several times, Koontz wanted to kill him back. But remarkably, not even a lethal trailer accident a year ago kept the horse from fulfilling his destiny. Finally.
“He can fly, but you don’t ever feel it because he moves real easy,” Koontz said of his 13-year-old first-stringer. “He has a longer stride and can stretch out and haul butt and then rates down real smooth. It doesn’t ever feel out of control; it doesn’t get you out of your saddle when he makes that corner.”
But here’s how it started. The first time Koontz saddled Remix, he bucked so hard that he jumped a gate, flipped over a fence, and ran off, forcing Koontz to rope him. Over those weeks, Koontz tried ponying him for miles and then getting on. He’d still buck. So Koontz sent the colt to someone else to try to conquer and the man handed him back to Koontz from a sling due to the collarbone that broke when Remix got him down.
Four different times, Koontz himself hit the dirt thanks to Remix bucking – usually if his rein broke or his saddle slipped. But still. One time, Remix blew in two right in front of the box, unexpectedly, and got him down.
“Each time he bucked me off, he’d just stand there and take a deep breath and look at me,” Koontz told The Score podcast. “I would get up, catch my air, get back on him and go about our business.”
When Koontz did ride the buck out of him, the dun would simply decide to run off. Even during a run, he’d come around the corner and throw his head up and run off until he reached a fence, which he would jump, giving Koontz a nice pounding in the sternum with the saddle horn. Koontz later moved to Stephenville and lived for a while with Corkill, who got a kick out of snapchatting the Remix runaways.
Koontz joked that he was “still in the mixing stage” of the remix. Finally one day, in the process of trying to jump out of the arena, Remix fell on Koontz. It was the third time that day he’d tried it. Koontz was beyond mad and made him work ‘til he was lathered and panting, at which point he grabbed him by the headstall and told him, “Remix, I don’t care if you die, but I’m going to win.”
He said the horse never really bucked on a whim again. That was the turning point in Remix becoming consistent; in him taking Koontz to the 2018 NFR and winning the 2021 Wrangler BFI as the Heel Horse of the BFI.
“It feels like, now, when I ask him for something I know what I’m doing to get,” Koontz said. “It took me a long time to get to where I actually trusted him. It’s amazing I didn’t kill him and that he didn’t kill me. I kept him all those years basically just because I’m so dang hard-headed. I wasn’t going to let him win. I was going to make him into something even if it was just a mediocre practice horse.”
On top of all that, with the outlaw finally finished, a 2020 trailer accident totaled Koontz’ trailer and killed his other horse, buggering Remix’s left side. The wreck badly injured the horse’s left shoulder and broke his left eye socket. It took several weeks of painstaking rehabilitation before he could move freely again. Good thing he was an outlaw.
All that tenacity likely came via plenty of Three Bars on the side of his dam, Miss Gray Socks, and a little more thoroughbred via his paternal grandsire, Jose Uno. Registered as Mr. JB 0839, Remix also has butt-dragging and cow-reading ingredients thanks to JB Quarter Horses’ stallion One Hot Jose.
During Koontz’ record third BFI championship, he said Remix deserved the Montana Silversmiths trophy. Last time he won this roping, Koontz was 24 and rode Iceman by the seat of his pants. Remix is taller, longer-strided and not as catty as Iceman was, but very trained on his positioning. Preparing for the 2021 BFI, Koontz actually decided he was going back to riding more aggressive like he did on Iceman.
“Remix is solid enough now that I can almost cut the corner and block the steer off and push through, to be safe, or he’ll let me ride aggressive and rope on the first or second hop,” Koontz said. “At the BFI that day, the steers were big and tough. Some would hit kind of fast and wild and some were pretty docile – it just depended on what you drew each time.”
On the hard runners, Koontz said he could get down the arena and get to his spot easily to set up his shot, or if they moved to the inside, the horse moved to the cow. And if he got by the corner a touch, he came right back to let Koontz heel fast.
“I guess what made Remix so good that day is what makes him good, period,” said Koontz. “I was just able to rope where the shot showed itself to me. Which is what I’ve always tried to do but it doesn’t always work out. That day, Remix allowed me to throw fast or take an extra swing, which makes my job feel easy. It didn’t feel that hard – but when I watched the roping that day, it looked really hard for a lot of guys.”
Koontz admits it’s pretty cool to walk by and see that saddle that says “2021 BFI champ” and when he gets his own place again, he’ll relish putting it next to the one from 25 years earlier. What makes it ever sweeter is knowing it happened on a horse he broke and trained from a yearling, that won Heel Horse of the BFI.
“I actually do put Remix now in the company of those other horses,” Koontz says. “The only difference is that Iceman, to me, is in a league of his own because of what we won when I was just a kid that didn’t know anything. What made Jackyl so great, and Switchblade, is what other people have won on them after me. And Clay having LB – that’s the best horse he ever rode, I believe.”
Unlike those other four horses, Koontz decided that Remix won’t be sold. He’s a one-man horse. After all, his price tag doesn’t match all that bucking and bawling that plenty of people watched him do over the years. Even last year, Remix bucked on the first steer on a cold day at the Capitalist. That bronc is still in there somewhere, Koontz admits. But as Koontz’ first-ever Horse of the BFI trophy and custom Coats championship saddle prove, he won. Finally.
BFI co-owners Daren Peterson (middle) and Corky Ullman (right), present Koontz with the Heel Horse of the BFI award – it was his first, despite two decades of entering on the best horses in the world. – Audrey Hart Vallejo Photography